What to Know About Retainers, Permanent vs. Removable Retainers

removable retainers

Everyone wants a perfect smile. Aside from looking pretty great, a set of healthy, aligned teeth allows you to chew and speak properly and makes practicing proper oral hygiene a lot easier. According to the American Association of Orthodontics, an estimated 4.5 million Americans, most of them children and teenagers, wear braces on their teeth to correct alignment issues. With the introduction of Invisalign and clear aligners, adults and older teenagers can also have their teeth straightened discreetly.

Did you know that once you’re done with your Invisalign you will have to wear either a permanent or removable retainer? The first stage of aligning your teeth is wearing a proesthetic to shift them into the desired position. This can take anything from several months to three years depending on the severity of your condition, age, compliance, and commitment to the treatment and the type of braces used. After that, you will have to wear a retainer for an extended period of time, most likely the rest of your life.

Why Do You Need a Retainer?

Once the active phase of your treatment is complete and the teeth and bite have been aligned, you enter the retention phase. During this stage, you will wear retainers to keep your teeth from shifting back to their original position. When you have a set of Invisalign on for an extended period, they exert a gentle, constant pressure against the teeth to move them in a certain direction. This is referred to as bone remodeling.

As the braces press against your teeth, the periodontal ligaments connecting the tooth roots to the alveolar bone in the jaw compress and stretch, stimulating bone remodeling. The bone that the teeth are being pushed against will shrink away over time as new bone is simultaneously created to fill the teeth’s old position. Your dentist will slowly readjust them over the active phase of treatment until your teeth are in their new position.

However, once you stop wearing them, your teeth will shift back to their original position over time. To prevent this, most dentists recommend using retainers to ‘retain’ the teeth in their new alignment. Their primary job is to help stabilize your teeth after the first active phase of treatment is complete. A set of retainers prevents the teeth from regressing to their original alignment by keeping them in their new position until the connective tissues tighten back up and the surrounding gum bone is holding the teeth securely.

Typically, you will have to wear retainers full time, except for meals and cleanings, for the first four to six months after your braces are removed. Some orthodontists recommend wearing a retainer at all times for at least 9 months after which you can switch to wearing them at night. You will have to wear a retainer for the rest of your life to keep your teeth in their new alignment.

[ See also dental braces cost break down ]

Different Types of Retainers

Now that you know how retainers work, let’s talk about the type of retainers available. There are two different types of dental retainers you can use after you’ve had your braces removed: permanent and removable retainers. Your orthodontist will determine which type of retainer is best for you based on why you originally needed dental realignment and any conditions you may have.

Additionally, you aren’t limited to a single type of retainer: your dentist may recommend a removable retainer for one arch and permanent retainers for the other arch. Let’s look at the different types of retainers.

Removable Retainers

As the name suggests, removable retainers can be taken out during meals and for cleanings. However, most dentists advise patients to wear their removable retainers full time There are two different types of removable retainers;

Clear removable retainer, also called a molded retainer. Fabricated from a mold of your teeth, a clear removable retainer is made of plastic and designed to perfectly fit your teeth and hold them in their new position. Depending on how often you wear them and your oral hygiene routine, you can wear your transparent retainer for up to two to three years.
Hawley retainer. Also referred to as a wire or metal retainer. It is a combination of thin metal wires and plastic that is custom made to fit your mouth and hold the teeth in their new position as the bone hardens around them. The metal wire sits against your six front teeth with loops at the canines to adjust for a better fit. This type of removable retainer is more durable than removable clear plastic retainers and proper use and care can last up to 8 years. Making the choice between a metal vs plastic retainer will depend on your preference and budget.
With the increase in popularity of clear, almost invisible braces, you may wonder, is Invisalign a retainer? No, it isn’t. Invisalign slowly and over time pushes teeth into a new position while retainers hold the teeth in their new alignment.


