Choosing the Best Type of Retainer After Invisalign Treatment

Most people know they'll have to wear retainers after Invisalign, but not everyone knows which kind is best for them. Near the end of your clear aligner treatment, you may be presented with several options. 

Some are not even recommended as Invisalign retainers. In this blog post, we’ll tell you all you need to know about clear retainers including:

  • Types of retainers
  • What makes each type of retainer unique
  • Things to consider when selecting your retainer after Invisalign
  • How to clean your retainers and care for them

Retainer Accessories for Clear Aligners

Types of Retainers for Clear Aligners

There are five basic types of retainers we will review in this post. Three 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!

The Essix retainer is a clear type of retainer similar to invisalign trays

Image courtesy of Chetlin | Pechersky Orthodontics

Vivera Retainers

Vivera retainers are simply Invisalign’s branded version of the Essix retainer. Just like when you were fitted for your invisible braces, your orthodontist will take a digital scan of your teeth and create your retainers 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 travel frequently and want to keep an extra set of retainers in your luggage. However, this does come at a cost, as many providers will charge between $500 and $600 for the Vivera retainer set.

Picture of Vivera Retainers from Manhattan Bridge Orthodontics

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

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.

Hawley retainers are traditionally worn after metal braces and are removable retainers

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.

The MEMOTAIN Retainer is an innovative new retainer made with memory alloy featuring several benefits

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.

Caring For Your Invisalign Retainers

Retainers are not free and you will wear them for life (or as long as you want to keep your beautiful new smile), so build it into the “total cost of ownership” for your clear aligner treatment.

If you take good care of your retainers, you won’t have to buy them more often than necessary (typically, every six months but this does vary from provider to provider). Buy a retainer cleaner like Smile Saver Spray™ to keep them fresh and clean and read more advice in 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 Your Retainer After Invisalign

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 expect your retainer discipline to relax 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!



  • Lynn

    Love, love my Invisalign s…have worn mine 11/2 yr. about to go into a retainer, I have cheated tho, worn my last two trays extra long, the best part I brushed my teeth three or four times a day, just couldn’t put the trays in with dirty teeth….now the interesting part I am 77 years old, I wasn’t aware how,your teeth move the older you get, my bottoms were the worst, but did the tops too. So if your thinking about doing this DO……..

  • Carrie

    Maggie, do you actually have Invisaline, or are they another type of invisible aligner? The reason I ask is because my Orthodontist had a special of $2500 for invisable aligners. It seemed as though they used something like smile direct to start with. Which didn’t work well for me. Once it didn’t work, they switched to doing in-house invisible aligners. Both of those sliced up my mouth like crazy. I’m talking horrible pain, where I had to take an emery board to file down every new set and it was still so painful. Once those also didn’t work, my Orthodontist ordered me Invisaline. Since these, I haven’t experienced any kind of pain at all. No rough edges and barely any pain during teeth movement (even though I would have welcomed the pain to move them quicker after 2 years of this journey with minimally crooked teeth). I should at least say that my Orthodontist never charged me anything extra above the $2500 and I know they spent far more than that to ensure that I was happy with my results, but I am a 33 year old woman that would have gladly paid more to have this take the 6 months I was initially told my “invisible aligners” would take as opposed to 2 years.

  • maggie

    I am coming to the end of my invisaligner treatment. I have ordered my retainers. I understand tney are similar to invisaligners but thicker. I wonder if they are more precisely shaped…I often found my liners to be uncomfortable, not just due to the discomfort of moving my teeth but because the plastic is sharp and can get crinkled from pullling on and off and then sharp edges can be felt inside the lips or on the gums. I find that I dread having to wear the same thing every night for the rest of my life. I"d like to have something that is a bit more comfortable without such sharp edges. Any recommendations?

  • George Davis

    This article is helpful for people looking for perfect retainers. You can go for VFR,Hawley retainer,fixed lingual retainer(PERMANENT RETAINER) according to your need.

  • Jasmine Hewitt

    This is very helpful. I’m in the market for Invisalign after having braces for 2 years as a teen. My ortho was terrible – after being treated for a telescopic overbite, I had to wear braces. My teeth were always straight, but the procedure involved pulling teeth on the top, and widening the bottom. After the braces were removed, I received removable retainers. only the retainers that didnt fit at all and did nothing. and the ortho wouldn’t make any effort to fix them. 15 years later, I have crooked teeth that I didnt have to begin with :-(

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