Retainers are orthodontic devices designed to be worn after oral surgery or use of teeth-straightening devices. They help to hold teeth in place as the bone and soft tissue adapt to the shift in position.
There are several types of teeth straightening retainers. A few popular types include fixed metal retainers, Hawley retainers, and clear removable retainers. This article will explain each type of retainer and its pros and cons, as well as how long one has to wear a retainer with each type of device.
Fixed metal retainer
A fixed metal retainer, also called a permanent retainer, is a metal wire attached to the patient’s teeth using a bonding agent. The wire may be smooth or have a braided texture to it. Many providers recommend these when a patient finishes with braces to keep the teeth in place. Permanent retainers are often worn for 10 to 15 years to ensure teeth will stay in place. However, they aren’t worn forever – eventually, the provider may decide they can be removed.
In many cases, people can’t see the fixed metal retainer because they’re on the back of the teeth. But they can make brushing teeth and cleaning the retainer harder. Eating certain foods can risk breaking the retainer, and it can be uncomfortable to always have a metal object in one’s mouth.
Hawley retainers consist of an acrylic or plastic plate and a metal wire attached to it. The plate is designed to fit comfortably to the roof of the patient’s mouth, and the metal wire goes over the front teeth. There are also some loops near the canine teeth.
These retainers are removable, which helps to minimize dirt and debris on the retainer when eating and prevent damage when playing contact sports. Plus, the removability allows the patient to clean the retainer and their own teeth more effectively. These are often worn for 6 to 9 months, although the timeline is ultimately up to the provider.
Removable clear retainer
Removable clear retainers are near-invisible teeth straightening devices that are worn over the teeth, rather than being attached to them. The provider takes impressions of the teeth to get a replica of the teeth, so they fit the teeth exactly when the patient wears them.
These retainers are favored by many because they are comfortable and convenient. The patient can remove the retainer, offering similar benefits to Hawley retainers. Unlike Hawley retainers, these devices are nearly invisible. Patients can continue smiling without worrying about showing large, visible wires.
In many cases, removable clear retainers are used for the top teeth. However, the provider may determine this on a patient-by-patient basis. Some patients may be able to use a removable clear retainer for bottom teeth as well. Even getting the device itself is easier than permanent devices. The patient simply needs to give an impression for 30 seconds to one minute – easier and more comfortable than permanent retainer installation.
As for how long to wear these, many patients need to wear them full-time for the first few months, removing them only for eating, contact sports, and cleaning. After that, the provider may switch them to nights only. Then, the provider will determine how long the retainer must be worn before the patient no longer needs it.
The bottom line
Each retainer serves a similar purpose but offers different benefits and drawbacks. Fixed metal retainers are invisible, but patients can’t remove them, which makes care a little bit more difficult. Additionally, they’re often worn for a decade or longer. Hawley retainers, on the other hand, are removable, making care easier. They’re also generally worn for less than a year, but the wires are visible when wearing them, which some patients may not prefer.
Clear removable retainers combine the best aspects of fixed metal retainers and Hawley retainers by being removable and invisible, but they can be more expensive. The timeline can vary on these. Patients should discuss their situation, needs, and preferences with their provider to determine the best retainer type for them.