The Different Types Of Retainers After Braces (Plus Pros & Cons)


No matter if you just got your braces off or finished your active treatment with Invisalign, you want to protect the investment made in your straight teeth. The last thing you want to do is have your teeth drift back out of alignment. At this point, you’re in the critical phase of orthodontic treatment known as retention. This is where retainers come in. Retainers work to stabilize your teeth in position while the bone surrounding them hardens.

Decades ago, this meant only having one choice in the type of retainer that would be available to you and it was bulky and somewhat uncomfortable. But, as dental and orthodontic science has evolved over the years, there are now multiple types of retainers available today. Plus, they’ve all been made to be as comfortable and discreet as possible. 

Depending on the situation, when you come in to have your braces removed or for your checkup at the end of your aligners treatment, your orthodontist will make a recommendation for one or more of these types. There are three basic types available now, each with its pros and cons:

Hawley Retainer


Named after its inventor Charles Hawley, the type of retainer that most people think of first is what is known as the Hawley retainer (also referred to as a wire retainer). This is the oldest and most proven type of retainer.

These removable retainers consist of a custom-molded hard plastic piece that fits against the palate of the mouth while an attached metal wire goes around the front of the teeth. This plastic piece can come in a variety of different colors.



  • Built to last and stay in place.
  • Allows the bite to settle.
  • Relatively easy to adjust and fix as needed.
  • Easy to clean and maintain.
  • You can add some personality to it by customizing colors or patterns.



  • The metal wire across the teeth makes them visible in the mouth.
  • Easier to lose. 
  • Expensive to replace.
  • Biting surfaces remain exposed so they do not protect against teeth grinding.
  • Can provide some room for movement of your teeth out of the desired position.
  • Can feel uncomfortable against the palate and cause a slight lisp at first.


Clear Plastic Retainer


Quickly becoming a more popular type of retainer is the clear plastic retainer. This modern evolution of orthodontic care looks very similar to clear aligners like Invisalign®. These customized, removable retainers are made of a thin, clear plastic that fits closely over your teeth. Many orthodontists agree that these retainers do the best job of keeping your teeth in the desired aligned position.



  • Are almost completely invisible.
  • Can be corrective, as they can help move your teeth back in place if they shift slightly over time.
  • Prevent the premature wearing down of teeth due to grinding at night.
  • Are not as expensive to replace as other types of retainers.



  • Are not as durable compared to other types since they’re made of plastic.
  • Can be extremely easy to misplace since they are clear.
  • Sometimes the plastic can discolor over time, giving your teeth a yellow tint when wearing the retainer.


Permanent Bonded Retainer


The final type of retainer that can be an option for some patients is a permanent bonded retainer. Most often used on the lower front teeth, these retainer systems are not removable and are made of a wire that is bonded to the backside of the teeth. Thus making them invisible. These retainers often remain in place for months, or longer. 

These retainers can make a great solution in situations where there is a high risk for the teeth to move back to their former position.



  • Are not easily visible to others.
  • Don’t have to worry about them getting thrown out or losing them.
  • Last a long time.



  • Are harder to clean and requires more effort to effectively brush and floss compared to other types of retainers.
  • Can be irritating to your tongue initially, requiring the use of dental wax.
  • Are not removable.


Things to Consider When Choosing Between the Types Of Retainers


Of course, your orthodontist will make a recommendation for the type (or types) that they believe is best for your situation. But, there are some factors you should consider personally including:

  • Effectiveness:
    In general, all three types of retainers are very effective. But remember, removable containers can only be effective if they are used and cared for properly.
  • Appearance:
    Consider how important the appearance, or lack of, the retainer is to you. If appearance is important, a clear or permanent retainer will be the best option. Both of these will be very hard to notice. Unlike Hawley retainers which will be clearly visible. Though these are often mainly worn when not in public or while sleeping.
  • Durability:
    In terms of durability, Hawley retainers and permanent retainers will last longer compared to clear retainers. Though clear retainers do protect against teeth grinding at night, this will wear the retainers down even faster.
  • Convenience:
    This is a very important factor to consider. As mentioned above, how well your retainer works comes down to you. So, it’s important that you go with a retainer that will realistically fit your lifestyle. Permanent retainers can be much more convenient since you don’t have to do much beyond keep up with good oral hygiene and general maintenance. With clear retainers and Hawley retainers, you have to take them in and out and they need to be cleaned regularly but are not in the way when you brush and floss.

Make sure to ask questions and discuss your options for retainers thoroughly with your orthodontist.


Protect Your Investment With Effective Retainers


All of the different types of retainers available now will be effective in maintaining the proper positioning of your teeth after your active treatment is complete. No matter which type you use, it is important to make sure you are using them as directed to protect your investment in your beautiful smile. 

Our expert team here at Cook & Gutsche Orthodontics can give you personalized recommendations on the type of retainer(s) that might be the best for your teeth. We’ll also provide detailed instructions on when to wear your retainer and how to properly care for it. 

If you have questions about the different types of retainers, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ll gladly answer any questions you may have.