An orthodontic retainer is there to help you preserve the changes that you and your orthodontist worked so hard to achieve. Without one, your straighter teeth might move back on their own. But how much do orthodontic retainers cost? Well, it depends on which type of retainer you get.
What is an Orthodontic Retainer?
An orthodontic retainer is a plastic or metal appliance that fits over or along your teeth after your braces are removed. Its sole job is to keep your teeth from moving back to their original position (a phenomenon we call “orthodontic relapse.”
Orthodontic retainers can be fixed (bonded to your teeth) or removable. Their rigid design is strong enough that it can gently hold, push, or nudge teeth to the position they’re supposed to be in.
Why Do I Need an Orthodontic Retainer?
After getting your braces removed, you’ll need to wear a retainer while your teeth and surrounding bone structures “settle” into their new position. Your teeth may shift out of place if you don’t wear a retainer, especially when you chew on one side of your mouth, swallow a certain way, or tend to use your teeth to hold things.
While a retainer may cost anywhere from $100 to more than $1,000 depending on its design and manufacturer, there are many reasons why orthodontists recommend wearing one after your braces come off. One of these is that it can help you avoid going back into braces. Many patients who don’t wear their retainers end up back in orthodontic appliances because their teeth shifted/relapsed into the previous position.
The reason behind orthodontic relapse is the same as why teeth move with braces at all. Pressure from our lips and tongue, usually while we’re swallowing or eating, can encourage teeth to drift in another direction. When you wear an orthodontic retainer overnight, it helps “reset” any tooth movement that occurred that day. In that sense, wearing a retainer is priceless.
The Different Types of Orthodontic Retainers
There are three common types of orthodontic retainers: clear (Essix), Hawley, and bonded. Each one is designed for a different purpose.
Clear retainers are the most expensive. They look nearly identical to an Invisalign tray. Since they’re invisible, you can wear them during the day if you want to or even have them double as a bleaching tray when you get whitening gel from your cosmetic dentist.
These traditional wire retainers have an acrylic piece that sits in the roof of your mouth. Usually, you can select any color that you like. Then a thin wire runs around the edge of the retainer so that it loops around the outside of all of your teeth.
Sometimes called “lingual retainers,” bonded retainers are thin, rigid wires that are attached to the back of specific teeth with special material. Sometimes only either end of the retainer is bonded and other times the retainer is bonded to each tooth it touches. These retainers are ideal in areas that are more prone to relapse or crowding, such as behind the lower front teeth and sometimes upper front teeth.
The Costs of Different Types of Retainers
Hawley retainers are your typical traditional retainer and surprisingly usually cost a little more than clear/Essix retainers do. A traditional Hawley retainer usually costs somewhere in the vicinity of $150-$300 per retainer (it might be less if you’re getting a set of two.)
If you want something transparent, a clear retainer is a great alternative. Essix is just one brand of these clear retainers and some are made onsite at the dentist’s office or a private lab. The cost of a clear removable retainer is usually between $100-$250. Keep in mind that the price will fluctuate based on where you live, the lab your dentist is using, and any specific brands of retainers that are selected.
And finally, bonded retainers come in as high as $250-$500 per retainer. If for some reason yours ever comes off for whatever reason, try not to lose it. Keep it in a zip-top baggie and bring it straight to your dentist or orthodontist’s office to have it reattached.
Do I Need to Replace My Retainer if it Gets Lost or Broken?
If you lost or break your retainer, it is important to replace it as soon as possible. The lost or broken one should be replaced with a new one right away. If you don’t replace it, the teeth will shift back to their original position and once again need braces to be fixed. Even waiting as long as a couple of weeks could be enough to cause significant tooth movement, to the point where the old retainer doesn’t fit correctly.
Is the Cost of My First Retainer Included with My Braces?
The first set of retainers is almost always included with the cost of braces. That means you are not charged an additional fee for them once your braces are removed. So whether it’s a $100 retainer or a $300 one, you’re probably not paying anything out of pocket at the conclusion of your orthodontic treatment; you’ve technically already paid for the first set of retainers as part of the overall orthodontic fee. At least, in 99.9% of treatment cases.
Some dentists or orthodontists will actually provide one backup retainer. Or they’ll have a 3D scan of your teeth saved in the chart so that a new retainer can be ordered from the lab without ever taking an impression of your teeth. But remember, those retainers will only fit if they’re made immediately after your current retainer goes missing or is broken. Too much tooth movement and they won’t fit anymore.
You Can’t Afford Not to Wear a Retainer
If your retainer goes missing on vacation, gets chewed up by a dog, or melts in the car, you need a new one ASAP. Worst case scenario, you’re out anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the type of retainer that you’re getting. But even then, it’s cheaper than wearing braces all over again to undo the damage that’s been done.