Why Are Retainers So Expensive? Uncovering the Hidden Costs

Many people are surprised by the expense of retainers after completing orthodontic treatment. As you begin to explore different retainer options, you might find yourself wondering why these seemingly simple devices can cost so much. The truth is, there are a few contributing factors that influence the price of retainers, and understanding these aspects can help you make a more informed decision about which option to choose.

Retainers come in various forms, such as Essix, Hawley, and permanent (bonded) retainers, each with their own price tags. These costs can be attributed to factors such as lab fees, custom design, material quality, and professional services. For instance, when you visit your orthodontist for a retainer, you are not just paying for the device itself, but also for their expertise, time, and any necessary follow-up appointments.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the financial burden associated with retainers, such as researching online options and taking proper care of your device to lengthen its lifespan. Ultimately, the goal is to maintain the health and appearance of your teeth long after your braces have been removed, and investing in a quality retainer will be worth every penny in the end.

What Makes Retainers So Expensive?

Many patients feel like it’s okay to pay top dollar for braces because of the materials, time and expertise involved, however, when it comes to retainers, they don’t apply the same logic. The truth is retainers are a dental appliance like anything else, and they require much of the same materials, personnel and logistics as a few appointments for braces.

Here are the most significant costs that dentists and orthodontists need to factor in before putting a price tag on their retainers:

Dental Office Overhead

When you come to the dental office for an orthodontic treatment like retainers, you’re not just paying for the device itself. You’re also contributing to the dental clinic’s rent, utilities, staff salaries, and other overhead expenses. These costs are factors in determining the final price of your retainer.

Dentistry is a notoriously expensive field, but the equipment used in most offices is a huge investment. As an example, an iTero scanner alone, the one that’s used to take an image impression for aligners and retainers, can cost upwards of $50,000.

So when you go to a state-of-the-art orthodontist’s office to get retainers, you might also be paying for these additional costs, within a reasonable limit. This is also the reason why prices vary so much.

Dental Technician Costs

Another reason retainers can be expensive is the specialized training and expertise required of dental technicians who create them.

These professionals must possess unique skills and knowledge to produce customized orthodontic retainers that fit your teeth perfectly. Since high-quality retainers demand precision and craftsmanship, the cost of your retainer may reflect the technician’s expertise and time spent perfecting your device.

Many dental offices don’t have an in-house dental lab and need to outsource retainer production to a specialized orthodontic lab. This lab will add its own fees, and the dentist will add their own overhead fees as well.

This can substantially add to the base cost of a retainer, which can be cheaper if it can be produced in-house. Many orthodontists have this setup in their offices, so they can offer in-house retainers, often during the same work day.

The Retainer Material Itself

Retainers come in various types and materials, such as clear plastic, metal, or a combination of both. However, a more significant factor in the pricing of retainers is the type of material used.

High-quality materials ensure your retainers are durable and comfortable while effectively maintaining your teeth’s alignment. The cost of these materials can add up, especially if you need a more complex retainer to address your specific dental needs.

So by investing in a pricier retainer, you’re ensuring that the materials used provide the best possible support for your teeth.

Replacement retainers have similar costs

Finally, if you ever need to replace your retainer, it’s important to remember that the replacement will incur similar costs to your initial retainer.

The process requires creating a new custom-fit retainer, which means revisiting the dental office, taking new impressions, and having another retainer made. Many patients claim that they won’t need new impressions, and while new retainers can be made using the same old cast model, teeth will shift ever so slightly, so it’s best to always get a new impression.

These replacement retainers also take into account the dental office overhead, dental technician costs, and the materials used, just like your original retainer. It’s the same device, so there’s no reason to expect to pay a different fee.

Essix Retainers

How Much Does an Essix Retainer Cost?

Essix retainers are known for being an affordable and convenient option for maintaining your beautifully aligned teeth after orthodontic treatment. Let’s dive into the factors that contribute to their cost and why they’re considered the cheapest and easiest to make.

