How are clear plastic retainers different than other dental retainers?

Clear plastic dental retainers, also known as Hawley-type retainers, are removable and are made of a hard plastic that covers the tongue-side of the teeth, combined with a wire in front of the teeth. These retainers are known for being very durable.

Other types of retainers include vacuform or invisible retainers which cover all teeth with a clear plastic and mold directly onto the teeth. They are a good cosmetic option, but may not last as long as other retainers.

Fixed or permanent retainers have wires that are bonded onto the back of your front teeth. Extra care must be taken to brush and floss between the teeth when wearing a fixed retainer to prevent dental problems.
Dante A. Gonzales, DMD
Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics
Clear plastic retainers, or vacuform retainers, are custom made just like all other retainers. They cover 80-90% of the tooth and hold the teeth in place. There are several different types of plastic that can be used. Some plastics are very clear and almost invisible when worn. There are some other plastics that are thicker, more durable, but also more opaque when worn. Depending on the durability of the plastic, and the care of the retainer, the clear plastic retainers can last a very long time. Over a long period of time though, the clear plastic retainers can either crack or deform.

The other type of retainer is called a Hawley retainer. These are made from metal wires and acrylic. These types of retainers have been used by orthodontists for decades and typically last much longer than the clear plastic retainers. These retainers are also custom made for each patient. These retainers will usually only cover part of the teeth (20-30%) and do not cover the entire biting surface of the teeth. These wires used on these retainers can distort over time but can easily be re-adjusted by your orthodontist.

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