Essix Retainers: Cost, Cleaning & Alternatives

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Table of Contents

  1. Growing in Popularity
  2. Essix Retainers Comparisons
  3. Pros & Cons
  4. Research on Essix Retainers
  5. Ask Your Dentist
  6. Cleaning Essix Retainer
  7. Cost of Essix Retainer

Essix retainers are clear, plastic retainers that are removable and customized to fit over teeth. They look similar to clear aligner trays. 

But unlike aligners, retainers don’t move teeth. Instead, they keep teeth in place after orthodontic treatment (braces or aligners) is completed.

At about $200 to $500 for a set, Essix retainers are less expensive than traditional retainers. 

Take care of Essix retainers, so you do not have to replace them very often. To clean them, brush them daily with a toothbrush and toothpaste.If Essix retainers are too fragile for you or don’t work for another reason, there are alternatives, like Hawley retainers.

Essix Retainers: Growing in Popularity

Once you complete orthodontic treatment with braces or clear plastic aligners, you are likely to receive a retainer. This is a device made from metal, plastic, or a combination of these materials. A retainer will keep your teeth in their new alignment and reduce their risk of moving out of alignment in the future. This means you are less likely to need orthodontic treatment again soon. Since clear plastic aligners are booming in popularity, with several companies making them more affordable and accessible, the Essix retainer is becoming more common. Like clear plastic aligners, the Essix retainer is a clear plastic device that fits over your teeth. Unlike plastic aligners, the Essix retainer is not designed to move your teeth into alignment. Instead, its purpose is to help your teeth stay aligned. You are most likely to get an Essix retainer after orthodontic treatment with clear aligners. After braces, you can opt for this type of retainer instead of another retainer, like a Hawley.

Essix Retainers Compared to Other Types of Retainers

The Essix-style retainer is made from clear plastic or acrylic, so the device is hardly noticeable to others. This means you can wear it at work or to social events. After an initial period of more intensive wear, many people only wear their retainers while they sleep at night. 

When you use an at-home clear aligner service, you may get an Essix retainer as part of treatment since these retainers are similar to the trays of clear teeth aligners you receive to realign your bite. Not every company offers a retainer after your orthodontic treatment. Be sure to look at terms and conditions for each company if you want to get this type of retainer as part of your treatment plan.

This comparison chart can help you understand how Essix retainers stack up against Hawley retainers and Begg retainers.


What Does it Look Like?

How Does it Work?

What Are the Benefits?

What Are the Drawbacks?


Clear plastic tray that sits on your teeth

The trays encircle your teeth and keep them in place

Less painful than wire versions; can be removed for cleaning and eating

Prone to staining and breaking


Plastic attached to loops of wire and a straight wire

A straight wire sits over the front teeth, and loops of wire encircle the back teeth

Can be removed for cleaning and eating; trusted design has been used for years

Prone to breaking, hard to clean properly


Colorful plastic attached to a wire

Wraps around the front and back of the teeth

Can be removed for cleaning and eating; design allows for wraparound pressure

Prone to breaking

 A set of Essix retainers, for your top and bottom teeth, would run between $200 and $500.

The Pros & Cons of Essix Retainers

Essix retainers are a popular choice among those looking to keep their corrected smile in place. Compared to the other removable retainer option — the more traditional Hawley retainer — clear plastic retainers have many advantages as well as some drawbacks.

  • They’re made of clear plastic, so they’re virtually invisible. Wearers may feel less self-conscious, which could make it easier to wear the retainer as instructed.

  • There are no metal wires, which some find unsightly or uncomfortable.

  • Those who completed clear aligner treatment will be used to this type of orthodontic appliance, making it a natural transition. 

  • Many top clear aligner providers offer clear retainers after treatment. Some (like Byte) even offer the first post-treatment retainer for free.

  • They are more prone to staining than metal and acrylic/plastic (Hawley) retainers.

  • Plaque may accumulate while retainers are worn. It’s important to clean them properly and maintain good oral hygiene. 

