Clear Retainers: Frequently Asked Questions
Wearing a retainer is a crucial part of any orthodontic treatment. It ensures that your new, corrected bite and smile stay exactly where they are supposed to. Without a retainer, your teeth can easily shift back to where they were before.
Fortunately, there are more retainer options than ever before, including clear retainers.
Clear retainers are virtually invisible (no need for clunky metal hardware), removable, and effective. For many, they make wearing a retainer as comfortable and convenient as possible.
What's the Purpose of Retainers?
Retainers are most commonly used to keep teeth in place after orthodontic treatment, like braces or aligners. In these cases, retainers generally serve two purposes:
After teeth have been moved by orthodontic treatment, it’s important that new bone forms around the new teeth placement in order to provide stability and strength to the teeth and jaw.
This process is completed by the osteoclast cells, which are responsible for breaking down old bone and reabsorbing it into the bloodstream, as well as the osteoblast cells, which help build new bone where there is a need for skeletal reinforcement.
The area needing skeletal reinforcement must be used in order to signal to the cells that ossification (bone mineralization) is needed. Retainers keep teeth in place, so they are stable and being used in the correct areas, signaling new bone to form around them.
Teeth move and shift regularly. If you’ve completed orthodontic treatment, your teeth were moved during treatment using devices like braces or aligners. These devices used pressure to get your teeth into better positioning.
Once those devices are removed, and the pressure is off, there’s no reason your teeth wouldn’t shift back to where they were before treatment. That’s why a retainer is a key part of treatment. It “retains” the optimal smile and bite you have worked for.
Do You Need A Retainer?
If you’re in the process of an orthodontic treatment, like wearing braces or aligners, you will need to wear a retainer after your braces and aligner come off. This is a part of your treatment and will ensure your teeth keep their new corrected positioning.
There are also other reasons you may need a retainer, including these:
To correct a very minor orthodontic issue: Although retainers are used to keep teeth in place and not treat orthodontic problems, sometimes an orthodontist will advise wearing a retainer to fix very small orthodontic issues, especially in children. These minor issues could include closing a small gap or helping to guide a single tooth to a new location.
To help with tongue thrust: Retainers can be specially made to help children with tongue thrust by training the tongue not to move forward during speech.
To prevent bruxism (teeth grinding): Bruxism can cause tooth decay, gum issues, and jaw problems, including TMJ disorders. A retainer can help to prevent teeth grinding, reducing the likelihood of these problems.
Generally, there are three types of retainers:
Hawley retainers: This is the “traditional” type of retainer, which is made of molded plastic and a wire that runs along the front of the teeth. Hawley retainers are removable.
Clear retainers: Clear retainers (the original clear retainers were known as Essix retainers) are removable. They fit over teeth. Most clear retainers are virtually invisible, as they are made of a thin yet durable clear material.
Permanent retainers: Permanent, or bonded, retainers are affixed to the back of the teeth. A wire goes along the back of teeth.
Do Clear Aligners Work?
Clear aligners are effective and safe. Like other types of retainers, clear retainers hold teeth in place.
An image of your teeth is first created with a tooth scan or impression kit. Then, a set of clear plastic retainers is created to fit snugly over your teeth and keep them where they should be.
A 2012 study found that clear (Essix) retainers worked similarly to Hawley containers.1 Research in 2018 also showed that patients preferred clear (Essix) retainers for their comfort and aesthetics.2
While research on retainers remains limited, clear retainers continue to grow in popularity, and the science continues to advance.
Because clear retainers fit over teeth and are worn for extended periods of time, they can be prone to bacteria and particle buildup. For clear retainers to work effectively and without complications, they must be worn as directed and cleaned and cared for properly.
How to Care for Clear Aligners
Bringing your retainer case out with you, and keeping it nearby when you’re eating at home, is one of the best ways to keep your retainer safe and sanitary. This will ensure you have a safe place to put your retainer when you take it out to eat.
Get into the habit of only keeping your clear retainer in your mouth or in its case. This will help prevent it from getting contaminated if you leave it loose after taking it off. It will also lower your risk of losing or breaking it.
Other tips on clear retainer care include the following:
Take your retainer out for high-impact or high-risk sports or activities.
Keep your retainer away from pets.
Don’t leave your retainer in extremely hot places or near a stovetop.
Don’t chew gum with your clear retainer in.
Don’t place your retainer inside of a napkin while you eat. This isn’t sanitary, and you could throw it away accidentally.
Never wear a dirty or broken retainer.
If you break or damage a retainer, order a new one right away so teeth do not have time to shift.
Keep your retainer away from babies and small children.
Cleaning Clear Aligners
You’ll likely be receiving your clear retainer after completing either braces or clear aligner orthodontic treatment. The provider of your treatment (an orthodontist or clear aligner provider) will likely give you the retainer and specific instructions on how to use and clean it.
Cleaning your clear retainer may involve the following steps:
Rinse in cold water before and after each use.
Brush and rinse the retainer with a soft (non-abrasive) toothbrush .
Soak the retainer in a retainer cleaner every night.
Scrub the retainer softly with baking soda and warm water to remove any staining (if advised by an orthodontist or the provider of the retainer).
How Long Do Clear Retainers Last?
How long your retainers last will depend on how well you take care of them, as well as the manufacturer of the retainer. Many clear retainers are designed to last around six months with proper care.
Cost of Clear Aligners
The cost of clear retainers can vary widely. They usually have a price tag of around $150 to $500.
If you’ve completed braces or aligner treatment with an orthodontist, you will likely consult with them about your retainer. You can request a clear retainer, and if they agree it’s a suitable choice, they will provide you with options and pricing.
If you’ve completed aligner treatment with an aligner company, the cost of your clear retainers should be very straightforward and explained before you begin using your straightening aligners. Byte, for example, includes your first set of retainers free after treatment. We also offer a protection plan to easily replace broken or lost retainers.
Many dental plans will cover some or all of the cost of retainers if they are part of your orthodontic treatment. Talk to your insurance company for details.
Can You Eat with a Clear Retainer?
You should never eat with your clear retainers in. Simply take them off and put them in their case before your meal.
One of the most convenient aspects of clear retainers is that they are removable, which means they won’t interfere with your diet or eating habits. Don’t chew food or gum with them in your mouth. It places unnecessary pressure on the retainer and could lead to damage or breakage.
How Does a Retainer Work? (November 2022). Colgate. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.
Osteoblast. Britannica. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.
Why Does Teeth Shifting Happen? (November 2022). Colgate. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.
Post Treatment. American Association of Orthodontists. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.
Tongue Thrust. Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.
TMJ Disorders. (December 2018). Mayo Clinic. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.
Illinois Orthodontist Wins ADA Stanford Award for Retainer Research. (March 2020). American Dental Association. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.
Teeth Retainer. (August 2022). Cleveland Clinic. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.
What You Need to Clean Your Retainer, According to Experts. (May 2019). New York Magazine. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.
1 Comparison of Retention Characteristics of Essix and Hawley Retainers. (October 2012). The Korean Journal of Orthodontics. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.2 Periodontal Health and Compliance: A Comparison Between Essix and Hawley Retainers. (June 2018). American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics. Date fetched: October 20, 2022.