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Aligners vs. Retainers: Choosing Your Orthodontic Path

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Orthodontic treatment has come a long way in recent years, offering a variety of options to achieve that perfectly aligned smile. While most options have their unique way of working, two methods continue to stand out, with numerous people unable to choose: aligners vs retainers.

So, what is the main difference between these two options, and how do you decide on the best, based on your needs?

This article comprehensively looks into this topic by highlighting:

  • What are aligners and retainers used for;
  • The main differences between the two;
  • The main similarities between the two;
  • How to select the right option.

Understanding Aligners and Retainers

The first step to take when determining if either of these options is ideal for you is to know what exactly these are and what they are used for.

What are Aligners?

Aligners are clear, custom-made orthodontic devices designed to gradually move and align your teeth.

Unlike traditional braces with metal brackets and wires, aligners are crafted from transparent, medical-grade plastic. This material is not only virtually invisible but also comfortable to wear. Moreover, each set of aligners is precisely tailored to fit your unique dental structure.

So, what are aligners used for?

There are many reasons why teeth aligners are used, including:

Correcting alignment issues

The primary role of aligners is to correct a wide range of alignment issues on your dental structure, including:

  • Crooked teeth: Aligners can effectively straighten crooked teeth, providing a more harmonious and aesthetically pleasing smile.
  • Overcrowding: In cases of overcrowding, where there isn’t enough space for your teeth to fit comfortably, aligners can gradually create room and realign your teeth.
  • Gaps between teeth: Aligners are also useful for closing gaps between teeth and addressing issues like diastema.

Correcting bite issues

Aligners are often used to correct mild to moderate bite issues, such as:

  • Overbite: Aligners can help adjust an overbite, where the upper front teeth excessively overlap the lower front teeth.
  • Underbite: For an underbite, where the lower teeth extend forward more than the upper teeth, aligners can assist in achieving a proper bite alignment.
  • Crossbite: In cases of a crossbite, where some upper teeth sit inside the lower teeth, aligners can help realign the bite.

Discreet treatment

Aligners offer a discreet orthodontic treatment option. Due to their clear appearance, they are less noticeable than traditional braces. This makes aligners particularly popular among adults and teenagers who may feel self-conscious about wearing braces.

Comfort and convenience

Aligners are removable, making eating, brushing, and flossing more convenient than fixed braces. This feature allows you to maintain better oral hygiene during treatment.

Furthermore, these products have minimal impact on your daily life. They are removable for special occasions or activities where you’d prefer not to wear them. This flexibility is a significant advantage for those with active lifestyles.

What Are Retainers?

Retainers are essential orthodontic devices that play a crucial role in maintaining the results of orthodontic treatment. These are custom-made dental appliances typically made of metal, plastic, or a combination of both, crafted to fit the unique contours of your mouth and teeth.

Retainers come in two main types: fixed (permanent) and removable.

What are retainers used for?

The primary and most crucial role of retainers is to maintain the alignment of your teeth after orthodontic treatment. Whether you’ve undergone treatment with braces or aligners, retainers help prevent your teeth from shifting back to their original, misaligned positions.

Besides helping to maintain teeth alignment, retainers also play a number of other roles, including:

Post-orthodontic stability

After completing active orthodontic treatment, such as wearing braces or aligners, the teeth need time to settle into new positions. Retainers are crucial during this post-treatment phase to ensure the teeth remain stable and don’t revert to their previous alignment.

Preserving bite correction

Retainers also help preserve the corrections made to your bite. Whether you’ve had an overbite, underbite, or crossbite corrected during orthodontic treatment, retainers play a role in preventing relapse.tus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Preventing gaps and spacing

Retainers are effective at preventing gaps or spacing from reoccurring between your teeth. It would also be prudent to note that some people may opt for retainers without using aligners or braces at any point.

However, this is mainly possible with minor issues like small gaps and spacing. Nevertheless, it is important that you get your dentist’s approval before taking this path.

Long-term oral health

Retainers help ensure the longevity of your orthodontic investment by preventing the need for further treatment due to relapse. They also contribute to maintaining good oral health by aligning your teeth and reducing the risk of gum disease and tooth decay.

Customized treatment

Retainers are custom-made to fit your unique dental structure. This ensures they provide the necessary support to maintain your treatment results.

