All about orthodontic teeth retainers (hawley retainer, essix retainer and etc)

Usually, your dentist or orthodontist would recommend you use retainers after you complete your treatment with braces to straighten your teeth.

The function of a retainer is to maintain and stabilise your straightened set of teeth post-braces. The lack of use of a retainer could result in settling, where your teeth automatically shifts positions that maximise contact between the upper and lower jaws, or relapsing, where the straightened teeth tend to move back to its original position, causing misalignment (Pravindevaprasad & Therese, 2013). Thus, it is important to use a retainer to prevent your teeth from shifting and undoing all the work your braces did.

When you need to buy a retainer after completing a gruelling few years of having braces, it is important to know and consider the various different types of retainers available, including the Hawley retainer and the Essix retainer.

Hawley Retainer

Hawley retainers are removable, and are made of plastic with metal wires in place. It consists of a plastic layer that covers the roof of your mouth, and a metal wire that is positioned at the front of your teeth. This metal wire could irritate your lips or cheeks when you first start to wear a Hawley retainer.

It is adjustable, easily repaired when damaged and the plastic colour can be chosen based on your preference or the colour of your gums. It also does not stain easily and is much more durable and longer lasting than the Essix retainer (the Hawley retainer can last for years or even decades).

However, the metal wire at the front means that it is very visible and easy to notice, and the Hawley retainer is also more expensive than the Essix retainer, costing about S$250 to $400 to make in dental clinics in Singapore.

Hawley retainers are also known to impede speech more noticeably than Essix retainers.

Essix Retainer

The Essix retainer is a clear plastic retainer; thus, it is seemingly “invisible” and can easily go unnoticed when worn unless someone comes up close to the wearer, which is ideal for people who may be self-conscious of wearing a retainer.

Each Essix retainer is fitted to the individual’s teeth with a mold before being made, making it stay in place more efficiently. They cost about S$150 to S$300 in Singapore at a typical dental clinic.

It is made of a very thin layer of plastic or polyurethane, and only lasts for a few months, so it may need to be replaced about once a year, which means it is much less cost-effective in the long haul as compared to the Hawley retainer when it is properly cared for. However, if an Essix retainer cracks or breaks, it cannot be repaired and has to be replaced, unlike a Hawley retainer which can be repaired in most cases.

Also, when wearing an Essix retainer, the top and bottom teeth often do not touch, which could be uncomfortable or feel unnatural to the wearer, especially in the beginning.

How Does a Retainer Work?

When you wear a retainer, it restricts your teeth’s movement to a large extent, preventing your teeth from shifting away from its desired positions.

Retainers are typically recommended to be worn for about 22 hours every day for the first 6 months to a year, only to be removed when exercising or eating. Subsequently, they still have to be worn at night, to minimalise the shifting.

It fixes your teeth to its own moulded shape, which is usually the position which your teeth are in at the end of your braces treatment, when your teeth are straightened and your smile is the most flawless. Hence, retainers need to be worn often to maintain that flawless smile, especially for the first year after having braces.

How Do I Care for My Retainers?

Your retainer can easily become a breeding ground for plaque and bacteria, just like your teeth. It is essential for you to keep your retainers clean so that there is no bacteria accumulation in them that could potentially cause you to fall sick.

To ensure that there is no bacteria build-up, you should clean your retainers every day by using a toothbrush to lightly brush your retainers with dish soap or toothpaste, and then rinse with tap water.

In addition, you should also avoid leaving your retainers in high temperatures, such as leaving them under the hot sun or drinking hot liquids while wearing your retainers. This is because heat can cause your plastic retainers to misshapen or even melt. Also be sure to remove your retainers when swimming or exercising, as chlorine can discolour your retainers, and exercising can cause you to clench your jaw and damage your retainers.

Lastly, always bring your retainers when going for a dental appointment, and replace your retainers as soon as possible if you ever lose them; always remember to place them in their retainer box when they are not in use, as people most commonly lose their retainers when hastily placing them somewhere besides the box after removing them from the mouth.

Treat Your Retainers Right!

There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of retainer, and it is important to weigh the pros and cons of each type with your orthodontist before deciding which one to use.

Ultimately, it is undoubtedly important to properly care for your retainers and wear them as often as recommended by your orthodontist regardless of which type you choose to get. Retainers keep your stubborn shifting teeth in place and are used to maintain the hard work of your orthodontist over the course of your braces treatment to correct your teeth and give you the best smile possible.

Moreover, it is certain that you have also endured a lot of discomfort and inconveniences all to achieve the beautiful smile you have at the end of it, and not to mention the hole in your wallet made by the frequent cleaning, polishing and monthly tightening while wearing those pesky braces as well. Therefore, do yourself and your orthodontist some justice; please wear your retainers so that all that effort does not go to waste!

After all, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan once said, “Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.

If you liked this article, please click here to read about other oral health related articles posted on our blog. Additionally, if you have any questions regarding retainers or other oral health related matters, feel free to drop Dr Ryan a message here.


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