In 2023, the cost of an Essix retainer ranges from $300 to $750 per set when purchased from a dentist. If you choose to order them online, the cost can be considerably lower (as low as $200 per set), as you’re cutting out the middleman.

Keep in mind, though, that the price may vary depending on your specific case, the orthodontist treating you, and the region where you’re seeking care. Your insurance may also cover some of the retainer costs, making it even more affordable.

One of the reasons Essix retainers are more affordable is that they are made from a clear plastic material. The process involves taking a mold or a scan of your teeth and using it to create the custom-fitted retainer using two methods:

  • Thermoforming using a vacuum machine (the retainer plastic sheet is sucked onto the teeth on a cast model)
  • 3D printing, a more recent method that’s also used for creating clear aligners

The materials used for Essix retainers and the manufacturing process are more cost-effective compared to other types of retainers, such as Hawley retainers, which are made from metal and acrylic and involve more work.

Essix retainers are also popular for their clear, nearly invisible appearance and unmatched comfort. Essix Plus is another variation of the Essix retainer, designed to be more durable and stain-resistant, which may be a great choice if you’re looking for a longer-lasting option, but may come at a slightly higher cost.

How Much Does a Hawley Retainer Cost?

When it comes to Hawley retainers, the biggest factors contributing to their price are the cost of labor and materials. In this section, I’ll explain the reasons behind these costs and give you a general idea of the price range for Hawley retainers.

Hawley retainers are composed of a combination of acrylic material and metal wires. The acrylic part rests against the roof of your mouth, while the wires wrap around your teeth to hold them in their new position. Because of their durable nature, Hawley retainers tend to have a longer lifespan than other types of retainers, such as clear plastic ones.

Creating a Hawley retainer requires more labor-intensive work and precision than other retainers, due to the intricate process of shaping and bending the wires to perfectly fit your teeth. Additionally, the acrylic material needs to be molded to each individual’s palate to ensure a comfortable fit. All these factors contribute to the higher cost of Hawley retainers compared to other options.

If your Hawley retainer breaks, the metal and acrylic components of a Hawley retainer can be replaced separately, rather than purchasing a completely new retainer. This can help reduce the overall cost of retainers in the long run, making them a worthwhile investment for many.

So, how much can you expect to pay for a Hawley retainer in 2023? The price range typically falls between $400 and $600 for a set. Keep in mind that the specific cost can vary depending on your orthodontist and location.

Not all patients will need a set of Hawley retainers, some can get away with wearing a Hawley retainer on the top teeth and a fixed retainer on the bottom teeth.

Hawley retainers can last over a decade and they can be a great investment thanks to their durability and ability to replace components. The downside is that they’re more bulky, and adjusting to wearing one can take some time.

Hawley Retainers

How Much Does a Permanent (Bonded) Retainer Cost?

A permanent, bonded, or fixed, retainer is another option for keeping teeth in their ideal position after braces or other orthodontic treatment. Some orthodontists like to use bonded retainers as a backup plan in addition to overlay Essix retainers. Your orthodontist will most likely explain the benefits of this.

Permanent retainers are made of a wire that is bonded to the back of the teeth, providing a discreet and long-lasting solution for maintaining teeth (especially bottom incisors) in their positions.

When it comes to the cost of permanent retainers, there are two main options: chairside-made retainers and lab-made retainers.

Chairside retainers are fabricated by the orthodontist, using a wire that they bend and bond directly to the patient’s teeth during their appointment. This option is typically more affordable, and the cost for chairside lingual retainers may range from around $200 to $500 per arch.

On the other hand, lab-made retainers are custom crafted by dental technicians in a laboratory using impressions or digital scans of the patient’s teeth. The retainer is then delivered to the dental office and cemented onto the patient’s teeth during a separate appointment.

Due to the additional labor and materials involved, lab-made lingual retainers can be slightly more expensive, with prices ranging from approximately $250 to $850 per arch.

