What Are Retainers for Teeth?

When you visit the orthodontist and find out that you need to wear a retainer, the first questions that pop into your head are: “what is a teeth retainer?”, and “what do retainers for teeth do?”. Usually, these dental appliances are recommended after your braces come off. Their purpose is to “retain” your teeth in the right position, and to prevent them from misalignment.

The truth is that you may need to wear an orthodontic retainer for a number of different reasons. No matter why your orthodontist recommended one, it’s important that you wear it just the way you’re instructed to in order for your orthodontic treatment to be successful. Read on to learn more about retainers.

What Is a Retainer for Teeth?

An orthodontic retainer is a type of appliance that you wear in your mouth. Orthodontic appliances are generally used to move the teeth, soft palate or jaws into a new position. However, when you’ve considered what orthodontic retainers do, you’ll see that their purpose is a little different.

The primary purpose of wearing orthodontic retainers is to keep teeth in place rather than moving them. They help to retain the shape of the mouth and teeth, which is how they get their name.

Types of Retainers for Teeth

There are two main types of orthodontic retainers:

1. Fixed Retainers – A fixed retainer is placed in your mouth by an orthodontist and held in place by cement at the back of your teeth. They are not removed until the treatment is complete.

2. Removable Retainers – A removable retainer can be taken out and put back in whenever you wish. Most people get this type of retainer, and there are two main kinds:

  • Hawley retainers – Consist of a piece of plastic-type material that rests against the roof of your mouth and a wire that fits over your teeth. Most people who wear retainers get this type.
  • Essix retainers – These are made out of clear plastic and are almost invisible in the mouth.

retainers for teeth Essix retainer

Why Do You Need a Retainer?

As previously explained, the general answer to “what do retainers for teeth do?” is that that they hold your teeth and mouth in place. There are a number of reasons why you may need to wear one; here are some of the most common reasons:

  • To Prepare for Other Orthodontic Appliances. Children whose teeth are just beginning to erupt may wear retainers in order to keep problems with misalignment from worsening. This can make future orthodontic care easier.
  • To Help Teeth Settle After Wearing Braces. Braces use pressure to shift the teeth into a new position. Once the braces are removed, it takes time for the teeth to settle into the new position. Wearing a retainer helps to ensure that teeth do not move during this process.
  • To Help Prevent Teeth From Becoming Misaligned. If you have braces put on before your wisdom teeth have been removed, you may need to wear a retainer to keep your teeth from becoming crowded due to pressure from the wisdom teeth.
  • To Help with Breathing at Night. Children who are experiencing breathing problems due to the development of their mouths may wear retainers while they grow to help them breathe at night.
  • To Correct Speech Impediments. Doctors are now using retainers to help children properly position their tongues and learn to pronounce words correctly.

When Do You Wear a Retainer?

Fixed retainers are never removed, so you’ll wear one throughout the day during every activity.

In most cases, removable retainers are worn at the very least during the night. Most people need to wear them throughout the day as well. You’ll take your retainer out to clean it and to brush your teeth. You may also be told to take your retainer out when you eat.

How Long Do You Wear a Retainer?

The length of time that you will need to wear a retainer will vary based upon the reason that you’re wearing it. Fixed retainers are usually kept in place for several years.

Hawley and Essix retainers are generally used for 1 to 2 years after braces are removed. For other types of treatments, the length of time will usually be at least a year.


Now that you know the general answer to the questions “What is a retainer for teeth?” and “What do orthodontic retainers do?” you can talk to your orthodontist more about your specific situation. Your orthodontist can explain why you need a retainer for teeth, what kind is right for you and how long to wear retainer after braces. What was your experience with retainers for teeth? Leave your comments below! Your input is valuable to us!

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