A Guide to Permanent Retainers

According to the American Association of Orthodontists and Stanford Children’s Health, about 5 million people in the U.S. have worn braces. If you’ve had braces, or if you’re getting braces, then you might be aware that getting a retainer is the next step after getting your braces off. 

Retainers prevent dental relapse, which is the movement of your teeth back to their original position. This is why they’re an absolutely crucial part of post-braces care. They’re generally made out of plastic, or a combination of metal and plastic. Removable retainers are often more common, but patients can also get permanent retainers. You may consider a permanent retainer if you aren’t able to consistently wear a removable retainer and maintain good hygiene habits. Your orthodontist may also recommend a permanent retainer based on your oral needs. Below is everything you need to know about permanent retainers. 

The Basics of Permanent Retainers

A permanent retainer, also called a “bonded” or “fixed” retainer, is a plastic pad molded to the shape of your mouth with a metal wire connected to it. Your dentist will attach your retainer to the roof or floor of the mouth. With both top and bottom retainers, a metal wire is glued to the back of the teeth to prevent relapse. When considering a permanent retainer, it is not likely that you will have to wear one for the rest of your life, but you may need to wear one for several years depending on your dental condition. 

Pros and Cons of Permanent Retainers

While your dentist or orthodontist may recommend a permanent retainer, it’s still important to understand the pros and cons before installation. This way you can anticipate common permanent retainer problems, and establish your expectations before your appointment. 

Pros:

  • Effective: Permanent retainers are highly effective at preventing relapse, as they aren’t removable;
  • Appearance: Permanent retainers are discreet and usually unnoticeable;
  • Minimal Speech Impact: Permanent retainers generally don’t impact your speech like removable retainers might;
  • Durability: Permanent retainers are able to withstand activities such as chewing and sleeping.

Cons:

  • Permanent: As the name implies, you can’t take your permanent retainer out, so if you have any problems, you’ll need to see your dentist or orthodontist;
  • Hygiene: Cleaning can be more difficult with a permanent retainer. Daily flossing and brushing are required to prevent excess plaque build-up behind the plate and wire. Your dentist or orthodontist will teach your best practices after installment;
  • Repair: If your retainer does get damaged, which is a possibility, repairing and rebonding them is more expensive then removable retainers.

Removable Retainers vs. Permanent Retainers

Removable retainers and permanent retainers serve the same purpose — to prevent dental relapse. The difference between them lies in the way they are used, and the way they fit into your personal lifestyle, dental health, and other potential health considerations. A removable retainer might be easier to manage for those who are used to clear aligners, such as Invisalign. However, individuals with certain disabilities may find it impossible or impractical for them, or their special needs child, to wear a removable retainer effectively. Remember to consult your orthodontist about all of these points when the time comes to start using a retainer.

How Much Are Permanent Retainers?

Permanent retainers are fairly inexpensive. Depending on your insurance and your financing plan with your orthodontist, the price of the initial installation of your retainer may already be included in the overall price of your braces. There are unavoidable costs associated with having a permanent retainer, however, such as dentist visits for care and adjustments, as well as costs associated with replacements or repair. Replacing or repairing a permanent retainer can cost between $150 to $300 depending on the damage and your insurance coverage.

Best Practices for Using Permanent Retainers

The installation process of a permanent retainer is simple and generally painless. Your mouth may ache initially while it is getting used to the new hardware, but after an adjustment period, your permanent retainer should be painless and easy to manage. Here are some best practices for living with a permanent retainer:

  • Follow Instructions: Your dentist or orthodontist will give you a list of instructions once your retainer is installed. It’s important to incorporate proper retainer maintenance suggestions into your daily routine to avoid damage or injury. 
  • Schedule Regular Appointments: It’s important that you don’t skip your appointments to maintain and clean your retainer, as this can cause serious problems including gingivitis;
  • Communicate: Contact your orthodontist if problems develop, such as continual mouth pain, tenderness while eating, or if retainer wires start poking into your cheeks or tongue. Addressing problems as soon as they arise is key to maintaining your dental health and prolonging the life of your retainer.