Are Metal Retainers Toxic? A Guide for Concerned Patients

Fixed metal retainer. Source

Now that your braces are off and you’re considering retainer options, you might have concerns about dental materials and their potential toxicity. After all, these are products that can be in your mouth for years, so it’s natural to wonder about their safety.

Or perhaps you’ve had your metal retainer for a while and you’re wondering if it’s leaching chemicals and harming your body, causing a host of autoimmune symptoms. With the rise of biological dentists claiming that most of the dental procedures we do are harmful, I can see your point.

Here’s my professional opinion on this: with our current data, dental materials, like metal retainers, are generally safe and designed to meet medical standards. Rather than worrying about heavy metals, I would be more concerned about possible allergies or gum disease.

In this article, you’ll learn all there is to know about metal retainers: what they’re made of, the glue that bonds them to your teeth, possible allergies and toxicity symptoms, and lastly, a note on why I’m personally not a fan of fixed retainers.

Are Permanent Retainers Toxic?

Metal retainers are not toxic. They are usually made of stainless steel or a similar non-toxic material that is safe for use in the human body. Some people may worry about the safety of metal retainers because they contain metals like nickel or chromium, which can supposedly leach into the body and cause health issues.

Others may be worried about allergies, which is a valid concern. We’ll cover all of this in a moment. But first, let’s learn what permanent metal retainers are made of.

What Metal Are Permanent Retainers Made Of?

Permanent retainers are typically made of stainless steel, a popular choice for orthodontic materials. Stainless steel contains traces of nickel and a small amount of chromium, which gives it its stainless properties.

The problem with nickel and chromium is that they’re known allergens and can potentially cause issues in a small number of patients. As an alternative, materials like gold, titanium, or other dental alloys can be used to make permanent retainers. The exact composition of these materials varies but generally adheres to strict health and wellness standards.

If you’re worried about the metal in your mouth getting rusty, that’s not the case. The stainless steel used in your mouth is medical grade and specifically designed to resist corrosion. This is also true for gold, titanium, and other materials that may be used.

What About the Glue?

The glue used for securing the metal retainer in place is a dental composite resin – the same material routinely used in dentistry for fillings. This composite helps the retainer bond securely to your teeth and ensures it stays in place for the long term.

Dental composite resin is made from a combination of materials, including plastic (as a binder) and a filler substance, usually made from glass particles or ceramic. The composite undergoes a chemical curing process that results in a durable, safe, and reliable dental glue.

What About Allergies?

While most people can safely use permanent retainers, allergies can be a concern for some individuals. Nickel, found in small amounts in stainless steel, is a known allergen. If you’re allergic to nickel, you may experience symptoms like redness, swelling, and itching in the area where the retainer is placed. In extreme cases, small ulcers or sores could develop.

Some people might also have an allergy or sensitivity to the dental composite resin used as glue for the retainer. Symptoms can include inflammation, swelling, and redness in the mouth. These allergic reactions, however, are relatively rare occurrences, as nickel and resin are widely used materials in all dental practices.

If you’re concerned about potential allergies, it’s essential to discuss them with your orthodontist as well as your general practitioner before getting a permanent retainer. They can recommend alternative materials or solutions to minimize the risk of an allergic reaction and ensure your comfort.

As for long-term toxicity due to metal ions leaching into the body over time, studies have investigated the release of metal ions from orthodontic appliances, but their effects in such small quantities aren’t well documented. In general, the use of permanent retainers has proven to be safe and effective for maintaining the desired alignment of teeth after orthodontic treatment.

The Main Negative Effect of Metal Retainers

We’ve covered materials and potential allergies, but there’s another problem with fixed metal retainers that often goes unnoticed. Let’s talk about some other negatives you should know about.

The first thing to note about metal retainers is that they can lead to the accumulation of plaque and bacteria around the area where they are fitted on your teeth. This is because it can be tricky to clean around the metal wire or brackets, even if you’re diligent with your oral hygiene routine.

Of course, you’ll be doing your best to keep your teeth clean and maintain good oral hygiene, but sometimes, it can be tougher than anticipated to clean the area where the metal retainer is attached. The design and placement of the retainer can make it hard to access with regular dental tools like a toothbrush or floss.

Another potential downside is the chance of breakage. Metal retainers, although durable, can sometimes break or become damaged. If this occurs, your teeth may begin to shift out of their ideal positions. The same goes for the possibility of the metal retainer twisting over time, which could also result in teeth moving and misalignment.

Considering these factors, you might be wondering if metal retainers are really the best choice for you. As a general recommendation, I only advise my patients to choose fixed retainers if their teeth were significantly crooked and need extra measure to help them stay in place. I always pair the permanent retainer with a removable one on top for added safety.

If you do decide to go with metal retainers, a good plan would be to have them removed after 1-2 years and replaced with removable retainers. Your teeth are most susceptible to shifting within the first couple of years after orthodontic treatment, so diligently wearing a removable retainer after that period should help keep your teeth in place.

Remember, this is just some friendly advice. Be sure to discuss these issues with your orthodontist or dentist to determine the best course of action for your individual situation.


When it comes to permanent retainers, you can enjoy some advantages like having a discreet method to keep your teeth in place after braces, and not having to worry about losing or maintaining a removable retainer. However, there can be a plenty of disadvantages, such as difficulty in cleaning behind the retainer and possible irritation and allergies.

Regarding their safety, most permanent retainers are made of stainless steel, which is considered safe and non-toxic. While there might be trace amounts of certain elements in these retainers, they are generally within acceptable limits for dental health. Always ensure you consult with your orthodontist to discuss the best options for your specific needs.

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