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Retainers after orthodontics: what are teeth retainers and what are they used for?

07 April · 5 minutes

You’ve just finished your orthodontic treatment and your doctor tells you that you now have to wear retainers to maintain the results. Maybe you feel nervous or unsure because it’s not clear what a teeth retainer is for and why they are necessary. Well, in this article we'll answer all your questions and discuss the different options available on the market so that you can choose the device that best suits your lifestyle.

What are teeth retainers and what are they used for?

Let’s start with the basics, what is a retainer for your teeth? Orthodontic retainers are devices that keep our teeth aligned and in the proper position after completing orthodontic treatment. Keep in mind that our teeth keep moving even in adulthood after wearing orthodontics.

It’s said that teeth have memory because they tend to return to their initial position. Therefore, wearing a suitable retainer is of vital importance regardless of the type of orthodontics you have used or how old you are.

As we’ve mentioned, orthodontics doesn’t stop once the braces are removed. Orthodontic retainers are the third and final stage of your treatment, after diagnosis and the active phase, although they are rarely talked about.

Patient receiving her clear removable retainers after braces

Different types of retainers

There are different options for orthodontic retainers; removable and fixed retainers, also known as permanent retainers. Your orthodontist can advise you one way or the other, but in the end it’s up to you to choose the device that suits you best.

Fixed retainers

The fixed retainer is a metal wire that is placed behind the teeth, in the upper and lower arch, from canine to canine. The device is completely invisible from the outside.

It normally takes a few days for patients to get used to permanent retainers, but since it’s ultra-thin and doesn’t cause pain or discomfort, it makes the retention process quite pleasant. Once the tongue is accustomed to the feel of the device, you won’t even notice it’s there.

But, because it’s attached to the back of the teeth, it makes flossing difficult. So you have to adapt the way you brush your teeth to remove all the plaque around the wire. It’s also important that you get a professional dental cleaning every 6 months or 1 year, depending on the case.

Removable retainers

Removable retainers, as their name implies, have the advantage of being removable - they can be taken out to eat and brush your teeth. They allow you to continue your dental hygiene routine without interruption. Also, the adaptation period is much faster, especially if you have previously used removable orthodontics.

The only downside to removable retainers is that you have to remember to put them on. It’s also important to wear the device correctly during the hours indicated by your specialist, and be careful when you take them out to eat that you don't leave them behind. It’s best to always try and keep them in their box. In addition, these types of retainers must be changed from time to time to prevent them from becoming damaged. There are several different types of removable retainers. The best known are:

Hawley retainers

The Hawley retainer is a removable retainer made up of hooks that are placed on the teeth and a wire arranged on the outside of the teeth. This dental retainer covers the entire palate, preventing bite alteration and unwanted tooth movement.

Removable clear retainers

This type of orthodontic retainer is gaining popularity due to its comfort and lock of visibility. You can easily take them out for cleaning, just like with some aligners, since these removable dental retainers are a type of splint similar to those used in invisible orthodontic treatments. Also, they rarely cause discomfort.

Patient showing off her new hawley removable retainers

Retention Phase

The retention phase begins as soon as your orthodontic treatment is finished. Fixed retainers are fitted the same day that the devices are removed.

In the case of removable and custom-made splints, the orthodontist has to perform a 3D scan so that the appliance fits your teeth perfectly. At Impress, we advise our patients to continue wearing their aligners until their retainers arrive.

How long do you have to wear a retainer?

All retainers should be worn every day, but as for how long you have to wear your retainer each day, there is no single answer. It depends on the type of dental retainer you choose:

  • Fixed retainers after orthodontics, as their name suggests, are immovable, so the patient will always wear them.
  • As for removable retainers, they should be worn day and night, except when eating or brushing your teeth, for as long as your orthodontist indicates. Normally after the adaptation period, they only need to be worn at night.

When can I stop wearing my retainer?

One of the most common questions among patients finishing their orthodontic treatment is: when can I stop wearing my retainer? Both in the case of fixed and removable retainers, their use is not temporary. Dental retainers should be used throughout our entire lives, starting the moment orthodontic treatment ends. This is the only way to ensure that the results are maintained and that the teeth do not gradually return to their initial position.

The risks of not wearing retainers after braces or removable orthodontics

Many of the patients who come to our practice have the same case: When they were young they used to wear braces, but because of an inadequate retention system or because they never wore retainers, their teeth have moved again. In this case, patients usually have to start orthodontic treatment again to align their smile and avoid future health problems.

So, if you find yourself not wearing retainers after braces or any other orthodontic treatment, it’s likely that you’ll need another orthodontic treatment in the future, because your teeth will continue to move.

How to clean retainers

A lot of people wonder how to clean permanent or clear retainers, and the truth is, it’s pretty simple! The fixed retainers don’t require any special care. They’re cleaned when you brush your teeth.

On the other hand, removable retainers need a little more care. It’s recommended to wash them after removing them and before putting them back in, with cold water and neutral soap. Do not use toothpaste to clean them, you can scratch the appliance and make it loose its transparency, which will not be as aesthetically pleasing.Washing the splints not only keeps them in good condition, but also eliminates bad odours.

Patient learning how to clean clear retainers at home

How much do removable and fixed retainers cost in the UK?

We have established the importance of wearing dental retainers after braces, but you’re probably still worrying about how much retainers cost. The price of dental retainers can vary depending on whether they are fixed or removable. In addition, there are other factors that can influence the cost of retainers, such as the materials, the clinic or specialist you go to, etc. Below we show an estimate of prices for both permanent and removable retainers as a guide:

  • Cost of fixed retainers in the UK: between £100 - £400, approximately
  • Cost of clear or removable retainers in the UK: between £60 - £200 approximately

You should note that these prices only include a single device, so the price will increase if you need more than one.

Impress removable clear retainers 

At the end of your treatment, a face-to-face clinic visit is required in order to take a new 3D scan to produce your dental retainers, which you will receive a few days later. Initially, you will need to wear your retainers day and night for as long as your orthodontist recommends. However, after this period, you’ll only need to wear them at night. We recommend that you change them regularly - approximately every 6 to 9 months.

Impress retainers are suitable for and available to everyone, even if you haven’t done your orthodontic treatment with us. But it’s worth noting that, if you carry out your orthodontic treatment with Impress, the retainers after the orthodontics will be cheaper.

Whether or not you are an Impress patient, you can purchase your custom retainers from us. You can contact us to book an appointment at your nearest Impress clinic, by filling out the form through our website, by phone or WhatsApp at +44 20 3808 1072. Get in touch with us and we’ll answer all your questions!

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Frequently asked questions about dental retainers

Do retainers hurt your teeth?

No, retainers shouldn’t hurt your teeth, once you get used to fixed retainers you won't feel them anymore. And removable retainers are similar to invisible aligners and do not cause any discomfort or pain.

Can your teeth keep moving even with retainers?

Your teeth shouldn't be moving if you’re using your retainer as instructed and if they are, you should consult your orthodontist. It may be that your retention system is not right for you.

What should I do if my fixed or permanent retainer broke?

If either of the two devices has broken, you should go to the dentist's office to have the orthodontist fix it.

Can retainers straighten your teeth?

No, retainers can’t not straighten teeth. Their function is to maintain the orthodontic work previously done. So they are not responsible for correcting the teeth, but for retaining possible dental movements that may occur after orthodontics.


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