Are clear retainers really the best type of retainers?

So you’ve just got off your braces and now have a brand new set of beautiful teeth. But in order 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 place after wearing braces to ensure no realignment occurs. Most dentists require patients to wear retainers for about 7-8 hours a day, or during sleep. While there are a few types of retainers out there including permanent and Hawley retainers, my patients will know that I prefer clear retainers. Aesthetic reasons aside, clear retainers are a lot comfortable compared to conventional and fixed retainers. Clear retainers may appear thin, but they are extremely strong.

Clear Retainers

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 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 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.



Can I eat with a clear retainer 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 and your teeth.

When food and drink gets stuck between your retainer and teeth, it can cause decay, bad breath and a stained retainer — I’m sure you don’t wish to look like you have extremely yellow teeth thanks to your stained retainer. This is also why I emphasise for my patients to try to clean their retainer daily.

How do I clean my clear retainer?

Here are a few tips I share with my patients on cleaning their clear retainers:

If the above sounds like too much effort for you, the easiest way to keep your clear retainer 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 they can fabricate and construct a crown or denture teeth 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 retainer can help act as a temporary prosthesis.

Who are clear retainers suitable for?

Clear retainers are suitable for anyone looking to maintain their straight teeth after braces. The invisibility of clear retainers is definitely a plus point for my younger patients who care about their looks.

However, I would not recommend clear retainers for patients who have undergone dental arch expansion as a clear retainer may not be rigid enough. A Hawley retainer might be better instead.

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.

3 Types of Retainers: Which is the best one for me?

When my patients think about retainers, they commonly think of the colourful plastic ones with metal wires that are worn after they their braces are removed. However, do you know that there 3 uniquely different types of retainers on the market right now, all with different pros and cons? Let’s go through each of them in turn so that you can find the best retainer for your personal oral health and wellbeing.

Hawley retainers

Hawley retainers are usually made with either plastic or acrylic with bendable metal wires and come in a variety of different colours. The wire usually goes in front of your teeth while the acrylic is made to fit snugly in your mouth. These are usually fitted tightly to your teeth and can be very durable, lasting up to 10 years for some patients!



Clear retainers 

These retainers have become much more popular in recent years, especially with the rising popularity of clear aligner brands such as Invisalign and Zenyum. Common brands for clear retainers include Essix, Zendura and Vivera. They are commonly made using plastic or polyurethane and are designed specifically for your mouth through the use of 3D imaging technology. 



Permanent retainers

These retainers are made with a metal wire and is attached to your teeth with adhesive. They are sometimes known as bonded or fixed retainers. In general, these wires are made with a braided texture and aren’t easily removed. Orthodontists will sometimes elect to prescribe permanent retainers to individuals who have a tough time being compliant with the use of removable retainers. They are more commonly used on the lower teeth as it is easier to safely attach them to the lower shelf of teeth rather than the upper.



Permanent retainers should be cleaned daily and special techniques may be needed to remove trapped food and plaque from underneath the wire. If plaque build-up is too severe, it might need to be removed and cleaned at the orthodontist occasionally. Otherwise, they are generally left in your mouth indefinitely.

So, which retainer is best for me?

Every individual has a different oral anatomy and it is best to consult with your orthodontist as to which retainer is the best one for you. Each style of retainer comes with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, so it’s advisable to take your personal habits and lifestyle when deciding on which retainer you choose to maintain a beautiful smile. The type of retainer you pick will be a constant in your life over many years, so it’s important to find the one that you find most comfortable to use properly on a long-term basis.


  1. Clear retainer
    Chaimongkol et al.
  2. Occlusal Contact Changes with Removable and Bonded Retainers in a 1-Year Retention Period
    Sari, Uysal, Başçiftçi, & Inan
  3. A Polysaccharide-Based Antibacterial Coating with Improved Durability for Clear Overlay Appliances
  4. The effects of fixed and removable orthodontic retainers: a systematic review
    Horowitz et al.
  5. Retention in orthodontics
    Johnston & Littlewood

Retainers for children: How to make your kids love wearing retainers

Many younger patients who’ve gone through years of wearing braces often find their teeth regressing due to incorrect retainer usage. After all the effort spent in order to correct one’s teeth alignment, it’s a pity to see many adolescent patients lose their beautiful smiles due to either losing one’s retainer, forgetting to wear them, or simply not understanding the importance of consistent retainer usage.

Modern retainers in 2020 are far more user-friendly than the types from the past; using 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies, these retainers fit precisely onto the teeth which allows for maximum comfort and helps teeth stay in position for longer. Let’s take a closer look as to why proper retainer usage can greatly improve our children’s quality of life and oral health.

First, why wear retainers?

Simply put, retainers for teeth are commonly worn after a patient fully corrects their teeth by wearing braces. They can be seen as the final phase of a braces treatment, and often patients will be needed to wear retainers for the rest of their lives to maintain their teeth’s alignment. 

Most dentists will require patients to wear retainers during sleep (7-8 hours a day). In some cases, the patient might need to wear retainers during the day for around a year after completing braces treatment.

Why straighten teeth in the first place?

Leaving aside aesthetic concerns, there are actually many functional reasons why having straight teeth is good for our oral and overall health and well being. Straighter teeth are much easier to clean and are less susceptible to cavities or plaque build-up. A correct bite, which retainers can correct, is also very important in chewing food properly (especially crucial for younger kids). Having straight teeth and a correct bite may allow more saliva production, which reduces plaque build-up & the chance of developing cavities.

What other benefits does wearing retainers have?

Retainers can be used as an early form of tooth grinding (bruxism) detection. If you find that the retainers constantly have perforations or holes in them, it could be a sign that your child might be grinding your teeth at night. As such, a nightguard is might be a better option as it protects the teeth and is more durable to breakages.

How do I get my kids into the habit of wearing a retainer?

Retainers are often thought to be a hassle and I see many of my younger patients unhappy that they need to wear them on a daily basis. Many kids who wear retainers throughout the day find that they are easy to misplace and find that removing them before meals can be a gross experience. However, wearing retainers doesn’t need to feel like a chore for your kids. Here are some tips & tricks to help your kids build up good retainer habits in their lives:

At the end of the day, it may take a while for your children to become accustomed to wearing their retainers and settling into good retainer habits, but be patient and they will get there eventually. As with all good habits we try to inculcate into our children, they will be the ones thanking us in the future and it’ll be very rewarding to see their glowing, beautiful smiles when that day comes.


  1. US4413978A - Orthodontic retainer
  2. Retainer wear and compliance in the first 2 years after active orthodontic treatment
    Kacer, Valiathan, Narendran, & Hans
  3. The quality of information on the Internet on orthodontic retainer wear: a cross-sectional study
  4. Mechanical and geometric properties of thermoformed and 3D printed clear dental aligners
    Jindal, Juneja, Siena, Bajaj, & Breedon
  5. Evaluation of fit for 3D-printed retainers compared with thermoform retainers
    Cole, Bencharit, Carrico, Arias, & Tüfekçi