Retainers: What You Need to Know

Straight teeth do not stay straight on their own.  They need help to keep their position.  Retainers do just that.  They retain the position of teeth in their correct place.

Why Do I Have to Wear a Retainer?

If your teeth have been straightened, you must wear a retainer regularly to keep them straight.

If your teeth have not been straightened, you might want to consider wearing a retainer regularly.

Here’s why:

It is a natural part of the aging process for teeth to get more crooked over time.  As we chew, the teeth rub against their neighboring teeth, and this friction removes small amounts of enamel over time.  The teeth get skinnier from side to side.

In order to prevent small gaps from opening, the teeth slowly shift forward.  This forward shift is natural, and it results in crowded or crooked teeth.

This happens whether or not your teeth were previously straightened.  The process is usually more obvious to people who had braces when they were young.

How Long Do I Have to Wear My Retainers?

We have a slightly sarcastic, but very true, answer to this question. You only have to wear it as long as you want your teeth to be straight.  Seriously.

Because of the aging process described in the previous section, crowding is inevitable for most people.  If you straightened your teeth, you made a significant investment in your beautiful smile.  Wearing your retainers regularly is the only way to keep it beautiful.

How Often Do I Have to Wear Retainers?

The answer to this question varies.

Some people have teeth that are prone to shifting as soon as the retainer is taken out each morning.  This type of scenario requires wearing retainers every night.

There are others whose teeth move very slowly, and the risk for shifting is less urgent.  A patient like this may be able to get away with wearing retainers twice a week.

No one should ever go more than one week without wearing retainers.

What Types of Retainers are Available?

There are many different types of retainers available today.  At Timberlake Dental, we offer a few select types of retainers, and we help our patients chose which one will best meet their needs.

Removable Retainers:

All of the statements made above regarding how long and how often you should wear retainers are based on the assumption that your retainer is removable.  Removable retainers are the most common type made today.


  • Removable retainers are typically less expensive.
  • Retainers you can remove allow you to keep your teeth as clean as possible.


  • A removable retainer requires you to cooperate with your dentist’s specific recommendations for how often to wear it. If you do not wear it, it cannot do its job.
  • Removable retainers can be lost or broken more easily.
  • Retainers that are removable will loosen and wear out over time. When this happens, they do not retain the teeth as well and need to be replaced.

In general, there are two different kinds of removable retainers.

  1. Esthetic Retainer – These clear plastic retainers cover all exposed surfaces of the teeth. They are great for maintaining the straightness of the teeth and holding the bite in its exact prescribed position.
  2. Acrylic and wire retainers – Also called Hawley retainers, these removable retainers have an acrylic base with a wire that wraps around the front of the teeth. A Hawley retainer will hold the teeth in their position front-to-back and left-to-right.  It does not hold them in a specific bite.  This allows the teeth to “settle” into a comfortable bite.  The wire can be adjusted to tighten or loosen the retainer as needed.

Glued-In Retainers:

A retainer that is glued to your teeth is called a fixed retainer.  A fixed retainer is composed of a wire that is bent to perfectly line the inside surface of the teeth. This wire is bonded to the teeth with an adhesive material that has a strong attachment to enamel.

Fixed retainers work well for lower teeth, but they are not always appropriate for upper teeth.  In most cases, attaching a metal wire to the backside of upper front teeth would interfere with the bite.  Only in rare cases will a fixed retainer work for upper teeth.


  • Fixed retainers cannot be removed so no patient compliance is required. You don’t have to remember to wear them because they are always in place.
  • Retainers that are glued to the teeth are long-lasting.
  • They are unlikely to get lost or broken.


  • Fixed retainers create an oral hygiene challenge. The wire prevents normal flossing and requires some extra effort, special tools, and different flossing techniques.
  • Retainers that are glued in typically only cover the front 6 teeth, so they do not prevent movement of the other teeth in the mouth.
  • They are not a good choice for upper front teeth.
  • They do not protect a correct bite relationship.

Do Retainers Last Forever?


Removable retainers often loosen and wear out over time.  Fixed retainers can also break or come unglued to the teeth.

It is important to keep up with the proper maintenance on your retainers, no matter what type you have.  Bring your removable retainers with you to your professional teeth cleaning visits.  We will clean them and ensure the proper fit.  We will also evaluate them for wear and tear to let you know when a new one is necessary.

How Much Do Retainers Cost?

The cost varies based on the type of retainer.  In general, removable retainers are less expensive than fixed retainers.  Some retainers perform additional functions and cost more.  Dr. Chowning will go over the cost of each type of retainer with you and help you select the best one for your needs.

What if I Need a Nightguard for Grinding?

Some nightguards are dual purpose and act as a retainer to maintain the position of the teeth.  When picking out a retainer, make sure to tell your dentist if you’d like one that will function as a nightguard to protect the teeth from grinding.

Need a Retainer?

Call us today at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He will assess your retainer needs, discuss the available options with you, and help you choose the best retainer!

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