Hawley Retainers: Pros, Cons, and All You Need to Know

Hawley Retainers: What Are They and What Are They For?

Wearing a retainer after braces is an important step to maintaining your new smile. One of the most common types is the Hawley retainer, and despite being developed over 100 years ago, it’s still one of the most popular and reliable retainers.

But with new cutting-edge retainers entering the scene, is the Hawley able to keep up? Let’s find out if this old-school retainer is right for you.

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Key Takeaways

  • Hawley retainers are used after braces to retain improvements.

  • They consist of two parts: metal wires that sit around your teeth, held together by a plastic plate.

  • A Hawley retainer is removable, not fixed.

  • Hawley retainers are considered to be the most durable retainer option.

  • Retainers must be kept clean to reduce the risk of periodontal problems.

  • Hawley retainers are not an alternative for braces or clear aligners.  


What Is a Hawley Retainer?

The Hawley retainer is an orthodontic appliance made of metal and resin, which is used to keep teeth in place after straightening. It consists of two parts:

  • A hard acrylic plate that fits either into the roof of your mouth or under your tongue
  • A thin, metal wire that’s wrapped around your teeth 

A Hawley isn’t a braces alternative but is instead a removable retainer, used during the retention phase of orthodontic treatment. In other words, you won’t use the Hawley retainer to straighten teeth.


The Hawley retainer showed to be more successful at correcting irregularities and preventing a significant relapse


What Do Hawley Retainers Do?

Hawley retainers are used after another appliance has straightened your teeth, to keep them from being pulled back into their original positions. The same is true of all types of retainers, as your teeth settle and continue to shift throughout your life. Without the retention phase of orthodontic treatment to maintain alignment, time spent wearing braces might be wasted. 

In the case of Hawley retainers, the pressure needed to keep teeth in place is provided by metal wires. The wires can apply pressure to all areas of the mouth, both back and front teeth. However, separate retainers are required for upper and lower teeth.


Are Hawley Retainers Removable?

Hawley retainers are removable and can be taken out for cleaning, maintenance, and when eating or drinking. 

Removable retainers are generally used more often after treatment with braces. They offer several advantages:

  • Easier to clean: You can remove them from your mouth, making them much easier to thoroughly clean.
  • Better oral health: Appliances like braces and retainers can actually increase the risk of certain problems, like periodontal disease. Being able to take them out makes keeping your teeth clean easier as well.
  • Easier to replace: When permanent retainers fail, it’s because they break. That means removing a bonded appliance and putting a new one in, a relatively complicated procedure.
  • Less likely to break: Permanent retainers can break if you don’t care for them correctly. While removable retainers may get lost, they’re much more sturdy. In fact, Hawley retainers had the longest survival rate of any removable retainer option.

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What Do Hawley Retainers Look Like?

A Hawley removable retainer has a somewhat old-school look. It’s mostly made up of a red-pink acrylic plate shaped to fit your mouth. It’s the metal wire that does most of the actual work, however, with several loops extending to surround your teeth in different ways. 

While the default color for the acrylic part is red, it is possible to get a range of colors. Unlike colored brackets for braces, however, few people are going to be able to appreciate your fashion choice.

Many people may be more familiar with a vacuum-formed retainer, which looks something like a clear plastic mold for your teeth. Nevertheless, when you’re wearing your Hawley retainer, it will likely be just as hard to spot. The only option that may be better camouflaged is a lingual, bonded retainer that isn’t visible at all.


Pros and Cons of a Hawley Retainer

We’ve mentioned a few advantages of removable retainers, but that still leaves two options to choose from. A Hawley retainer continues to offer several advantages over the other primary option, clear retainers. After the discomfort of wearing braces, it’s important to weigh your options so you can choose the best retainer for you.



Pros and Cons of a Hawley Retainer

Despite it resembling a torture device, there are some solid reasons to choose a Hawley retainer:

  • Maintains back and front teeth, unlike clear retainers which work best on front teeth
  • More durable [1]
  • Useful for a wider set of misalignments
  • Relatively hard to spot
  • Lower risk of periodontal disease [2]



Hawley retainers have been around for a while because they are sturdy and effective, but new retainer options may be more attractive for these reasons:

  • Less popular than vacuum-formed retainers
  • Longer appointments
  • Less likely to be worn
  • More uncomfortable [3]


What You Need To Know Before You Get a Retainer

If you’re receiving orthodontic treatment, you may already have some idea of what to expect from retainers. However, the fact that retainers are removable can make them substantially different from braces or other appliances. A few key tips can make life easier:

3 Tips for Wearing a Hawley Retainer

  • Remove for eating: It may be embarrassing, but you should always remove your retainer before eating. 
  • Keep it clean: Retainers collect bacteria and food particles. They can also start smelling pretty bad if they aren’t cleaned regularly.
  • Get a spare: Having an extra handy, if possible, can be a lifesaver if your retainer gets damaged or goes missing.  

These rules apply equally to clear aligners, also known as Essix retainers after the original brand. It’s also true of a permanent retainer, with the exception of removing it. Finally, be sure to follow your orthodontist’s instructions.



Hawley retainers are the most durable type of retainer. Essix retainers usually fail when the hard plastic cracks. The most common cause of failure for Hawley retainers is through being lost, rather than broken. As a result, they can be a good option for multiple age groups, even younger kids. 

On the other hand, they can start to smell unpleasant if not kept clean, which can affect the freshness of your breath.


Treatment Time

Orthodontic treatment has several different phases, ending with the retention phase in which a retainer is used. You might wear braces for a few months, or at most years. However, you may have to wear a retainer regularly for quite a bit longer. 

Oftentimes, there is no end date to the retention phase and retainers need to be worn indefinitely. The orthodontist will discuss with you what to expect and your options. 


