When is a Retainer Used Rather Than Braces?

 How effective are retainers when used as an alternative to braces to fix crooked teeth?

Doctor Answers 7

Retainers or Clear Aligners?

The first question would be whether you are actually referring to a retainer or if you are thinking of a clear aligner system like Invisalign (the materials composition is very similar!).

Invisalign or any other clear aligner system will gradually move your teeth with a series of retainer-like clear aligners. The aligner trays are changed every two weeks until the teeth are finally straight. The amount of trays needed may range from 5 sets (2 weeks each) to 30 sets (again, 2 weeks each), depending on the difficulty of the case. This type of Orthodontic treatment is a great option for certain patients. Your Orthodontist should decide whether Invisalign or braces will give you the best outcome. 

A regular retainer is designed to maintain your teeth in the position that they are currently in. Sometimes a retainer may be able to make very minor movements of the teeth. So, if you are looking for more than minor correction, you should ask your Orthodontist about braces or Invisalign. 

Boca Raton Orthodontist
5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review

Retainers vs Braces

Hi there,

Retainers keep teeth in the position they were put in with braces.  The word "retain" means to keep something in position.  Retainers come in various shapes and sizes, from those that are clear and plastic, to the ones that seat into your palate with a bar across the front teeth, to ones made entirely out of metal (Cobalt-chrome retainers).  Retainers are ineffective in moving the teeth and are used for a period determined by the orthodontist AFTER the teeth have been straightened using braces.

As for braces, these are active appliances which straighten the teeth by application of forces.  Braces can either be fixed or removable and can be either visible or almost invisible.  There are types of braces, called clear aligners, such as invisalign, which look like retainers that are worn after braces.  Invisalign moves the teeth by changing aligners every week so that each new aligner has a slightly different tooth position, thus moving the teeth gradually with each change.  Other types of removable brace includes simple removable appliances with an acrylic plate.  Fixed appliances are fixed onto the teeth, they usually have brackets that are mounted onto the teeth on the inside (lingually) or outside (buccally) of the teeth and effect their action by the use of wires which are changed according to the prescription of the treating dentist. 

Hope this helps!


MJ x

Retainers Retain Very Well

Retainers are designed to retain the final position of your teeth at the end of your orthodontic treatment. In order to move your teeth into new position/alignment you would need a series of "retainers" where the tooth position is altered in between each aligners. An example of such treatment would be Invisalign, or ClearCorrect. Talk to an orthodontist and he or she can tell you how many trays you would need. Good luck!

Richard Shin, DDS MS
Rockville Orthodontist

Using a Retainer rather than braces

A retainer is used when there is limited movement of the teeth and they need to be aligned.  Sometimes, if you have a couple of teeth to either push forward or push back, we can use this spring retainer to be able to align without having to use braces.  However, when space needs to be regained or the movement is too great to be done with a retainer, we do have to use braces to be able to align the teeth.  It is our goal upon initial examination to be able to pick the patients out that can be aligned with spring aligners versus using braces.  However, if you still do not want braces and you want to use a retainer, Invisalign is another option that we can use in teeth that have been severely displaced to align perfectly which could be considered to be a retainer in a sense.  Nonetheless, an orthodontic examination is needed to decide which treatment option would be the best.

Ron D. Wilson, DMD
Gainesville Orthodontist

Orthodontic Retainers Are Best for Retaining

Although there are some very small changes to your teeth that can be made with removable retainers, retainers primarily "retain" or hold your teeth in their current position. As an orthodontist, I use retainers to hold teeth in position after I move them. At times I may add a little wire here or there to slightly shift a tooth forward or backward, but I have very little control of tooth movement with a retainer. When pushing a tooth forward, the tooth almost always moves up too (due to the shape of the tooth and the direction of force). When pushing teeth back, which only works if there are spaces between them, I almost always see changes in the length of the teeth which I can't prevent. In my practice I use braces and Invisalign to move teeth. I use retainers to retain the final positions after I've moved the teeth.

Greg Jorgensen, DMD, MS
Albuquerque Orthodontist

Difference between retainers and braces

Both retainers and braces are devices designed to align our teeth and keep them straight.  Braces straighten teeth and come in many styles and types depending on care needed.  They pull teeth toward a particular direction until teeth are straight.  Retainers are made from wire or plastic and hold or retain teeth in place after a certain treatment.  Retainers are removable and they need to be worn after all orthodontic treatment to prevent relapse. Make the investment in both and you will not regret it!  You will have a beautiful smile and a healthy gums and teeth!

Retainers rather than braces

Technically retainers do not move teeth at all..that's why they are called retainers!  Orthodontists however often can add springs and wires to removable appliances to do simple tooth movements ; everyone calls these appliances retainers even though they are actually active removable appliances.

Invisalign appliances look exactly like clear removable retainers but they can do some pretty amazing corrections.  Other types of retainer type appliances are much more limited in what they can do. 

Only a well trained orthodontist can tell you what is best for your problem

Robert Waxler, DMD, MS
Saint Louis Orthodontist

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.