Retainers After Braces & Invisalign: Maintaining Your New Smile

Although you likely don’t realize it, our teeth are always on the move. Just as our skin wrinkles and our hair eventually turns gray, our teeth naturally shift positions as we move on through life. On a day-to-day basis, this small tooth movement is hardly noticeable. Over time, however, changes can start to become obvious—especially for those who have undergone orthodontic treatment.

Successful orthodontic work always ends with a brand-new smile for the patient. After braces or Invisalign aligner trays, orthodontic patients finish their treatment with a perfectly aligned set of teeth. But even though these teeth are flawlessly aligned, they can quickly move out of their positions due to natural forces.

Thankfully, unwanted tooth movement is easy to prevent with the help of a retainer. On this page, we take a close look at why teeth move, explain why it’s important for orthodontic patients to use retainers after braces or Invisalign, and examine the different types of retainers available today.

Tooth Movement Explained: Why Patients Need to Wear Retainers After Braces

Before delving further into retainers, let’s take a moment to explain why teeth move.

You may already know that teeth are anchored to the jawbone via tooth roots. Located directly under the gums, the root is the largest portion of a tooth. Reaching from the tooth’s neck (i.e. the layer that lies just below the crown) and extending into a socket in the jawbone, healthy tooth roots keep teeth firmly attached to the jaw at all times.

While tooth roots are strong, they aren’t supposed to keep teeth from shifting around in your mouth. Teeth need some space to move in order to chew food. Surrounding each tooth is a collection of fibers called the periodontal ligament that absorbs pressure and disperses it around the jaw. Thanks to the periodontal ligament, we are able to eat foods without breaking our teeth.

Although the periodontal ligament is essential to eating and chewing, its elastic qualities do cause teeth to move around in our mouths. Most of these shifts are minuscule, but certain factors may cause substantial tooth movement. Such factors include:

  • Old age (teeth tend to shift forward with time)
  • Tooth grinding
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Lost teeth

In addition to these, orthodontic patients are particularly at risk for tooth movement because their teeth naturally want to move back to their original positions once braces or Invisalign trays are removed.

While teeth movement isn’t inherently bad for your health, the excessive movement has been linked to chronic pain in the teeth, jaw, and neck. And for orthodontic patients, tooth movement compromises the results of braces or Invisalign.

Fortunately, by simply wearing a retainer after braces or Invisalign, patients can maintain their perfect smile for decades on end.

Today’s Tooth Retainer Options

Following the active treatment stage of orthodontics, you no longer have to wear braces or use Invisalign trays. Your perfect smile is set, and no more adjustments are necessary.

To preserve the results of treatment, however, you must wear your removable retainer according to the instructions given by your orthodontist. Immediately after active treatment, most patients are instructed to wear their retainers all day for 3-6 months. Constant retainer use is vital at this stage because the teeth are still becoming accustomed to their new positions.

After 3-6 months of constant retainer wearing, many patients can gradually move to nighttime use. From then on, you should indefinitely wear your retainers at night.

Generally, you can choose from three types of retainers:

  • Hawley Retainers: Made from a plastic or acrylic base, Hawley retainers use an adjustable metal wire to keep teeth in place. If you imagine a “traditional” retainer, you’re likely imagining a Hawley retainer.
  • Essix Retainers: Closely resembling Invisalign aligners, Essix retainers are made of transparent plastic and are completely invisible to others.
  • Bonded Retainers: Also called “permanent retainers,” bonded retainers are solid or braided metal wires that are cemented to the back of teeth. They are never removed by the patient and constantly keep teeth in place.

Check out our quick breakdown of each retainer type’s pros and cons:

Hawley Retainer


  • Can last for years with proper care
  • Can easily be adjusted by a professional
  • Simple to clean


  • Very noticeable appearance
  • More expensive than an Essix retainer
  • May cause lisping for a brief period

Essix Retainer


  • Completely transparent appearance
  • Affordable
  • Simple to clean


  • Does not last as long as a Hawley retainer or bonded retainer
  • May warp quickly
  • May not be as comfortable as a Hawley retainer

Bonded Retainer


  • Visually unnoticeable at all times
  • Retains teeth at all hours of the day
  • Impossible to lose


  • Makes brushing and flossing more complicated
  • May cause oral discomfort

Retainer Replacement 101

Hawley, Essix, and permanent retainers are all highly effective at preventing teeth from shifting around. But they aren’t meant to last forever.

Like toothbrushes, Hawley and Essix retainers become less effective with daily use. They become dirty, warped, and eventually won’t fit properly around one’s teeth. Retention requires a well-fitting retainer that feels snug on your teeth. If your retainer doesn’t feel like it’s retaining your teeth, it probably isn’t.

Bonded retainers also become less effective over the decades. Even though they are often called “permanent” retainers, bonded retainers do age and over time they may bend, break, or fall off altogether. If your bonded retainer feels loose, it’s time for a replacement.

To help patients keep their teeth in perfect alignment for life, Beverly Hills Orthodontics offers removable retainer replacement services. By periodically visiting our office for a new retainer model, you can keep your smile looking as straight and beautiful as the day your braces came off. For more information on our retainer replacement services, contact one of our four locations today.

Need a New Retainer or Interested in Orthodontic Work?

If you’ve spent the time and effort to undergo orthodontic work, you absolutely want to wear a retainer. By properly using a Hawley, Essix, or permanent bonded retainer, you can prevent your teeth from shifting and keep your perfect smile for life.

At Beverly Hills Orthodontics, we provide our patients with the option to choose from all three retainer types. Whether you have recently broken a retainer, worn your old one out, or simply want to switch retainer types, BHO can help you out. With locations in Beverly Hills/Century City, Toluca Lake, Alhambra, and Downtown Los Angeles, BHO is your home for orthodontic treatment and appliances. Contact us today to request a consultation.