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.
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:
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:
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!