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Teeth retainers are a vital dental device to keep the teeth in their new position after wearing braces. A retainer fits behind or over the teeth. Metal wire and clear plastic retainers are available, and a combination of both.

Different types of retainers are available, which function slightly differently but serve the same purpose. The wide range of retainer options makes choosing the right type of retainer confusing.

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How do retainers work, and why is wearing them after braces important?

Wearing braces isn't a fun thing to do. After working hard and probably enduring dome discomfort to achieve your dream smile, you wouldn't want your teeth to move out of alignment. This is where retainers apply.

After removing braces, your teeth will naturally return to their previous position. Your teeth can shift as you grow older and when your wisdom teeth come through. Wearing a retainer will help hold your teeth in their new position.

Fixed and removable retainers can keep your teeth straight for years, provided you wear them as your dentist recommends.

You can wear a retainer on only your lower or upper teeth or both, usually where you wear the braces.

What is the difference between retainers and braces?

Braces are for moving misaligned teeth into a better position for improved dental health. The dental professional attaches them to the teeth with brackets. You can also use removable aligners like Invisalign. The treatment lasts six months to three years, depending on the movement required.

You need retaining devices after braces, and they are for keeping the teeth straight. Different retainer options are available, plastic or metal, and fixed or removable, but they have one aim – to keep the teeth straight.

Can I straighten my teeth with a retainer?

Some retainers straighten crooked teeth, provided the correction needed is mild. For example, if you previously wore braces and your teeth have started moving again. Your orthodontist or dentist will advise you on the right treatment.

Spring aligner retainers can support simple teeth movement. They are similar to the normal Hawley device but have additional parts to slightly move one or more teeth or prevent overcrowding.

Removable braces may be a good option if you don't want to straighten your teeth with fixed metal braces. These options use clear, removable aligners that look like clear plastic retainers and are virtually invisible. Unlike retainers, clear aligner braces are made to apply pressure on some teeth to move them into alignment.

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Are retainers, night guards and mouthguards the same thing?

Although retainers, night guards and mouth guards are similar, they serve different purposes. Retainers help keep your teeth in position following orthodontic treatment, while mouth guards protect the mouth from injury. Mouth guards are flexible plastic that protects the teeth and jaw during physical activities and sports.

Night guards are firmer than mouth guards and are made for patients who grind or clench their teeth at night. They are for people who grind or clench their teeth at night. Night guards can protect the jaw and teeth from damage and pain resulting from teeth grinding.

Types of retainers

Different types of retainers are available, each with downsides and benefits. Your dentist will recommend the most suitable for you.

  • Hawley retainer (removable)

Hawley retainers, also called metal or wire retainers, can be used on the lower and upper teeth. They are removable, so you can take them out to eat and take sugary drinks. The plate (the part that touches your palette and gums) is made from acrylic plastic and has wires that sit over and across the teeth. Some dentists may add a pattern or customise the colour of the plate.

This brand is one of the cheapest retainers and can last several years if you properly care for them. A significant downside of Hawley retainers is they are easily noticeable, especially if used on the upper teeth. You won't have this issue after transitioning to wearing them at night.

The Hawley is also known as a wraparound retainer, but it is different from a headpiece used for some braces treatments. You can add spring aligners for minor teeth straightening.

  • Clear Essix retainer (removable)

Essix is a removable clear aligner. They cover the teeth and sit above the gum line. Some people choose Essix because they are less obvious than wire retainers. They cost the same as the Hawley retainer but may not last as long.

You will remove the device to eat and clean it regularly. The retainer may become discoloured over time, but a proper cleaning routine can prevent this.

  • Vivera retainer (Invisalign)

Vivera retainer is a clear plastic retainer made by the manufacturers of Invisalign braces. It is also made from a strong material that makes it durable.

Before getting the Vivera retainer fitted, you will have a laser scan taken of your mouth. If you do not like the feeling of having your teeth impressions taken, Vivera retainers may be the best option for you. You don't need to have undergone Invisalign treatment to get a Vivera retainer.

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Fixed retainer

A fixed bonded retainer is a completely different option, also known as the permanent or lingual retainer. This retainer is for the front six teeth, usually on the lower jaw. The dentist will glue a strong wire behind the teeth to keep the retainer in place. It may need replacement every 3 – 10 years.

Fixed retainers are a bit more expensive than the basic removable retainer, but many people prefer them since they are completely hidden. While you can't lose the fixed retainer, attaching the wire to the teeth makes cleaning and flossing difficult.

What is the cost of retainers in the UK?

Dental retainers cost about £60 - £400 per arch with a private dentist in the UK. The price depends on the dentist and the type of retainer you choose. 