Hawley Retainer Care

Straightening your teeth can give you an attractive, healthy smile. However, the process can increase your risk of problems like gum disease and cavities [4]. It’s impossible to avoid when putting an appliance in your mouth. Keeping your retainer clean can help bring the risk back down.


How To Clean Hawley Retainers

Cleaning your Hawley retainer is fairly simple. Use warm water and a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean them thoroughly. Avoid using harsh cleaners.

Even if you take your retainer out to eat, it can still collect food debris, leading to inflammation and other problems. Keeping them clean and being sure to remove bacteria is the best way to lower those risks and improve oral hygiene.



If there is a retainer designed to be durable, it’s the Hawley retainer. Maintenance consists of wearing your retainer when directed and keeping them clean. Your orthodontist will discuss any specific issues during regular visits.


How Much Does a Hawley Retainer Cost?

While they are sometimes considered more cost-effective, the actual amount Hawley retainers cost is difficult to determine. The American Dental Association estimates the national average for a replacement retainer to be around $250, though it’s unclear if that’s a Hawley retainer, clear retainer, or fixed retainer. More likely, it’s an average of all those options [5].

To offer some points of comparison, Invisalign’s branded retainer can cost around $150 to $200. Retainers for at-home clear aligners are around $100. Remember that replacements, which you may need depending on how long the retention phase lasts, can add to the overall cost. 


Can You Buy a Hawley Retainer Online?

You may be able to buy a Hawley retainer online. However, while the internet can be a great place to expand knowledge and learn about general oral health topics, it’s often wiser to work through an expert. In this case, a retainer needs to be set correctly and used as part of an overall treatment plan. 

That requires taking teeth impressions, taking measurements, and a host of other specialized skills. Those are all skills an orthodontist possesses, so working through one is the best option.


Can You Buy a Hawley Retainer With Insurance?

You can use insurance to pay part of a Hawley retainers’ cost, with a couple of caveats. Dental insurance covers a lot of things, but most of what your orthodontist does is usually covered as part of an optional extra.

Additionally, it may be considered part of a major procedure, which usually requires a waiting period before it will be covered.


Hawley Retainer Alternatives

As we’ve mentioned, there is more than one type of retainer and one of the other options may fit your needs better. Currently, there are three options that are commonly used, including the Hawley. The other two most common are:

2 Hawley Retainer Alternatives

  • Clear plastic retainers, also known as Essix retainers, are the most modern option. They are generally made of thin, clear, plastic material vacuum formed to the shape of your bottom or top teeth.
  • Fixed lingual retainers are a type of permanent retainer made either from metal wire or ceramic material. They are fixed to the inside, or lingual, side of the teeth. 


Invisible retainers look similar to Invisalign or Byte aligners. In some ways, they are the same. If you use one of those options to straighten your teeth, you’ll use the last set as your retainers. However, those are the equivalent of metal braces or lingual braces, which actually do the work of moving the teeth.

While clear aligners aren’t approved for that purpose by the American Association of Orthodontists, invisible retainers are common and well accepted. 

However, they can be a good option for straightening teeth in some situations, as long as you keep up with dental visits. Treatment starts by getting a home teeth impression kit. Find out more in our Byte Aligners review and AlignerCo review.

>>Check out the best price for Byte Aligners impression kit


Are Hawley Retainers Right for Me?

A retainer is an important part of keeping your new smile, but they don’t all keep your teeth in place the same way. The clear plastic retainer is growing in popularity as it’s seen as being both more comfortable and more discreet. However, there are a few contexts in which the Hawley retainer comes out on top. Factors to keep in mind include:

  • Type of treatment: Clear retainers work best on the front teeth and when no teeth have been removed.
  • Length of treatment: If you’re expecting to need a retainer for years and don’t mind some fiddly cleaning requirements, bonded retainers might be a less inconvenient alternative.
  • Durability: Hawley retainers are the most rugged option and may be good for children or anyone hard on their stuff.

Retainers are an important part of keeping your new, beautiful smile. Choosing the right option can make things more comfortable, or even more affordable. 



Check out these simple answers to common questions.


Is a Hawley Retainer Better Than Other Retainers?

Can a Hawley Retainer Straighten Teeth Permanently?

Can You Sleep With Hawley Retainers?



You’ve suffered through braces or worse to get a new smile and it would be a shame to lose it. While clear plastic retainers are newer and more comfortable, the Hawley retainer can still be the better choice if you’re looking for a durable option or have had back teeth aligned.

>>Get your Byte Aligners Impression Kit



  1. Jin, Carrol, et al. “Survival Analysis of Orthodontic Retainers.” Academic.oup.com, Oct. 2018, https://academic.oup.com/ejo/article/40/5/531/4822951?login=true.
  2. Manzon, Licia, et al. “Periodontal Health and Compliance: A Comparison between ESSIX and Hawley Retainers.” American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Mosby, 29 May 2018, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0889540618301690.
  3. Hitchens, Lisa, et al. “Cost-Effectiveness and Patient Satisfaction: Hawley and Vacuum-Formed Retainers.” Academic.oup.com, Aug. 2007, https://academic.oup.com/ejo/article/29/4/372/394220.
  4. Hadler-Olsen, Sigurd, et al. “The Incidence of Caries and White Spot Lesions in Orthodontically Treated Adolescents with a Comprehensive Caries Prophylactic Regimen - a Prospective Study.” Academic.oup.com, Oct. 2012, https://academic.oup.com/ejo/article/34/5/633/550033.
  5. “Dental Fees Results from the 2013 Survey of Dental Fees.” America's Pediatric Dentists, 2013, https://www.aapd.org/assets/1/7/PolicyCenter-2013_Survey_of_Dental_Fees.pdf.

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