Since permanent retainer prices are set per arch, keep in mind that you’ll need another retainer for the other arch. This can significantly increase retainer costs, making the bonded retainer the most expensive option.

Several factors can further impact the cost of permanent retainers, such as:

  • Materials used: Some bonded retainers use higher-quality wires or bonding agents, which can affect the price.
  • Complexity of the case: Cases requiring more adjustments or customizations may be more expensive due to the increased time and skill involved in the process.
  • Location: Prices for retainers can vary depending on the region and local pool of orthodontists.

Ways to Cut Costs on Retainers

If braces have already put a financial burden on you, retainer prices can come as a shock. In this section, I want to help you find ways to cut costs. Here are a few tips that might come in handy:

Make the most of your insurance: First things first, take advantage of any dental insurance you have. Many insurance policies provide partial coverage for orthodontic treatment, including retainers. While it might not cover the entire cost, it can still help you save some money. Make sure you’re aware of your insurance coverage and use it to your advantage.

If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional dental insurance plans, DentalSave may be the perfect option for you. Instead of paying for monthly premiums, DentalSave members pay an annual fee to access discounted dental services.

DentalSave members have saved between 20 and 50 percent on the cost of their dental care, making it a more affordable option for many people. With DentalSave, members have access to a wide range of qualified dentists and can choose the best dentist for their needs.

Get a spare set of retainers: If you think about it, having a second set of retainers can actually save you money in the long run, but many dental offices offer them at a discounted rate. In the event that your main retainers get damaged, lost, or worn out, you’ll already have a backup set ready. This helps you avoid the urgent need to replace them at a higher cost.

Consider shopping online: Nowadays, you can find almost everything online, including retainers. Ordering retainers online can be more affordable because it cuts out dentist overhead costs, and you might find great deals. Just make sure you have an accurate impression of your teeth, as a poorly fitting retainer could cause more harm than good.

Look into retainer clubs: Some orthodontists offer “retainer clubs,” where you pay a one-time membership fee and receive replacement retainers for life. Although the initial fee might seem steep, it can save you tons of money in the long run, especially if you need to replace your retainers every few years. Ask your orthodontist if they offer such a program and if it could be a good option for you.

How to Make Your Retainer Last Longer

Taking good care of your retainer is essential to preserving its effectiveness and making it last longer. Here are a few tips to help ensure your retainer remains in top condition, so you can avoid the expense of frequent replacements:

1. Care when taking it off

When removing your retainer, be gentle to avoid breaking or bending it. Use your fingers to grip each end and pull it away from your teeth evenly. Avoid using excessive force, as this can lead to damage.

2. Care when washing it

It’s important to clean your retainer after each use to prevent bacterial growth and bad odors. Rinse it under lukewarm water and gently brush it using a soft toothbrush and dish soap. Be careful not to drop your retainer during cleaning to avoid breakage

3. Care when storing it

Proper storage is crucial for the longevity of your retainer. Always keep your retainer in its dedicated case when you’re not wearing it. Avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures or direct sunlight, as heat can cause the retainer to warp and lose its shape.

4. Care when placing it

Be mindful when handling your retainer to prevent accidentally misplacing or losing it. Many retainers have been placed on napkins and thrown in the trash, so it’s best to create healthy habits from the get-go.

5. Regular maintenance to prevent odors

To avoid unpleasant smells, make it a habit to clean your retainer thoroughly at least once a week. Use a retainer-cleaning solution or a mixture of water and white vinegar to gently soak your retainer for 15-30 minutes. This will help remove odor-causing bacteria and keep your retainer fresh.


Hopefully, this article has helped ease your mind about your new purchase, and maybe even gave you some ideas on how you can save some money. Here are the key takeaways to remember:

  • Retainer expense is influenced by factors like custom design, lab fees, and professional services.
  • Essix, Hawley, and permanent retainers each have unique costs to consider.
  • To save on retainer costs, explore alternative options and learn to properly maintain the device.

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