Definition and Overview

Installing retainers is an orthodontic procedure performed right after the braces are removed. Its goal is to keep the teeth from shifting or moving out of their current position, maintaining the position of the newly straightened teeth in the long run. Retainers are worn for several years and in some cases, for an indefinite period as long as patients know how to care for their retainers properly.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

All patients who undergo orthodontic treatment will need to have retainers installed after they get their braces removed. The retainers are expected to help maintain the effects of the braces while the gums continue to adjust to the teeth’s new position. In most cases, patients are asked to wear the retainers either during the day or the night.

There are four types of retainers that are in currently in use and these are:

  • Hawley – The Hawley retainer is a metal wire that surrounds the entire row of teeth to keep them in their place. It can be adjusted through its 2 omega loops and is designed to be perched on the palate. More recent versions of the Hawley retainers, however, feature a clear wire instead of a metal one to improve its appearance. The performance of these newer versions, unfortunately, is not comparable to the original kind, which is why the clear version is not recommended for younger patients who are more prone to break the device.

  • Essix – The Essix is a vacuum-formed dental retainer made of PVC material with a clear, transparent appearance. The retainer can be either fitted over the entire row of teeth or clipped on to cover only a set number of teeth. It bears many similarities with Invisalign braces due to its virtually invisible appearance. Although easier to wear than the Hawley retainers, this type is not suitable for use when the patient is eating and thus has to be removed.

  • Zendura – Zendura dental retainers are made with polymeric material designed to give patients an invisible alternative to their wired retainers.

  • Bonded retainers – Also known as fixed retainers, these are passive wires that are permanently bonded to the incisors and thus cannot be removed. They are more effective and appropriate when there is a high risk that the effects of orthodontic treatment will be reversed.
    By maintaining the proper alignment of teeth, dental retainers offer several benefits to the patient, such as:

  • Improving chewing – Patients using retainers will be able to chew their food properly because of their proper teeth alignment and well-adjusted bite.

  • Improving breathing – Retainers can also be prescribed for patients suffering from breathing difficulties that occur at nighttime.
  • Correcting speech problems – The continued use of retainers can help a person with speech problems. This is because aside from maintaining proper teeth positioning, retainers can also adjust tongue placement.
    Despite the many benefits offered by retainers, the primary use of the device is to maintain the results of braces.

How the Procedure Works

To install retainers, dentist will get the impressions of the patient’s teeth. The patient will be advised to return once the retainers are ready.

The process of installing retainers is fairly simple, but may be a bit more complicated if fixed retainers are involved as these have to be cemented behind the teeth.

If removable retainers are to be used, the patient will be given strict instructions on how to properly wear, remove and wear the retainers again until the patient gets used to it. Generally, removable retainers are worn the same way, which follows the steps below:

  • Hold the retainer properly, with the arch points facing forward, and check on its quality and condition.
  • Put the retainer over the appropriate row of teeth inside the mouth
  • Push the retainer so that it fits into place.
    Generally, retainers do not cause pain or discomfort, unless some complications arise.

Possible Risks and Complications

Despite the many benefits of continuous use of retainers, people who need to wear them also face certain challenges, most of which affect them during the beginning of the process. The most common is getting used to wearing the retainers. Most patients, especially younger ones, find themselves forgetting to wear their retainers or carry the case where the retainers should be placed in case they need to remove them such as when they have to eat.

Fortunately, the challenges are hardest only at the beginning, but eventually becomes a normal part of the patient’s life.

There are also additional risks associated with fixed or bonded retainers. Since these cannot be removed for cleaning or personal hygiene purposes, they can make brushing as well as flossing quite a challenge. Because of this, there is a risk of developing tartar buildups or gingivitis. Also, fixed retainers can become loose after some time. If this occurs, the patient has to go to the dentist to have the retainers replaced.

To avoid any risks and complications, patients with retainers should visit their dentist regularly for as long as the retainers are being used.


  • American Dental Association
Share This Information: