Retainers are appliances that are used following orthodontic treatment to maintain the final position of the teeth. They play an integral part in the overall orthodontic process and are an absolute necessity for all patients at the end of treatment. Retainers come in various shapes and forms. However, there are two main types: removable and fixed.

“Removable retainers” are those that can be taken in and out of the mouth. Examples of removable retainers include Hawley retainers and clear, Invisalign like retainers. Hawley retainers offer the advantage of sturdiness and durability because they incorporate wires and acrylic parts. However, a drawback of Hawley retainers is that they are visible and can sometimes be uncomfortable to wear. On the other hand clear retainers are more aesthetic and often easier and more comfortable to use. Their drawback is that they do discolour over time and tend to be more brittle than Hawley retainers.

“Fixed or bonded retainers” are the second type of retainers. They consist of a thin wire that is bonded or “glued” on the back of the front teeth and designed to be kept indefinitely. Once placed, they can only be removed by a dentist or an orthodontist.

Because fixed retainers are permanently attached to the teeth they do not rely on patient cooperation and are less prone to being misplaced or lost. They are less visible and therefore more acceptable in social situations than their removable counterparts. Unfortunately they do have flaws of their own such as being a food trap and harder to clean around. There are also more food restrictions with fixed retainers since they can easily break if in contact with hard foods. Removable retainers on the hand offer the advantage of easier access for brushing and flossing, no food restrictions since they are removed during meals, more hygienic and easier to maintain. The main disadvantage of removable retainers is that they require absolute compliance and proper wear. If not worn as directed, the teeth will shift again.

There is no “perfect” retainer. They all work differently but ultimately have the same goal which is to maintain the ideal, final position of the teeth. If worn and handled as instructed by the orthodontist they allow patients to keep that beautiful smile for a lifetime.

Dr. Salmassian is a Board Certified orthodontist. For any questions regarding this article or to schedule your complimentary orthodontic evaluation please call 661-222-7444.