Near the end of your smile journey, you may be presented with several types of retainers to choose from. Each type of retainer is different, and not all of them are ideal for clear aligner users. In this blog post, we’ll cover the following:
- Types of retainers,
- What makes each type of retainer unique,
- Things you should consider when choosing the best type of retainer for your teeth straightening goals, and
- How to clean your retainers and care for them.
Types of Retainers
There are five basic types of retainers we will review in this post. Three of them are clear retainers, one is the more traditional retainer worn after metal braces, and our final retainer is a new entrant to the market. Let’s begin with the two most popular types of clear retainers, the Essix retainer and the Vivera retainer.
The Essix Retainer
Essix retainers closely resemble the clear aligners you’ve been wearing throughout your treatment. They are made with the same thin, transparent plastic with which every Invisalign patient is familiar and are very popular because of their durability.
How long will an Essix retainer last? The answer varies, but if you take good care of it and keep it clean, it should last between 3 and 5 years. But if you grind your teeth, or don’t keep your retainers clean, you may find yourself needing a replacement sooner. That is not an ideal scenario, because of the cost of Essix retainers which can range between $50-200 per set!
Image courtesy of Chetlin | Pechersky Orthodontics
Vivera retainers are simply Invisalign’s branded version of the Essix retainer. Just like when you were fitted for your invisible braces, your orthodontist’s office will take a digital scan of your teeth and have your retainers created using the same 3D printing technology that Invisalign uses to make it’s clear braces.
One nice perk related to the Vivera retainer is that you’ll get 4 upper and 4 lower retainers, all from the same mold, and all delivered at the same time. This ensures that you’ll have backup retainers on hand, especially useful if you grind your teeth at night or if you travel frequently and want to keep an extra set of retainers in your travel bag. However, this does come at a cost, as many providers will charge between $500 and $600 for the Vivera retainer set.
Image courtesy of Manhattan Bridge Orthodontics
Vivera retainers offer great customer service through Invisalign. If you ever need a new retainer, it’s easy to get one shipped to you because Invisalign saves the digital scan for quick delivery. This is awesome for Invisalign teens or college students who no longer live at home, and noteworthy because traditional retainers require a new impression and subsequent stone model during each fabrication. This requires a trip to the dentist or providers office, which can be disruptive for anyone with a busy lifestyle or day-to-day obligations like job or school.
The Hawley retainer is an old-school, traditional retainer with acrylic in the middle and a metal wire across the front teeth. It is more common in younger kids after they have an expander. If you’re an adult clear aligner patient, it is unlikely that this would be your type of retainer after Invisalign.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Retainers Page
Like the Essix and Vivera retainers, Hawley retainers are removable and durable. They are easy to clean and quite effective, but most Invisalign patients will use either type of clear retainer we described above.
The Fixed Retainer (aka, Permanent Retainer or Lingual Retainer)
Fixed retainers are metal wires glued onto the tongue side of your teeth. These permanent retainers hold in place the teeth to which they are attached. If your lower front teeth were really crooked or crowded in the beginning, these types of retainers may be a nice option for you, at least for the first year or two after your treatment. Then you will typically switch to a removable, night-time only retainer like the Essix retainer or Vivera retainer.
If they are so effective, why switch to a removable retainer? Hygiene. Permanent retainers require meticulous care and maintenance. In addition to regular and thorough brushing, they are a bit more challenging to floss. If you don’t floss underneath each part of the wire, plaque, tartar, and bacteria can build up which can damage your teeth and lead to serious problems like bone loss and gum disease.
Furthermore, while these types of retainers are “permanent” in the sense that they can’t easily be removed like clear Invisalign retainers, they can and will break if you aren’t mindful of what you eat. Not only can a broken retainer require a trip to your orthodontist or provider, it can be difficult to know if it has been broken.
If your fixed retainer breaks without your knowledge, it can go undetected until your next appointment and cause your teeth to relapse, sliding back to their original positions which can only be corrected by costly Invisalign refinements or a whole new treatment plan. If you do need to wear the permanent retainer, consider asking your Orthodontist if you can have an Essix retainer made to fit on top of your permanent retainer to protect it from damage.
The MEMOTAIN® Retainer
The MEMOTAIN® Retainer is a lingual retainer that, like Invisalign’s Vivera retainer, is made from a 3D printer for extreme accuracy. However, the MEMOTAIN® retainer is a lingual retainer that is fixed to the tongue side of your teeth, like a traditional permanent retainer.
Image courtesy of CA Digital, makers of the MEMOTAIN® Retainer
But that’s where the comparisons stop, as these state of the art retainers are very new to market and use a digital design and planning process to tailor them to the precise needs of individual patients. Another claim to fame for the MEMOTAIN® retainer is they are much thinner than conventional lingual retainers. They are made with a special memory alloy that, according to the company’s website, cannot be bent any more once it is brought to shape.
How to Clean Your Retainers and Care for Them
Retainers are not free and you will wear them for life (or as long as you want to keep your beautiful new smile), so prepare to invest in comfortable retainers and consider this cost as part of your smile journey. In other words, build it into the “total cost of ownership” for your clear aligner treatment.
But if you take good care of your retainers, you won’t have to buy them more often than necessary. We've got some great tips on our recent blog, Six Tips for Cleaning Clear Aligners. Check them out and remember, if you be good to your retainers, they'll be good to you.
What if I lose my retainer?
This is a common question. Many clear aligner patients save their last set of trays, and in a pinch they can be used as retainers but only for a short period of time. Retainers are thicker than your clear aligner trays, so they won’t hold with the same strength and can also wear out faster if you clench your jaw or grind your teeth at night.
Make sure that retainers are part of your oral care routine for as long as you want your results to last. That means taking them with you when you travel (check out these cute retainer cases to give yourself some extra motivation to bring them along) and following your individual wear time recommendations.
Closing thoughts on retaining your ideal smile
As always, ask your orthodontist or provider which retainer would work best for your case. Recommendations will be specific to your individual needs, but in general you can look forward to your retainer wear time to reducing as the years go by. In most cases, you’ll go from wearing your retainers all the time to wearing them every night, then to every other night as you get into the later years of retention.
Remember: your gums and teeth are like a muscle. After training them with clear aligners, you have to retain your results. Anything less would be foolish, and a wasted investment of time and money!