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What are Dental Retainers?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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As a means of helping to improve the appearance of teeth, dental retainers play an important role. Designed to help realign teeth into an even and straight configuration, these devices are usually worn for a period of time that is specified by an orthodontist. There are a couple of different types in use today. Here is some information about retainers and their use in orthodontic practice.

Dental retainers are sometimes used as a follow up mode of treatment for persons who have worn braces for an extended period of time. With this application, they are employed as a means of reinforcing the process of realigning the teeth into permanent positions. This process was begun with the braces, but the retainer helps to complete the final stage of the procedure. Because dental retainers are often made of casts that fit snugly over the teeth, they help to keep the teeth in line after the braces have been removed, allowing more time for the slight gaps between the teeth to settle into a more natural configuration. In some cases, these devices are worn during the night, but not required during the daytime.

Another application of dental retainers has to do with helping to correct an underbite or overbite. Along with helping to align individual teeth properly, they also help to bring the two rows of teeth more into a natural alignment. Normally, retainers of this type are worn around the clock, at least for a period of time. However, orthodontists vary on the duration of this constant wear. Often, the duration is determined by considering such factors as the severity of the overbite and the general condition of the teeth. In just about all cases, the period of constant wear is followed by a period in which dental retainers are worn only at night.

While dental retainers were once rather bulky and uncomfortable, the new models of today are often hard to detect. Many are made of a strong clear resin that fits snugly over the teeth, but does not add much in the way of bulk to the mouth. Also, advances have made it possible for the wearer to be much more comfortable than in years past. As a means of correcting dental issues and providing more people with a healthy and straight set of teeth, dental retainers provide a solution that is moderately priced and treatment that is almost always effective.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By bagley79 — On Apr 28, 2012

How much do dental retainers cost? I am needing to get one for my teeth and don't have any kind of dental insurance.

I know buying a retainer would be cheaper than having braces put on, but am curious how much money I would be out.

I have seen several adults wearing braces and think they have probably wanted to have straight teeth for a long time.

Adults probably appreciate the process and cost more than kids do. Either way, I think having straight teeth at any age would be an asset.

By SarahSon — On Apr 28, 2012

I really didn't mind wearing my retainer. It was hardly noticeable and was much better than wearing my braces.

What I had the most trouble with during the whole process was the rubber bands with my braces. I was so glad to get these removed that wearing a retainer was nothing.

Even though I didn't appreciate it much at the time, I am now thankful for wearing the braces and retainer. I have straight teeth that I can feel good about when I smile.

By golf07 — On Apr 27, 2012

I had to wear a retainer for a year after my braces were removed. This was several years ago, when they were not nearly as inconspicuous or comfortable as they are now.

I didn't like wearing it to school because I had to take it out every time I wanted to eat anything.

One day after lunch, I forgot to put the retainer back in my mouth. It was sitting on my napkin and I accidentally threw it away.

It didn't take long for me to realize this. My parents didn't have a lot of money and I knew I would really be in trouble if I didn't come home with my retainer.

I had to dig through the trash, but I finally found it. That was a tough lesson to learn and I never did that again.

By Azuza — On Apr 26, 2012

I think it's neat that dental retainers can be used for so many different things now. They used to pretty much only be used after you had braces on teeth, to make sure your teeth didn't shift back. Now they can be used to actually move the teeth around.

I had braces when I was younger and I would have loved to just wear a clear retainer instead. You can take those out to eat and brush your teeth at least! When you have braces, taking care of your teeth is so much harder.

By starrynight — On Apr 26, 2012

@JessicaLynn - I had exactly the kind of braces retainer you're describing. I remember it was a whole process to get it too. They have to take a mold of your teeth and then get the retainer especially made for you.

I actually had a retainer when I was in elementary school, and another student stole it out of my bag when I was having lunch one day. The whole thing was really sad. The girl who took my retainer had really messed up teeth, but I guess her family didn't have money for her to get work done. So, she thought if she wore my retainer her teeth would look nice and straight like mine were (after all the orthodontic work.)

I felt bad for the girl, but it was really horrible because she ruined my retainer! My family ended up having to buy me a new one (they were nice enough to let the whole thing go with the other girl and her family.)

By JessicaLynn — On Apr 25, 2012
I had two rounds of orthodontic braces in the 90s (braces on my four front teeth while I had an arch wire and a lip bumper, then a full mouth of braces a few years later) so I am very familiar with retainers.

I know they make clear retainers now, but I wasn't so lucky. I had retainers that were metal in the front over the teeth, and then plastic on the other side. Metal retainers aren't as bad as having braces, but they are definitely very noticeable.

For awhile I was supposed to wear my retainers all the time, but I rebelled and only wore them at night. Some of my teeth ended up moving around a little bit, but they look fine over all, so I'm not sorry!

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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