  • They may cause more bleeding than traditional retainers. 

  • They are more delicate and easier to damage.

  • They may be easier to lose or accidentally throw away.

Research on Essix Retainers

  • In a 2018 study comparing Essix retainers to the more familiar Hawley retainers (a wire rim with a plastic or acrylic base), researchers found that consumers who wore Essix retainers felt greater benefit from the device, even when the Hawley retainer might be a better option.For example, the “invisible” nature of the Essix retainer meant that wearers had better self-perception and higher self-esteem. This may have contributed to greater compliance with wearing the retainer consistently compared to the Hawley retainer. The Essix retainer was also more comfortable on the teeth, the wearers reported.

  • An earlier study comparing Essix retainers to Begg retainers, which are like Hawley retainers, found that Begg retainers were more effective as part of the post-orthodontic treatment plan, but the difference was not very significant. As with the 2018 study, the 2011 study found that participants preferred Essix retainers for comfort and appearance, and the increased satisfaction could translate to greater compliance with retainer wear.

Cleaning Your Essix Retainer

Since plaque and tartar are more likely to build up with an Essix retainer, be sure to follow instructions for cleaning your Essix retainer. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends these steps:

  • Use a retainer bag or box, which you should receive with your retainer. This storage item helps you keep your retainer in a place you will remember.

  • Keep the retainer in a cool, dry place, like on a countertop. Getting the Essix retainer warm can cause it to warp.

  • Brush your retainer with toothpaste and a toothbrush about once per day, so it stays clean like your teeth.

  • Brush and floss your teeth before you put your retainer in, especially if you have just eaten.

A 2013 study on retainer cleaning processes assessed immersing your retainer in a chlorhexidine solution. It found that this was slightly more effective at removing bacteria from the retainer than brushing with a fluoride toothpaste.

It is important that the solution is a chemical used as a potent disinfectant in other procedures. Using a standard mouthwash with an alcohol base would not serve the same purpose. It is easier to simply use your toothpaste and toothbrush to keep your retainer clean.

The Cost of an Essix Retainer

Removable Essix retainers are around the same cost as Hawley retainers. A standard Hawley retainer, for example, is between $150 and $300 for one retainer, while an Essix retainer is a little less expensive, at $100 to $250 for one retainer.

Your Essix retainer cost can include the following:

  • Molds of your teeth: Your dental professional needs an accurate and up-to-date mold of your teeth to create a retainer for you.

  • Materials: Your dentist needs the raw materials to create your personalized retainers.

  • Time: Your dental professional’s time and expertise are included in the cost.

Other fees you may need to pay out of pocket include those associated with a storage case, and you’ll have to pay for a new tray if yours breaks.

Essix retainers break and warp more easily than other types of retainers, so you may end up paying more for retainer treatment overall if you accidentally break the retainer.

Some dental professionals offer discounts on multiple sets. For example, you could order two sets of retainers at once and have a backup if yours breaks or goes missing.  

Will Insurance Pay for a Retainer?

Some dental insurance programs offer coverage for retainers. For example, Delta Dental will cover one set of post-treatment retainers. If your orthodontic professional says you need these tools to keep your teeth in place, you can use your benefits to pay for them.

Understanding the limits is critical. For example, Delta Dental will only cover one set of retainers per lifetime. If you break the device or it wears out, you can’t use your benefits to pay for it.

Assuming your insurance company will pay your bills isn’t smart. Ask your company these questions before you sign up for a retainer:

  1. Is a retainer covered under my plan?

  2. Are replacement retainers covered?

  3. Is there a coverage cap for retainers?

  4. Can my dentist choose any type of retainer?

  5. How much will I pay in coinsurance?

  6. Do I have to meet a deductible first?

Ask Your Dentist About Essix Retainers

Essix retainers are slightly more fragile than other types of retainers, but they are a good option for many people who want something less visible and more comfortable than traditional retainers. With some over-the-counter dental aligners, you may be able to get an Essix retainer included in the package, so look for details on the company’s website.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.