So you’ve just got off your braces and now have a brand new set of beautiful teeth. But to keep your teeth straight for as long as possible and even in the years to come, the next step is to get a pair of dental retainers.
Dental retainers are custom made devices designed to hold your teeth in place1 after you start wearing braces to ensure the teeth stay in position. Most dentists require patients to wear lower teeth retainers for about 8-12 hours a day, or during sleep. While there are a few different types of retainers out there including permanent and Hawley retainers, many patients prefer to use clear retainers. Aesthetic reasons aside, clear removable retainers are a lot more comfortable compared to conventional and fixed retainers. Conventional wire retainers may last but they are unsightly. Clear retainers may appear thin, but they are extremely strong. They also provide an added advantage that they give slight protection over clenching or grinding
The debate over whether clear retainers are truly the best type of retainers continues to be a subject of discussion among orthodontic patients and professionals alike. Clear retainers, also known as Essix retainers or clear plastic retainers, have gained popularity in recent years due to their discreet appearance and comfortable fit. These retainers are made from a thin, plastic material that is custom-made to fit over the teeth, offering a virtually invisible solution for maintaining the desired positions achieved through orthodontic treatment, such as Invisalign aligners or traditional braces.
But first, what are clear retainers made of?
Clear retainers are made of high-quality polypropylene or polyurethane material. They’re usually about 0.76mm in thickness and are designed to withstand any crack or stress resistance. To create a clear dental retainer, a mould of your teeth is created. A very thin plastic made from the materials mentioned above is then heated and sucked down the mould, creating a clear plastic dental retainer that’s uniquely yours. Modern technology allows for greater accuracy now; intraoral scanners can virtually take a record of teeth shape and position and 3D printers can create dental models with 25-micron accuracy.
- Virtually invisible, so you’re more likely to wear it, which means a lesser chance of realignment or relapse
- Less bulky and more comfortable than some retainers like Hawley retainers
- Easy to take in and out
- Less likely to affect speech than Hawley retainers
- Provides better oral hygiene2 than fixed retainers
- Acts as a night guard for bruxism
Unlike traditional wire retainers or bulky Hawley retainers, clear retainers are barely noticeable when worn, allowing patients to maintain their new smile without feeling self-conscious about their orthodontic appliances. This feature makes clear retainers particularly popular among adults who may be hesitant to wear noticeable orthodontic devices.
- Should your teeth be realigned, you will need to get a new set of retainers as clear retainers are not adjustable
- They cannot be repaired if cracked or broken
- May become distorted if exposed to high temperatures
- May affect your speech more than permanent retainers
- Can become discoloured if you smoke or drink coffee
- Easily misplaced due to transparency
Can I eat with permanent retainers on?
You should always remove your retainer when eating or even drinking beverages that tend to leave stains, such as coffee. Eating with a retainer on may cause the retainer to break, and food can get stuck between the plastic or permanent retainer and your teeth.
When food and drink gets stuck between your clean retainers and teeth, it can cause decay, bad breath and a stained retainer. Therefore, to avoid the appearance of noticeably yellow teeth, it is essential for most patients to clean clear retainers frequently.
How do I clean my clear retainer?
Here are a few tips I share with my patients on cleaning their clear retainers:
- Brush or rinse the retainers with warm water daily
- Use a very smooth toothbrush so as not to scratch the clear plastic retainer
- Avoid using toothpaste as this may too abrasive
- Use a cotton swab or Q-tip to clean the corners and edges
- Soak the clear retainers in a denture cleanser
- Avoid soaking your clear retainer in hot water as this may warp the plastic material
The easiest way to keep your clear retainers clean is to soak it in warm water whenever you have a chance. This will keep your clear retainer moist and loosen any lingering food pieces.
Clear retainer for lost teeth
Patients with missing teeth can also benefit from clear retainers. In fact, one useful application of clear retainers is that a tooth colored material can be placed into a retainer and used to replace missing anterior teeth. It can be challenging for orthodontists to provide both function and aesthetics for a patient who’s waiting for final tooth restoration, and a clear type of retainer can help act as a temporary prosthesis in a cost effective way. However, do note that the retainers will have to be removed when eating, and as such the missing tooth space will be visible.
Who are clear retainers suitable for?
Clear retainers are suitable for anyone looking to wear them to maintain their straight teeth after braces. The invisibility of clear retainers is definitely a plus point, especially for younger patients who have braces and are conscious about their appearances. As mentioned, clear retainers may also be customised as a temporary solution to replace a missing tooth.
However, it's essential to note that while clear retainers may be the preferred choice for many patients, they may not be suitable for everyone or every case. In some cases, particularly teeth that required more significant orthodontic corrections like severe rotations, or in young child patients where the jaw may be still developing, other types of retainers such as wire hawley retainers or fixed wire retainers may be more appropriate. Each type of retainer has its advantages and considerations, and patients need to consult with their dentist or orthodontist to determine the best option for their individual needs.
For patients who have severe grinding or clenching habits, a clear retainer may not be sufficient and may break prematurely. In such cases, your dentist might suggest that you get a mouth guard instead of a retainer for the upper or lower teeth, which can withstand the strong pressures for a longer time.
While all types of retainers are generally very effective when used properly, if appearance and comfort are your top priorities, then clear retainers might be your best bet.
In addition to their discreet appearance, clear retainers offer practical benefits as well. They are removable, allowing for easy cleaning and maintenance of oral hygiene. Proper oral hygiene is crucial for preventing plaque buildup and potential issues such as teeth grinding, which can affect the longevity of orthodontic treatment outcomes. Clear retainers can be cleaned properly by following instructions carefully, ensuring that they remain clear and free from irritation to the lips or gums.
Ultimately, whether clear retainers are the best type of retainers in 2024 depends on various factors, including the patient's preferences, the complexity of their orthodontic treatment, and their commitment to wearing and caring for their retainers properly. While clear retainers offer many benefits, including their discreet appearance and ease of maintenance, they may not be suitable for every patient or situation. By working closely with their dental professional and following their recommendations, patients can ensure that they choose the most appropriate type of retainer to maintain their straight teeth and achieve their desired smile.
- Sauget, E., Covell, D.A., Covell, D.A., Boero, R., & Lieber, W.S. (2010). Comparison of occlusal contacts with use of Hawley and clear overlay retainers. The Angle orthodontist, 67 3, 223-30 .
- Chaimongkol P, Suntornlohanakul S. Clear retainer. APOS Trends Orthod 2017;7:54-60.