They cover the teeth and prevent them from shifting to their original alignment.
They can be taken out any time, although most dentists recommend wearing them full time after you remove your braces.
Removable retainers are easy to clean. All you need to do is soak them in any recommended cleaning solution.
They make practicing proper dental hygiene simpler. It’s easier to brush and floss between your teeth as the retainer can be taken out.
They are easy to make and will last years with proper care.
Are clear and easy to wear, making them suitable for people who want invisible retainers.
They can also protect dental restorations such as dental crowns and fillings if you grind or clench your teeth (bruxism).
You can also use removable retainers as a bleaching tray to whiten your teeth after treatment using a dentist-approved bleaching gel.
They can be modified by adding silver to protect the teeth from decay due to plaque build-up. Studies have found that a silver retainer for teeth can reduce the bacteria that lead to dental decay.


They are removable. It takes commitment to keep them on, especially in the first six months after treatment when you will be required to wear them full time. If your child is the one wearing the retainers, they may take them out at school to have lunch and end up losing them.
Hawley retainers are visible on the teeth and they may be more uncomfortable than a transparent retainer.

Permanent or Bonded Retainers

What is a permanent retainer? Simply put, this is a retainer that is designed to stay in your mouth and hold your teeth in their new position indefinitely or on a permanent basis. Also referred to as bonded retainers, lingual wire, or fixed retainers, permanent retainers typically consist of a solid or braided wire that’s shaped to fit the new position of your teeth. The wire is then ‘bonded’ or cemented to the back of your teeth and it keeps them in place, preventing them from moving as the bone around them hardens.

As the name suggests, permanent retainers cannot be removed unless by your orthodontist in certain specific circumstances. Permanent retainer removal only becomes an option if there is damage to the retainer, you’ve had it on for a long time, you feel pain in your mouth or there has been a buildup of calculus (plaque and bacteria) on the teeth. A dentist will most likely recommend a set of permanent retainers if the teeth are likely to revert to their original position or the patient, usually a child, cannot commit to wearing removable retainers full time. However, the fact that they cannot be removed presents a unique challenge: how to floss with permanent retainer.

Fortunately, you can get around this issue by using a floss threader. It has a loop on one end that allows you to pass a piece of floss through and a stiff end that is threaded between the teeth on the front and beneath the retainer wire at the back of the teeth. Once you pull the floss threader through until the floss passes under the retainer wire, you can floss between the teeth like usual.


Since they are permanet and cannot be taken out, there is a 100% guarantee your teeth will stay in their new position.
They are barely, if at all visible as they are bonded to the back of the teeth.
Permanent retainers won’t affect the way you speak.
Unlike removable retainers, the chances of losing a permanent one are quite low as it cannot be removed.


Permanent retainers can be uncomfortable.
Biting hard into certain foods can bend the wire out of shape. Additionally, foods with a lot of artificial sugar can cause the bonding to wear off and loosen the wire’s fit.
A permanent retainer makes practicing oral hygiene harder. Plaque can build up and lead to cavities and decay if you don’t clean around the permanent bonding thoroughly.
They can also break off or debond. If your permanent retainer broke either while you eat or any other reason, contact a dentist as soon as possible to have it replaced.

So how much do permanent retainers cost?

It will cost you around $150 -$500 to have a permanent retainer installed after your braces are removed. On the pthe hand, a clear retainer cost anything from $100 to $285 for one tray. Hawley retainers will set you back around $150-$300 for one set or $300-$600 for both sets of teeth. While cost can be a factor when you are deciding between a metal vs plastic retainer, your dentist will ultimately help you choose the best type of retainer after braces.

Do retainers really work? How much is a permanent retainer? What about removable retainers? And just how long will I have to wear them? If you are removing your braces in the near future, these questions may be stuck in your mind. Retainers are the only way to keep your teeth in place after the active phase of your orthodontic treatment is done and with proper care, you can use a single set for years.

Are you removing your braces soon? Or do you just have questions about permanent or removable clear plastic retainers? Call us today for a consultation. We’re happy to help.