Teeth After Braces: What Type of Retainers Are Best?

Types of Retainers: From Hawley Retainer To Permanent Retainer and All In Between

There are several different types of retainers available to the consumer, and navigating which type or model can be overwhelming. Here, we are going to break down the different types of retainers, their costs, how long they need to be worn, and the general pros and cons associated with each style.

Quick Overview: What Are the Types of Retainers?

Types of Retainers Overview Average Cost Without Insurance Average Cost With Insurance Average Treatment Duration
Removable Retainers Two types:


Hawley retainer—made of a hard acrylic and molded to fit the patient’s mouth. Also has visible metal wires to hold teeth in position.


The clear plastic retainer (Essix retainer)—molded clear plastic, removable trays designed to hold teeth still. Akin to Invisalign braces.



Hawley retainer—$150–340 per piece (up to $600 for a set).



Clear plastic retainer— $100–300 for one (up to $500 for a set).

Dependent on insurance providers and each individual’s benefits.

Typically, retainers fall under your orthodontic benefits.



Hawley retainers can range between a year and 20 years.



Clear Plastic retainers typically cycle anywhere from 6 and 12 months or longer.

Permanent Retainers Fixed lingual retainer—permanently affixed metal wire to the back of your teeth. $250–$500 per arch. Dependent on insurance coverage. Indefinitely.
Aligners Clear removable trays designed to move teeth in small increments from their original position every few weeks with the goal of changing the dental arch. Typically have monthly plans for consumers depending on desired effects of treatment. Dependent on insurance benefits, and can be covered by FSA or HSA accounts. Anywhere from 3 to 6 months.

Types of Retainers: Pros and Cons

There are several types of retainers, including:

  • Removable retainers (such as Hawley retainers and clear plastic retainers).
  • Permanent retainers.
  • Aligners.


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yte Aligners are among the fastest clear braces on the market with treatment times as low as just three months. The brand is FDA-approved and has one of the best virtual treatment portals. They are best if you have a mild to moderate case and would rather avoid expensive in-office treatments.

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It is common to see these types of retainers available for at-home/online purchases. In those instances, it is highly recommended that you pick a company and product that has a licensed dental or orthodontic specialist.

They can review any at-home impressions or bite molds you send in and allow you to track your progress. An example of an at-home kit that uses FDA-cleared technology, relies on a network of licensed dental experts, and can be covered by insurance benefits is Byte Aligners. Check out our Byte Aligners review for more information.


  • Similar to transparent retainers, aligners are invisible and easily worn in day-to-day use or overnight.
  • They are complementary to maintaining newly straightened teeth after having orthodontic braces removed and help with teeth spacing.
  • They can also help lessen the appearance of overbites and midline issues by better aligning incisors and canine teeth.


  • This type of orthodontic treatment cannot fully fix an overbite/underbite/crossbite or correct a midline.
  • Like other removable retainer options, a user must monitor the oral hygiene of their trays—making sure to adequately clean them.

Removable Retainers

There are two types of removable retainers.

The first is the traditional Hawley Retainer. This mouthpiece consists of a plastic piece formed to fit the roof or floor of the mouth that is attached to a wire that fits over your front teeth. Hawley retainers require dental visits, as the wires need to be adjusted over time.


  • This type of retainer is adjustable and can be personalized by choosing the plastic color.
  • They are durable and will last for years with proper care.


  • Patients using a Hawley retainer should be aware that bacteria can grow on it, causing excess saliva production.
  • A Hawley retainer is quite visible with the metal wire in front of teeth and it may cause a lisp when you first start wearing it.
  • It is easy to misplace or damage without proper care.

The second is Clear Plastic Retainers. This type of retainer—also known as a vacuum-formed retainer or Essix retainer—has several different models but is typically a molded clear thin plastic retainer. It’s usually a horseshoe-shaped piece of material that is molded to fit over your teeth.


