What Type of Retainer Is Best After Braces? Our Top Choice

As you anticipate your braces coming off, you may wonder what comes next. Retainers play a crucial role in maintaining your newly straightened teeth, but with different types available, you might be curious about which retainer is best for you.

While there are three main types of retainers to consider – permanent, Essix, and Hawley – it’s important to realize that these options are not one-size-fits-all. Choosing a retainer often comes down to the orthodontist’s preference and the patient’s individual situation.

However, it’s important to know you have a say in the type of retainer you’ll be wearing for years to come. We’ll discuss your options in this article, and I’ll also share my personal opinion about which retainer I find to work best. In the end, what’s most important is that you’re comfortable and your teeth stay straight and beautiful.

The Best Retainers Overall – An Orthodontist’s Opinion

If you ask multiple orthodontists which retainer they think is best, you’ll get mixed answers. This is because there’s no “right” retainer, they all get the job done. That being said, some retainers have more disadvantages than others.

After years of clinical experience, I learned to stay away from certain retainers, so here is my personal preference:

I believe the best type of retainers after braces are clear removable retainers, also known as Essix retainers. They are popular amongst patients for a good reason. If patients love them, they are more likely to wear them long-term, which is essential to avoid relapse.

Essix retainers offer several advantages that make them ideal for most cases. Firstly, they are comfortable to wear, fitting your teeth like a glove. They are also relatively inexpensive and easy to make. If something goes wrong, replacing them usually takes just a day.

While Essix retainers may not be suitable for every situation, they’re versatile enough to accommodate the majority of cases, ensuring that teeth stay put.

Are clear retainers the “healthiest” retainers? No, I don’t believe they are. I don’t believe teeth should stay put, instead, they should be allowed to settle and find their best spot so your bite becomes comfortable and stable. Unfortunately, this “settling” often translates into slight relapse, meaning your teeth won’t be as straight, which is something most patients don’t accept.

So, if you ask me what the “healthiest” retainers are, I’ll vote for Hawley retainers. Hawleys come with their own set of problems, though – low compliance, poor adaptation, improper wear, slight relapse – so that’s why I don’t recommend them, but from an orthodontic standpoint, they’re the healthiest.

Here’s another option for you: if you’re obsessed with preventing any tooth movement after braces and want added security, consider the “golden combination” of clear removable retainers worn on top of fixed retainers. In this case, the Essix retainers work as a backup plan in case your fixed retainers break.

Keep in mind, though, that this approach might be excessive for most people. Fixed retainers can sometimes negatively impact gum health. So, my recommendation for the majority of my patients is to go with what they’ll wear consistently and enjoy – Essix retainers.

Essix Removable Retainers Pros and Cons

Now that we established that we like Essix retainers the most, let’s jump into the pros and cons. Yes, there are plenty of cons to these retainers, but they’re easily fixable, and if something doesn’t work, you can always change your clear retainer with a new one.


  • Comfortable and slim: These retainers are typically more comfortable to wear due to their slim design. They will only cover the surface of your teeth.
  • Affordable: Compared to other types of retainers, Essix retainers are relatively economical, with prices ranging from $100 to $500.
  • Fast and easy to make: Your orthodontist can create an Essix retainer quickly once your braces are removed. Many offices offer same-day retainers.
  • Aesthetic: Being clear and nearly invisible, Essix retainers are less noticeable than other types of retainers, making them a more aesthetically pleasing option. This is important since you’ll need to wear your retainer full-time during the first few months post-braces.


  • Prone to breakage and bending: The clear plastic material of Essix retainers is more susceptible to damage than sturdier alternatives such as Hawley retainers. It will need more frequent replacing.
  • Don’t maintain expansion as well: Compared to other retainers, Essix retainers may not maintain the expansion in your arch as effectively. Your orthodontist may suggest a Hawley retainer if you’ve had an expander.
  • Don’t allow the bite to settle: Wearing an Essix retainer may hinder your bite from settling into its final, optimal position. Bite settling is done during orthodontic treatment, but it also continues once the braces are off.
  • Won’t fit if not worn consistently: If you don’t wear your Essix retainer for a few weeks or even days, it may no longer fit, requiring a new one to be made. This is because the material follows the teeth’ contour in great detail.
  • Can’t be adapted: Unlike other types of retainers, Essix retainers cannot be adjusted or adapted if any issues arise. It’s always best to get a new one made.
  • May develop a smell or stain: Without proper care and cleaning, your Essix retainer can develop an unpleasant odor or become stained.

When getting an Essix retainer you should be aware that you’ll need to replace it every two years. While it can last 3 years with proper care, it will most likely show signs of wear and tear, and a lot of buildup, so I always recommend changing retainers as often as you can afford.

This doesn’t take into account losing or breaking your clear retainer, in which case don’t hesitate to get a new one made as soon as possible.

Hawley Removable Retainers: Pros and Cons

Hawley retainers have been around for ages. Before we had the technology to melt paper-thin plastic sheets into the clear retainers we have today, Hawley retainers were a no-brainer.

Hawley retainers may look a little bit like a denture minus the teeth, or like a removable expander minus the screw. There are a lot of parts that need to fit onto your teeth: metal clasps on your back teeth, metal bows on the front teeth, and an acrylic plate that goes on the roof of the mouth.

Here are their pros and cons:


  • Sturdy: Hawley retainers are made from a combination of acrylic and metal, making them strong and durable. You can rely on this sturdy construction to maintain the alignment of your teeth.
  • Allows the bite to settle: Since the Hawley retainer is removable, it gives your teeth some freedom to naturally settle into their new positions, helping your bite to stabilize.
  • Maintains expansion results: If you had a palate expander during your orthodontic treatment, the Hawley retainer will help maintain the results, as it consists of a hard acrylic base that rests on the roof of the mouth.
  • Comes in fun colors: Designing attractive color combinations for your child’s retainer can make it more motivating to wear them.
  • Can be adapted and repaired: A significant advantage of the Hawley retainer is its adaptability. If your teeth need minor adjustments, your orthodontist can easily modify the retainer. Additionally, repairs can be done relatively easily and at a lower cost than other retainers.


