Choosing Between Removable Retainers and Fixed Retainers

Braces and clear aligners like Invisalign or Laster Perfect Smile aligners shift your teeth into the proper position to give you a functional bite and a perfect smile. After you have completed your orthodontic treatment and your appliances are removed, your teeth can shift back out of place without help. This is why after orthodontic treatment, your orthodontist will fit you for a retainer.

Wearing a retainer after braces or aligners will keep your teeth in a position long enough for them to settle into their new place in your jawbone. In other words, orthodontic treatments, like braces and aligners, move your teeth into their new position and retainers help hold them in place. Retainers are the means to protecting your orthodontic investment, and are not optional.

There are two types of retainers – fixed retainers and removable retainers. Like your braces or clear aligners, your dental retainer will be custom-made using high-end technology. Your orthodontist will recommend the type of retainer that is best for your unique smile.

Types of Retainers

There are two main types of dental retainers – removable retainers and fixed retainers. Both types maintain the position of your teeth, and each type of retainer has its benefits and drawbacks. Like the different types of orthodontic treatment, the different types of retainers allow each patient to have a customized fixture that is best for their smile and lifestyle. Your orthodontist may recommend a fixed retainer or a removable retainer based on your personal needs and the likelihood that your teeth will shift out of place after braces or clear aligner treatment.

Removable Retainers

As the name implies, removable retainers are retainers that can be removed when you want to eat, brush your teeth, or floss. Hawley retainers feature a plastic base shaped to fit the roof of your mouth and a strong wire that wraps around your teeth to hold them in place. Clear, plastic removable retainers are also an option for patients and look similar to Invisalign and Laster Perfect Smile clear aligners.

What to Expect When Getting a Removable Retainer

Your orthodontist will create a custom-made removable retainer that fits your smile. Before a removable retainer can be created, your orthodontist will need to take an impression of your teeth for an accurate representation of your bite. An orthodontist will use one of two methods to create an impression, either by the traditional alginate-mold method, or by creating a 3D scan.

For a traditional impression, your orthodontist will use a thick liquid, called alginate, to make a temporary mold of your teeth. This mold will be sent to a laboratory where technicians create your removable retainer.

A 3D scan provides a more accurate representation of your bite than traditional impressions, but not all orthodontists have this technology. To create a 3D rendering of your mouth, an orthodontist will use an iTero scanner similar to the one added to Laster Orthodontics’ high-tech lineup this past summer. 3D scans are a preferable alternative to bulky and messy traditional impressions and provide an easily retrievable digital record.

Many orthodontists recommend that you wear your removable retainer all day and night for the first two months or so after your braces are removed. After this time period, you will need to wear your removable retainer every night for the rest of your life.

Pros and Cons of Removable Retainers

A removable retainer may be best if your teeth are likely to remain in place after braces, and if you are not likely to lose or damage your retainer.


There are many advantages to removable retainers. Not only are removable retainers easy to put in and take out as needed, but they are also relatively easy and convenient to get. Many orthodontists, like Laster Orthodontics in North Carolina, provide these types of retainers at no charge after orthodontic treatment is completed. Clear removable retainers also serve as a great night guard that protects your tooth enamel from teeth grinding. Teeth grinding is a very common problem among Americans, and can cause irreversible damage to your smile.


Removable retainers might not be for everyone. If you are forgetful, you might misplace your retainer when you take it out to eat or brush your teeth; this is especially true if you forget to put your retainer in a case. Your retainer is also vulnerable to damage any time it is not in your mouth or in a case.

Removable retainers also have the potential to create a dirty environment for your teeth. Bacteria can grow and live in the surfaces of removable retainers, which makes daily cleaning important.

The largest problem orthodontists see with removable retainers is relapse. Many people lose or break their retainers and never replace them. Others do not wear their removable retainers as directed, which causes your teeth to begin to shift back to their position pre-braces, which can end up costing you additional money to fix your smile yet again.

Fixed Retainers

A fixed retainer, also known as a permanent retainer, features a curved wire that fits the shape of your newly straightened teeth. Your orthodontist cements this solid or braided wire to the inside of your front teeth to prevent your teeth from moving. As the name implies, fixed retainers stay in your mouth and cannot be removed except by your orthodontist.

Orthodontists typically recommend fixed retainers when they think the teeth are likely to relapse and drift. They might also recommend a fixed retainer for patients who may have trouble using a removable retainer as instructed.

What to Expect When Getting a Fixed Retainer

As with a removable retainer, the first step involved in creating a fixed retainer is to make a mold of your teeth. Technicians then use that mold to custom-make a bent wire of safe, strong, material that comfortably and effectively holds the teeth in place. At your next appointment, your orthodontist cements brackets to the tongue-side of your front teeth. These brackets are what your orthodontist affixes the curved wire to in order to create a sturdy structure.

Many orthodontists like Dr. Laster at Laster Orthodontics, do either an upper or lower fixed retainer, especially on adolescent patients.

Pros and Cons of Fixed Retainers

A permanent or fixed retainer may be better if your teeth are likely to shift after braces, or if you worry about losing or damaging your retainer while eating or brushing your teeth. Like removable retainers, fixed or permanent retainers have their advantages and disadvantages.


One of the main benefits of wearing a fixed retainer is that it stays in place, making it easy to follow orthodontist care instructions. Keeping your retainer in your mouth also reduces the risk of damaging your retainer, and obviously of losing it. Many people prefer fixed retainers because these retainer types are not visible to others, and not likely to affect speech or cause excess salivation.


Because you cannot remove them, fixed retainers can sometimes make it hard to maintain good oral hygiene. A common problem with permanent retainers is flossing, which can be especially challenging. Poor oral hygiene and inadequate flossing can cause tartar and plaque to build up that could lead to yellow teeth, gum disease, and tooth loss.

A common complaint with fixed retainers among patients is their comfortability. With fixed retainers, the metal wire sits on the inside surface of the teeth rather than the outside, so the metal wire might irritate the tongue.

While some patients have their permanent retainer removed due to gum irritation or excessive buildup of plaque and tartar, most people leave their fixed retainers in place forever.

Which Retainer is Right for You?

Choosing between a fixed or removable retainer will be between you and your orthodontist. It is more common for orthodontists to recommend permanent retainers for adolescent braces patients due to their practicality. Adult patients will typically discuss the pros and cons of permanent retainers with their orthodontist before making their decision. The best way to choose the right retainer for your specific needs is to consult your orthodontist and make the decision together.

At Laster Orthodontics, we help families develop healthy, life-changing smiles using customized treatments, cutting-edge technologies, and caring relationships. Our individualized treatment plans help our patients achieve their perfect smile in the quickest, most painless way possible by utilizing a wide range of options from traditional braces to Propel accelerated treatment to Dr. Laster’s in-house aligner program, Laster Perfect Smile. With three locations throughout the Triangle Area, we create life-changing smiles every day.