  • The most aesthetically pleasing of the removable retainer options, as they are virtually invisible and a user can wear them and still smile for pictures.
  • Once the impressions are made, it is easy to have multiple copies made.
  • This type of retainer is more comfortable than other removable options.


  • If a user has other dental work done, there would be a need for new impressions and retainers to fit any major dental changes.
  • This style of retainer does not allow your upper and lower teeth to touch in a natural way.
  • It can be challenging to keep the interior surfaces clean and free of bacteria.

Permanent Retainers

Also known as fixed retainers, bonded retainers, or fixed lingual wire retainers, a permanent retainer is made of metal wire—usually copper, nickel, or titanium—that is affixed to the back of the patient’s teeth. This process is part of an extensive orthodontic treatment meant to hold teeth in place.


  • There is no need to follow an orthodontist’s instructions on how or when to wear a fixed retainer, as it remains in the user’s mouth indefinitely.
  • It cannot be lost or misplaced, and is easy to talk while in place.


  • Maintaining oral hygiene can be difficult due to the permanence of a fixed lingual retainer.
  • Flossing can be difficult which means that tartar and plaque buildup can be problematic and lead to gum disease.
  • This orthodontic treatment requires in-office visits to affix, alter, and remove.

Which Retainer Is Best?

Ultimately, it depends on what best fits you, your lifestyle, and your orthodontic goals. Aligners and the various retainer types are excellent alternatives to braces, and often less costly.

Aligners and Essix retainers allow for a consumer to avoid expensive dental office visits—however, as mentioned, it is important to find options that are professional and allow for use under the supervision of a dental professional.

When determining which retainer or aligner will be the best fit, pay attention to the various costs, duration commitments, and what the normal wear requirements will be to achieve your desired results.

For example, AlignerCo provides at-home options that are designed by dental professionals, require fewer daily hours of wear, fewer days of wear for each set, and reduced prices than many competitors. Check out our AlignerCo review for more details.

Other factors that can play a role in determining what style of retainer or aligner works best for you would be the severity of your misalignment or overbite/underbite. Most retainers can help straighten your teeth, but cannot fully fix the issue if it’s severe. Also, anything that is removable runs the risk of being misplaced or damaged—so if you’re a forgetful adult or have an absent-minded child, it might be best to consider permanent retainers or braces.

Regardless of your orthodontic concerns, the use of retainers and aligners in conjunction with braces or after having your braces removed can be quite complimentary. Ensuring the product you use is monitored by dental experts is crucial, as you want to make sure your retainer works with you as your dental profile adjusts.

Are Metal or Clear Retainers Better?

Clear retainers have become the popular pick thanks to their nearly invisible nature. However, a lot can be accomplished with other retainers and aligners. Having a permanent retainer or wire retainer may be necessary to fix major orthodontic concerns.

Metal retainers like Hawley, though removable, are still obviously visible and require care and maintenance. A clear retainer can be practically invisible, does not require special cleaning tools to maintain, and is easily removable to properly brush and floss your teeth to prevent plaque buildup.

What To Know Before You Get a Retainer

Before picking your new retainer, make sure you are working with a dental or orthodontic expert—in-person or virtually—and that you know the commitments you are making.

Some questions you can ask include:

  • What are the prescribed care requirements for your removable retainer?
  • What are the care requirements for a permanent or wire retainer?
  • Do you need extra brushes or a denture cleaner?
  • Does your insurance cover one style versus another?
  • Is the retainer FDA approved?
  • And finally, what will be the most complimentary to your lifestyle and your personal orthodontic goals?


Here are the most frequently asked questions about retainers and aligners.

What Type of Retainer Is Best After Braces?

What Are the Three Types of Retainers?

What Kind of Retainers Are Better?


It is easy to get overwhelmed and confused by the different orthodontic options out there—especially when you have just been told you need extra help to fix your smile. Pay attention to the benefits different types of retainers provide, their role in overall dental and orthodontic care, and know that your smile will always be uniquely yours.

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