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What are the Alternatives to Plastic Retainers?

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More people are now seeking plastic retainer alternatives due to the growing shift in focus on environmental sustainability and the desire for more diverse options.

Although retainers are necessary for people who have completed their orthodontic treatment, it doesn’t mean that you should only stick to traditional plastic retainers, as there are other options you can look into.

This post extensively covers these other options, helping you to make an informed choice by highlighting:

  • What plastic retainers are, and how they work;
  • The top plastic retainer alternatives;
  • How to choose the best type of retainers.

Understanding Plastic Retainers

After you are done with your orthodontic treatment, teeth can still shift back to their initial positions. To prevent this from happening and protect your investment, you will have to use retainers.

These are custom-made orthodontic appliances that are designed to maintain the new position of your teeth after orthodontic treatment, either with braces or clear aligners, like Invisalign.

Plastic retainers are orthodontic devices, often from polyurethane or polyethylene plastic materials. They are made to fit one’s unique dental structure and are used to maintain teeth alignment and prevent shifting of the teeth.

How Do Plastic Retainers Work?

Plastic retainers work by applying gentle pressure on the teeth to hold them in their desired positions. These devices are removable, and those wearing are typically needed to put them on for at least 12 to 22 hours a day.

By wearing them consistently, the teeth and surrounding tissues adapt to the new position, enabling them to stabilize over time.

Pros and Cons of Plastic Retainers

If you are searching for alternative retainer types, it would be prudent to know the strengths and weaknesses of these products before completely ditching them.

Pros of plastic retainers
  • Plastic retainers are transparent, making them less noticeable than traditional metal retainers or braces, making them more aesthetically pleasing.
  • These retainers are generally more comfortable to wear than metal retainers. They do not have wires or brackets that can cause irritation or discomfort in the mouth, making them a preferred choice for many patients.
  • Plastic retainers are designed to be easily removable, allowing for convenient cleaning and maintenance.
Cons of plastic retainers
  • Plastic retainers are generally less durable than other popular options and are prone to cracking or wearing down over time.
  • These retainers are susceptible to discoloration or staining if not well cared for.
  • Plastic retainers are removable, meaning if not worn consistently as recommended by the orthodontist, you may not achieve the desired results.
  • Clear retainers are custom-made and have limited adjustability. They cannot be used to correct significant shifts or tooth movements that may occur over time.
  • Since they have limited adjustability and are not highly durable, retainer replacement for plastic retainers is much more often, making this quite an expensive option.

It is important to note that there are different types of plastic retainers, including clear retainers like the Essix retainer. This means there may be a difference in quality and benefits in different brands.

Besides, and fortunately, there are simple ways you can follow to fix a broken retainer and cheap retainer replacements online.

So, based on these pros and cons, you may be wondering if there are other good alternatives that you can look into.

Alternative Options to Plastic Retainers

Here are the top alternatives to plastic retainers that you can consider:

Hawley Retainers


Hawley retainers are among the top alternatives for plastic retainers. These retainers have a metal wire that wraps around the teeth, with an acrylic piece that rests against the top part of the mouth or, at times, behind the lower teeth.

The main difference between Hawley and plastic retainers lies in their construction materials and adjustability. Hawley retainers are made of metal and acrylic and can be easily adjusted to suit any changes in the oral structure. On the other hand, plastic retainers cannot be adjusted.

  • Highly customizable and adjustable.
  • Durable and long-lasting.
  • Allows for tooth movement if necessary.
  • Less expensive compared to alternatives like plastic retainers.
  • They are not discreet and more noticeable than plastic retainers.
  • Hawley retainers may affect one’s ability to speak properly. However, this is usually temporary and goes away with time.
  • Hawley retainers require extra care in cleaning.

Bonded Retainers

An open mouth, on the back of the bottom teeth you can see a wire bonded to them, it is one of the best retainer alternatives: a bonded retainer.

Bonded retainers, also known as permanent or fixed retainers, are thin wires made of metal or composite material, usually bonded to the back of the teeth. These retainers offer quite a different approach to traditional retainers, as they are not removable. This means you do have to worry about removing or losing them.

  • Permanently fixed, eliminating the risk of losing or misplacing the retainer.
  • Provides continuous retention without the need for patient compliance.
  • Allows natural tooth movement.
  • These retainers are often challenging to clean and may require additional effort.
  • May cause difficulty in flossing.
  • May interfere with tongue placement and speech in some individuals.

Custom-made Retainers

Close-up portrait of a woman putting on a transparent plastic retainer. A girl corrects a bite with the help of an orthodontic device

You can also get other custom-made retainers created from varied materials that can be fixed or removable. Some materials like stainless steel or nickel-titanium can be used to make such retainers, making them an excellent alternative to plastic retainers.

The advantages or disadvantages of using such products vary from product to product and the place they are made. Nevertheless, it is crucial to get your orthodontic products from a licensed dental lab or your orthodontist.

Factors to Consider in Choosing Alternatives to Plastic Retainers

Choosing the right retainers greatly depends on your personal needs and the advice you get from your dentist. However, there are a few other considerations you can make to find a suitable alternative to plastic retainers, including:

  • Determine their effectiveness in retaining your teeth in their corrected position.
  • Find out how comfortable they are and if that suits you.
  • Figure out if they are aesthetically pleasing, especially if the looks are a huge concern for you.
  • Explore its maintenance requirements, and determine if it conforms well with your lifestyle.
  • Determine the total costs and consider them alongside your budget and financial ability.


What can I wear instead of plastic retainers?

There are several alternatives to plastic retainers, including Hawley retainers, clear retainers (such as Essix retainers), and bonded retainers. The choice depends on your specific needs and the recommendation of your orthodontist or dentist.

Can teeth stay in place without a retainer?

Teeth have a natural tendency to shift back to their original positions after orthodontic treatment, which is why having a retainer maintains the alignment achieved through orthodontic treatment.

How do hawley retainers differ from plastic retainers?

Hawley retainers are made of a metal wire that surrounds the teeth and an acrylic piece that rests against the palate or behind the lower teeth. Plastic retainers, on the other hand, are typically clear and made from a transparent plastic material, such as polyethylene or polyurethane.

How do the costs of alternative retainers compare to plastic retainers?

The price of alternative retainers varies depending on factors like the type, the materials used, and the condition of the patient. However, Hawley retainers are generally less expensive than plastic retainers, while other alternatives, like clear retainers and bonded retainers, may have comparable pricing.


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