Types of Retainers

There are two types of retainers that are often used to maintain the results of your orthodontic treatment. They include:

  • Removable retainers: These are typically made of clear plastic or acrylic and can be taken out for eating, cleaning, and special occasions. Removable retainers are often used after active orthodontic treatment.
  • Fixed retainers: Fixed retainers, also known as bonded or permanent retainers, are attached to the back surfaces of your teeth. They provide continuous support and are typically used when there is a higher risk of relapse.
Two photos comparing types of retainers. The one on the left, a fixed retainer; the one on the right, a removable one.

Seamless Transition: Wearing a Retainer after Invisalign

Orthodontic treatment, whether with traditional braces or clear aligners, involves gradually moving your teeth into their ideal positions.

Once the treatment is complete, your teeth may have a newfound alignment, but they are not entirely stable.

Teeth have a natural tendency to shift back to their original positions if not properly retained. This is where retainers play a pivotal role in ensuring the longevity of your newly aligned smile.

Wearing a retainer post-aligner treatment is essential for several reasons, such as:

  • Stability: Retainers ensure the stability of your newly aligned teeth. They prevent any minor shifts that might occur naturally over time.
  • Avoid relapse: Without retainers, there is a risk of relapse, where teeth gradually move back to their original positions. This could result in the need for further orthodontic treatment.
  • Optimal bite: Retainers help maintain a proper bite, ensuring that your upper and lower teeth fit together harmoniously. This is not only important for aesthetics but also for proper chewing and overall oral health.

Main Similarities and Differences Between Aligners and Retainers

To know the option that is right for you, it would be prudent to note the key differences and similarities between these two treatment options.


Here is how aligners and retainers are similar:

  • Customization: Both aligners and retainers are custom-made to fit the unique contours of your mouth and dental structure. This ensures a comfortable and effective fit.
  • Removability: Both aligners and some types of retainers are removable. You can take them out for eating, cleaning, and special occasions, offering convenience in daily life.
  • Aesthetic appeal: Both aligners and some types of retainers, particularly clear retainers, offer a more discreet and aesthetically pleasing option compared to traditional braces with visible brackets and wires.


Here’s how aligners vs. retainers differ:

  • Primary purpose
  1. Aligners: The primary purpose of aligners is to actively move and reposition teeth. They correct misalignment, close gaps, and address mild to moderate orthodontic issues.
  2. Retainers: The primary purpose of retainers is to maintain the alignment achieved through orthodontic treatment. They are used after active treatment to prevent teeth returning to their original positions.
  • Material
  1. Aligners: Aligners are typically made of clear, medical-grade plastic, making them virtually invisible when worn.
  2. Retainers: Retainers can be made from various materials, including metal, plastic, or a combination. The material choice may depend on the type of retainer and your orthodontist’s recommendation. Moreover, how you clean your retainers is also greatly determined by the material used.
  • Treatment duration
  1. Aligners: Aligners are worn for a specified treatment duration, which varies depending on the complexity of the case. You progress through a series of aligners, changing them every few weeks as your teeth move.
  2. Retainers: Retainers are typically worn for a more extended period, often indefinitely, to ensure long-term stability and prevent relapse.


Both aligners and retainers play a key role in your orthodontic journey. However, each of these dental products plays a unique role, with aligners actively shifting the teeth into the desired position while retainers ensure that your teeth maintain that position.

Your dentist can curate an orthodontic treatment plan for you, helping you to determine when you should go for aligners and when the time is right for retainers.


Can I use my old retainer after Invisalign treatment?

Using your old retainer after Invisalign treatment is generally not recommended. Your old retainer is designed to maintain the alignment of your teeth before Invisalign treatment, and it may not fit properly or provide the necessary support for your newly aligned teeth.

Are there any age restrictions for using Invisalign or retainers?

There are no strict age restrictions for using Invisalign or retainers. Both can be used by individuals of various ages, from teenagers to adults.

However, Invisalign, in particular, is suitable for older teens and adults who have permanent teeth. Nevertheless, the suitability of orthodontic treatment varies from person to person, and it is determined by your specific dental needs and oral health.

Can I play sports or musical instruments with aligners or retainers?

Yes, you can generally play sports and musical instruments with aligners or retainers.

Are retainers necessary after aligners?

Yes, retainers are typically necessary after completing Invisalign or any orthodontic treatment, including traditional braces.

Retainers are essential for maintaining the alignment and preventing your teeth from shifting back to their original positions, a process known as orthodontic relapse.


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