Retainer Types

There are numerous types of retainers to suit each patient’s needs:

Glued in permanent retainers; clear tray retainers and plastic and wire retainers.

Each retainer has benefits and drawbacks. Once patients are ready to finish the active phase for orthodontic treatment (when the braces come off and the retainers go on), Dr. Asbury or Dr. Hirsh will make a recommendation and help you decide which retainers are right for you.

Some retainers last longer than others, some retainers are more discreet than others, and some are easier to clean than others. For kids, parents really like the retainers that are glued in, so patients cannot forget to wear them.

Patients can also get creative with their retainers, and chose colors and designs to make them as unique as they are.

At Braces San Diego we have our own laboratory on site in our office, limiting wait times for retainers, and allowing for more customization.

Our lab technician, Elias, turns boring old retainers, into works of art. He is well known for his retainer designs, such as, ladybugs, baseball, tie-dye, sparkles, watermelon, Charger bolts, and much, much more.  Below you can see some examples what he can do.

Upper retainers:

Most of the time the Doctors recommend a wrap around style hawley retainer for the upper teeth.  This allows the occlusion to settle while maintaining the orthodontic correction.  Sometimes, however, the doctors may recommend a clear essix retainer or in rare instances a permanent bonded retainer.

Lower retainers:

This decision is usually left to the patient/parent, though the doctors will make a recommendation. Below is a list of the most common types of retainers we use as well as some of the advantages/disadvantages of each:


Hawley retainers:


  • Durable and long lasting
  • Since they don’t cover the tops of the teeth, the teeth can settle into a natural occlusion
  • Minor movements can be made with these retainers, such as closing small spaces
  • Easy to remove to eat, brush, floss


  • They have a metal wire which can be seen across the front of your teeth when worn. (After the first year, they are worn only at night though)
  • Since they are removable they can be lost, eaten by dogs, etc
  • They aren’t able to maintain torque (the way the roots were tipped when correcting your malocclusion) correction as well as other types of retainers
  • They are more expensive to replace than other types of retainers
Essix clear retainers:


  • Nearly invisible (it’s very similar to invisalign)
  • If there is minor shift of teeth (if you miss a couple of days of retainer wear), they are excellent at moving the teeth back to their original position
  • Excellent retention and maintenance of torque (the way the roots were tipped when correcting your malocclusion)
  • They are the least expensive retainer to replace if you lose it
  • You can remove it to brush/floss/eat


  • They don’t last as long as hawley retainers and usually need to be replaced every 1-2 years
  • It is usually not advisable to wear this type of retainer on top and bottom long term since it can lead to heavier contact on your front teeth.

Fixed bonded 3×3 retainer (usually only for bottom teeth):



  • You can’t lose it
  • You can’t see it when you smile
  • Is bonded to every tooth to minimize the chances of teeth moving


  • They are tough to keep clean.  You need to use floss threaders to floss under them
  • Dental cleaning take longer since they hygenist must clean around the wire very carefully so it doesn’t break off
  • Contact sports or biting very hard things with your front teeth can sometimes cause it to break

Fixed banded 4×4 retainer:



  • A Dr. Hirsh invention, it’s the tank or retainers.
  • You can’t lose it
  • Able to maintain the orthodontic correction of the front 8 teeth
  • Very durable and rarely breaks
  • Since it’s not glued to every tooth, with a little practice, you can floss your teeth without using a floss threader or other aid


  • You can see the metal bands which completely encircle two of the lower teeth
  • It is still more difficult to keep clean than a removable retainer

Here are some examples of designs you can have on your Hawley retainer:

American flag Baseball Camouflage 8 Ball Ladybug
Leopard Chargers Bolt Happy face Peace sign Rainbow
Soccer Strawberry Watermellon Tiger Zebra

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