Everything You Need to Know About How Retainers Work

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Jul 20, 2019

Jul 20, 2019 • by Rebecca Smith

More than four million Americans wear braces to straighten their teeth and improve their smile. After two years of discomfort, the braces are ready to come off. But the procedure isn't done yet.

If you have braces or are considering braces, your orthodontist has probably told you about retainers. They're an essential tool to keep your teeth straight even after the braces are gone. Although they seem simple, do you know how retainers work?

You should. If you don't use them, you probably know someone who does.

This comprehensive guide will look at the three main types of retainers, how they work, and why you should use them.

1. How are Retainers Made?

There are three different types of retainers: lingual, Hawley, and Essix. Your dentist will help you decide which is right for you.

A lingual retainer is a permanent retainer, usually fixed in place with durable metal wire. It's known as a lingual retainer because your orthodontist will fix this wire behind your teeth. The backside of your teeth, which faces your tongue, is called the lingual surface.

A powerful resin keeps the wire attached.

Hawley retainers also anchor themselves to the back of your teeth and arch around your canines. Your orthodontist will first create a mold of your teeth. With this mold, they will take a metal wire and shape it to fit your unique mouth structure.

With the mold prepared, an acrylic base is attached to the shaped wire with wax. The retainer is ready for use once the wax has dried.

The final option is an Essix retainer. Just like before, your orthodontist will create a mold of your teeth. But metal isn't used with an Essix retainer.

Essix retainers are made of thin plastic or polyurethane. The plastic is heated until pliable and vacuum-sealed to the mold. Once cooled, the plastic retainer is complete.

2. How Retainers Work

Retainers are the next step when your braces come off. If you believe your teeth will remain straight without assistance, you'll be surprised. To learn how retainers work, you have to understand how braces do their job.

Want to know why braces are so uncomfortable? They move teeth over time by providing a constant, guiding force with the help of metal wires. This weakens the current gum structure that keeps your teeth fixed in place.

But once the braces come off, your teeth will naturally start moving again. And if they succeed, your teeth will end up right where they used to be -- or worse.

But retainers retain your teeth. They don't allow movement or drifting to take place.

Since you just endured the hardship of braces, be vigilant and always wear your retainer. You owe your past self that much.

3. Retainer Pros and Cons

Now that you know how retainers work, let's take a deeper look at the three main options. Although your doctor will help you come to a decision, it helps to have all the basic facts upfront.

Here are the pros and cons of lingual, Hawley, and Essix retainers.

Lingual Retainers

The main appeal of permanent retainers is you don't have to worry about them. There's no fuss in forgetting to put them in since they're always on. Lingual retainers are hidden behind the teeth, so they're invisible to everyone.

And unlike some other retainers, they don't tend to affect your speech or chew. Plus, they're very hard to damage.

But although they're permanent, you'll probably have to remove or replace them in the future. The worst thing about a permanent retainer is it gets in the way of proper cleaning.

You'll have to be especially vigilant about flossing if you choose a permanent retainer.

Hawley Retainers

Compared to the plastic alternative, Hawley retainers are quite durable. You also don't have to deal with a buffer between your upper and lower teeth. Hawley retainers are a popular option because they have a long lifespan.

Although prices can vary, they more or less match the cost of Essix retainers.

However, Hawley retainers are very noticeable since they run along the front of your teeth. And of all the retainers, they're the most likely to impair your natural speech.

Essix Retainers

When people think of retainers, they conjure up an image of Essix retainers. Thin, plastic, and removable, they're the simplest and least intrusive. Your speech and chew are minimally affected, and the thin layer is virtually invisible on your teeth.

But unlike other retainers, you'll have to get a new pair if you need adjustment or they become damaged. Plus, plastic retainers tend to have a lifespan of only one year. Any longer and they are liable of breaking or discoloring.

If you're interested in an Essix retainer, you have an option between Essix and Essix Plus. Compare the differences before your orthodontist appointment.

4. Retainer Benefits

In addition to a pretty smile, there are other reasons to keep your retainer in. To the surprise of no one, straight teeth are easier to clean. They also make for a cleaner chew, which leads to more digestive enzymes that keep bacteria at bay.

Straight teeth can help you enunciate. Overbites and underbites affect your ability to speak. Once the braces come off, keep that retainer in to ensure your tongue has enough room for proper speech.

And in general, a retainer keeps you conscious of your oral health. Every time you insert or remove the retainer, you're making an effort to keep your teeth healthy. That can pay off in spades down the road since poor oral health may lead to cardiovascular problems.

Retainers Are Forever

After the braces are removed, you'll have to keep your new retainer on at all times. You can wear them sparingly after a year, but there's no getting rid of them.

So you should make sure you choose the retainer that's best for you. Now that you know how retainers work, it should be an easy decision. Consider the pros and cons and compare prices.

And don't fret! Even if you choose a permanent retainer, it can be removed down the line. You might have to go through a variety of retainers until you find one you're comfortable with.

Keep reading our blog for more tips.