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Types of Retainers and Pros and Cons of Each

Last updated: October 1, 2018

Learn the pros and cons of different types of retainers, including fixed, Hawley, and clear.

Types of retainers

As exciting as getting your braces off may be, it’s important to know that this doesn’t necessarily mark the end of your orthodontic journey. Once the teeth are moved into their proper position, retention is usually recommended to make sure the teeth stay in place.

In this post we describe a few of the most commonly used orthodontic retainers as well as the pros and cons associated with each type.

Removable Retainers

Hawley and clear (Essix, Tru-Tain, Vivera) are the two main styles of removable retainers. While each type carries its own advantages and disadvantages, a general benefit shared by all removable appliances is that they are, indeed, removable. This means you can take them out to eat, brush and floss, and during those times when wear is not needed. This can also be a negative, however, as removable retainers can get accidentally lost or thrown away, and compliance with wear requirements is imperative to prevent the teeth from moving back to their original position.

Hawley Retainer

Hawley retainer

The Hawley retainer has been around since the 1920s and is still one of the most commonly used retainers for upper teeth today. This retainer is made of plastic and bendable wire and is ideal when the teeth need to ‘settle’ or minor adjustments are still needed following orthodontic treatment. The plastic comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns so you can have a little fun personalizing this retainer.


  • + Repairable if damaged/full replacement not usually needed
  • + Durable construction
  • + Easy to clean
  • + Adjustable wire allows for tweaking after orthodontic treatment


  • – Bow wire that runs across the front of the teeth is clearly visible
  • – May cause a lisp (in most cases just initially)

Clear Retainer

clear orthodontic retainer

Clear retainers look very similar to Invisalign® aligners. In fact, the company that makes Invisalign® makes a line of clear retainers under the brand name Vivera®. Essix and Tru-Tain are other names for these appliances.

Clear retainers are made of a (you guessed it) clear molded plastic that fits over the teeth. This type of retainer is popular with patients because it is virtually invisible; however, it is not adjustable like the Hawley retainer and would need to be replaced if damaged.


  • + Virtually invisible
  • + Comfortable


  • – Needs to be inspected regularly for damage and replaced as needed
  • – May be difficult to keep interior surfaces clean
  • – Does not allow teeth to touch in a natural way

Permanent or Fixed Retainers

permanent retainer

Image Source: thermadent.co.uk/

Permanent retainers are ‘permanent’ as far as being bonded in place, but while they typically outlive removable appliances, they do not last a lifetime and may need to be removed/replaced down the road. This type of retainer is primarily used on the lower teeth and is comprised of wire that is glued to the back of the teeth with dental composite.


  • + Can’t be seen by others
  • + Long lifespan
  • + Compliance isn’t a concern; can’t be lost


  • – More difficult to keep teeth clean
  • – May need dental wax to make more comfortable
  • – Ongoing visits required to monitor the retainer

The type of retainer(s) your orthodontist recommends will largely depend on factors unique to your situation, such as whether any fine tuning is needed following orthodontic treatment. In the end it is ultimately your decision, but it is strongly encouraged to comply with the retention instructions of your orthodontist to ensure your teeth remain in place and that your fabulous post-treatment smile lasts a lifetime.

More Information on Retainers and Retention

If you would like more information on retainers/retention, click on one of the links below:

Orthodontic Retainer FAQ—This article answers some of the more common questions about orthodontic retention and retainers.

Retention—This page discusses the retention phase of orthodontic treatment and offers tips on keeping your retainer clean and damage-free.

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