To retain means to keep in place; therefore, an orthodontic retainer is used to keep your teeth in their new positions after your braces come off. Most orthodontists use one of these three types of retainers:
A clear plastic retainer (also called an Essix Retainer) is sometimes placed on the upper teeth one or two days after the braces are removed. It resembles the Invisalign appliance. It is normally worn only at night and lasts an average of 24 months. After it wears out the orthodontist may replace it with a traditional wire retainer. Some people have commented that this type of retainer can be uncomfortable.
A bonded retainer is normally placed behind the lower teeth after the braces are removed. It is a wire “permanently” bonded to the teeth with composite material. Sometimes this type of retainer is used for the upper teeth, but usually this is not possible because it would interfere with your bite. A bonded retainer will remain in place for several years.
A wire retainer (also called a Hawley Retainer) is normally placed after discontinuing use of either the clear retainer or bonded retainer. This type of retainer has the added benefit of being adjustable so that minor tooth movement is possible. Sometimes a wire retainer can be worn full time instead of braces to correct mild crowding. As you can see, the acrylic part of the retainer can be made in a variety of colors and patterns.