  • Bulky: Due to its design and materials, the Hawley retainer may feel bulkier in your mouth compared to the clear plastic alternatives. This could take some getting used to.
  • May be uncomfortable: The metal wires and acrylic base may cause initial discomfort until you adjust to wearing the retainer. Some parts may dig into the gums, while others may feel loose.
  • Allows some teeth to relapse slightly: Since the Hawley retainer is not a continuous surface, it may leave room for some teeth to relapse slightly, meaning they might shift a little after treatment.
  • May encourage improper wear. In order to work, Hawley retainers need to be pushed all the way, but they can stay in even if worn incorrectly. This can lead to relapse and teeth shifting.
  • More expensive to make: Producing a Hawley retainer generally costs more than fabricating a clear plastic retainer. This difference may be passed along to you by your orthodontist.
  • May develop a smell: If not cleaned properly and regularly, Hawley retainers may develop an unpleasant odor due to the accumulation of oral bacteria.

The biggest cons with Hawley retainers, in my opinion, is that they can get loose and/or can be worn incorrectly. Loose Hawley retainers are an easy fix, but you’d still need to come in for an appointment.

Wearing Hawley retainers incorrectly can be prevented with proper instructions, but some kids and teenagers still get it wrong sometimes. Some patients fail to push the Hawley retainers all the way, and in time, the retainers will no longer fit.

Fixed Retainers Pros and Cons

Fixed retainers are a good option for bottom front teeth. These small teeth are the most unstable after orthodontic treatment, especially if they were crooked to begin with, and bonding a fixed retainer is a good option.

That being said, I hate fixed retainers with a passion. These “permanent” retainers are anything but permanent and need to be constantly maintained. They are prone to breakage, just like dental fillings can break, and patients often don’t notice until it’s too late and teeth have shifted. If you need a full list of cons, I expand on it below:


  • No compliance needed: Since fixed retainers are permanently glued to your teeth, you don’t have to worry about remembering to wear them or taking them off during meals.
  • Glued to teeth: The fixed retainer is securely attached to your teeth, which ensures it remains in place and does its job effectively.
  • Will keep teeth in place: Fixed retainers are excellent at keeping your teeth in their desired positions after your orthodontic treatment is finished.


  • Limited to only six teeth: Fixed retainers can generally be applied to only six teeth at a time, which limits the scope of assurance for maintaining teeth alignment.
  • Can’t always be bonded on the top arch: Due to their design, fixed retainers are not always suitable for use on the upper jaw (top arch), leaving some people without a good solution for that area.
  • May frequently break: Since fixed retainers are glued to your teeth, they are susceptible to breaking and might require more frequent repairs or replacements than removable retainers.
  • The wire may become distorted and cause problems: If the wire used in a fixed retainer becomes distorted, it can cause discomfort and even negatively impact your teeth alignment.
  • Makes oral hygiene in the area very difficult: Cleaning around a fixed retainer is more challenging, which can lead to potential oral hygiene issues, such as gum disease or cavities.
  • Need constant checking and maintenance: You’ll need to have regular dental checkups to ensure that your fixed retainer is working correctly and not causing any issues with your teeth or oral health.

In time, I’ve moved away from fixed retainers. Some patients don’t come back for checkups, and the no-compliance factor gives some patients the impression that they’re set for life, which is not the case.

How to Choose the Best Retainer for You

Many patients don’t choose what type of retainer to wear. They’re just offered one by their orthodontist. While this works too, you have a right to choose. Here’s how to make the responsible choice.

First, consider your specific needs and the recommendations made by your orthodontist. They may suggest a particular type of retainer based on factors such as your teeth alignment, bite, and overall oral health. Did you need premolar extractions? Did you wear a palate expander? Do you have periodontal disease? Your retainers will need to be tailored to your specific situation.

If you’ve had a palate expander or had very narrow arches at the beginning of treatment, a Hawley retainer might be a better choice for you. It helps maintain the width of your palate and doesn’t allow the arch to collapse back to its previous shape.

If you’ve had premolar extractions done, you may get a fixed retainer going all the way to your premolars, to prevent the gaps from reopening. This, however, depends on your orthodontist’s preference.

Loose bottom teeth may benefit from a fixed retainer to stabilize them, but again, consult with your orthodontist about how to best clean around the retainer to keep the gums healthy and tartar to a minimum.

In some cases, your orthodontist may also recommend a combination of retainers, such as using a Hawley retainer on your upper teeth and/or a permanent retainer on your lower teeth. This customized approach can fit both functional and esthetic needs.

To summarize, the best retainer for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences. Talk to your orthodontist and make an informed decision considering the pros, cons, and risks associated with each type. Remember, maintaining your beautiful smile after braces is just as important as the treatment itself.


In the end, the best type of retainer is the one you’ll be wearing diligently. Since you’ll be wearing your retainers mostly at night, it’s the ones you can tolerate in your sleep. Comfort is key, and this is where Essix retainers shine.

If you’ve received a Hawley from your orthodontist, it may take some getting used to, but your teeth will be stable and healthy if you wear your Hawleys properly.

And lastly, if you’re wearing a fixed retainer, I urge you to be cautious and have your teeth cleaned professionally as often as possible. Fixed retainers are an obstacle to good oral hygiene, so if you get the chance to remove them in the next few years, I urge you to reconsider and go for an Essix or Hawley. Good luck!

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