The price range above is for one device, except for Vivera retainers that come in a pair. You usually have to buy several sets of Vivera retainer at once, so you may spend about £400 - £700.

You may need check-ups and follow-up treatment after fitting the appliance, so ensure you factor this into the cost of getting retainers. Other factors to consider are the cost of a removable retainer being lower than a permanent retainer, but you have to replace the removable option.

When buying a retainer, check how long the provider will keep your teeth impressions. If your retainer gets broken or lost, you will need a replacement quickly and getting a new retainer is faster if you don't have to get a new impression. Your retainer may cost less if you aren't getting a new impression.

How much is a replacement retainer?

In private dental practice, a new retainer costs the same as the original. You may save money if you don't need a new dental impression. Another option cheaper than visiting a dentist is getting replacement retainers online. You may want to organise a replacement before your current retainers break so your teeth do not move between your retainer sets.

You can also get a broken retainer repaired. If your retainer is broken or damaged, get advice from your dentist.

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How long will I have to wear retainers after braces?

You need to wear retainers for the rest of your life if you want your teeth to remain straight. Without a retainer, your teeth will gradually move out of alignment. Some people notice their teeth have gradually moved years after their braces treatment.

If you are wearing a removable retainer, your dentist may ask you to wear it most of the time for the first six months, except while eating. Afterwards, you can wear the retainer only overnight. Depending on your treatment, your dentist will instruct you on the duration of wearing a retainer daily.

A permanent retainer stays in place, so you don't have to worry about it, except while cleaning your teeth.

How to clean your retainer

Cleaning our retainer is as important as cleaning your teeth to prevent food particles from getting stuck and causing bacteria and plaque build-up. This increases the risk of gum disease, tooth decay and bad breath. Clear retainers can get discoloured without proper cleaning.

Permanent and removable retainers need different types of care. Your dentist will show you how to clean your retainers.

Removable retainers

  • Rinse your retainer with warm water after removal and before putting it back in.
  • Clean your retainer twice daily with castile or dish soap, using a soft-bristled toothbrush to remove bits of food and plaque.
  • Clean the deep grooves with a cotton bud.
  • Some dentists recommend soaking your retainer in a cleaning product, such as Retainer Brite. Follow the instructions from the product's manufacturer and your dentist's advice.
  • For clear retainers that have become yellow, gently scrub the retainer with water, baking soda and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Do not use whitening toothpaste on your Essix or Hawley retainer. It may be abrasive and rough, so use only soap and water.
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Fixed retainers

You can't remove fixed bonded retainers for cleaning, so the cleaning process differs. Getting used to cleaning your teeth with retainers may take a while.

If you have fixed retainers, interdental brushes or dental floss are necessary to maintain dental health. You need a threader to clean between your teeth and under the bonded wire. You may find using interdental brushes easier for removing plaque build-up. You still need to brush your teeth as normal.

Different types of retainers are available at McKennell Dental Practice. You can visit us at 21 Churton Street London SW1V 2LY to consult our dentist on the right retainers after your braces treatment. Feel free to call us on 020 7834 8802 to book an appointment.

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Frequently asked questions

Retaining devices may hurt, but only for 1 – 2 days after the fitting. The pain shouldn't be intense; you can take pain medications to manage the pain. If the pain worsens or continues, visit your dentist.

If you don't wear your retainer for a few days, it may hurt when you wear it again. This is because your teeth have already started moving slightly, and you are forcing them into place.

If parts of your retainers irritate your tongue, gums or cheeks, inform your dentist. In most cases, using a nail file can remove the sharp edges.

No, you can't. To ensure your teeth remain in place after braces, you need to keep wearing your retainer as the orthodontist or dentist recommends. It is normal for your teeth to move over time, and the movement is unpredictable.

Wearing a wire or plastic retainer after braces is important, but the best retainer for you will depend on several factors, such as appearance, durability and cost. You may also want to consider the ease or difficulty of cleaning the retainer.

You can get clear or metal retainers, which each has benefits and downsides. Ensure you weigh your options, and you can ask your dentist for recommendations.

Your retainer gets exposed to bacteria, plaque and food in your mouth. It can start smelling if you don't clean the retainers properly. Soak the retainer in a specially designed retainer cleaning product, like Retainer Brite, every few days to prevent stains and smells.

Your dentist will inform you when to wear your retainer for the best result. You may need to wear the retainers all day first, but most people transition to wearing them only at night after a few months. If you are conscious about wearing your retainer in the daytime, consider getting a clear retainer or a fixed one fitted behind your teeth.

Many orthodontists and dentists offer at least one type of retainer, but if you want a specific retainer, you need to check a few dental clinics near you. You may consider buying online, depending on which is more convenient.