The Essix retainer, what a mouthful! No, it’s not a strange legal term, it’s actually a really clever piece of orthodontic technology. It’s likely you have never heard of an Essix retainer, but it's just the official name for a clear plastic retainer to keep your teeth in place after braces.
Many people prefer to wear clear retainers after braces because, just like invisible braces, they are very hard to notice.
If you're looking at all the different types of retainer and trying to decide whether a removable Essix retainer is right for you, we're here to help. This article answers important questions like:
- What does an Essix retainer cost in the UK?
- How long do clear retainers last?
- How to clean Essix retainers
- Pros and cons of clear plastic retainers vs other types
So you can make a fully informed decision about your dental care. Let's get started!
Table of contents
- 1 What is an Essix retainer?
- 2 Essix retainer uses
- 3 Essix retainer cost in the UK
- 4 How long do clear retainers last?
- 5 How to clean Essix retainers
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 FAQs
What is an Essix retainer?
An Essix retainer is a removable retainer made of clear plastic material. Essentially, these smile correctors are moulded to fit perfectly over your teeth. They need to be a tight fit to stop your teeth moving out of alignment again (known as relapsing). These plastic retainers come in upper and lower sets, or as a single device, and are often the cheaper option when it comes to picking a type of retainer.
Essix retainer uses
The most common use for Essix retainers is to keep teeth from shifting after braces have been taken off. This type of retainer is convenient to wear because it can be removed easily for cleaning and eating and doesn’t impact the appearance of your smile.
Clear retainers are usually worn at night while you sleep, although your orthodontist may instruct you to wear them for longer, especially when your braces first come off. They sometimes accompany permanent retainers to ensure that teeth do not shift out of place.
It's also possible to use a series of Essix retainers to slightly shift the position of your teeth, although the more common way to do this is using invisible braces, which are specifically designed to straighten teeth bit by bit. Invisalign is a popular brand of clear aligner, but it's not the cheapest. If you're consider using retainers to straighten your teeth because of the cost, check out some cheaper Invisalign alternatives instead.
Essix retainer for missing teeth
Essix retainers can also be used to hide missing teeth. The retainer is made as usual and then a prosthetic tooth is inserted into the gap(s). Once the Essix retainer with tooth replacements is snapped in, it gives the appearance of a complete smile.
These clear retainers are sometimes suggested to prevent the ICL (interproximal contact loss) between an implant restoration and the adjacent tooth. Sometimes an implant tooth can end up wearing down the tooth next to it due to natural shifting, and Essix retainers are one way to prevent this from becoming too problematic.
Essix retainer cost in the UK
Essix clear retainers cost between £50 and £135 per set on average. This makes them one of the cheaper retainer options, although they aren't as durable as some of the alternatives. You should weigh up both cost and durability when deciding on the right type of retainer for you.
How long do clear retainers last?
Clear Essix retainers can last anywhere from six months to three years or more with proper care and maintenance. The plastic does degrade over time, and if you grind your teeth at night this will shorten the life of the retainers. Eventually they will crack or break and need to be replaced.
With any kind of removable retainer, there is also a risk of losing it, sitting on it, dropping it on a hard floor, and so on. Your clear retainers will come with a hard plastic case, and it's a good idea to use this whenever your retainers are not in your mouth or being cleaned.
How to clean Essix retainers
Essix retainer cleaning is extremely important and many people forget to clean them or are put off by the task entirely, but it really is very simple. We have a separate detailed guide to retainer cleaning, which includes some product recommendations, but for now here's an overview of what to do.
To clean a clear removable retainer, be sure to use cold water as hot water can warp the plastic and render it useless.
There are two ways to clean an Essix retainer:
- Day-to-day cleaning: This method is for after each meal, or at the end of each day or night.
- Deep cleaning: This is for when your retainer needs a bit more than a quick once over. This should be done once or twice a week to prevent bacteria and plaque buildup which can lead to tooth decay.
Cleaning your clear retainer regularly is extremely important. The plastic can hold millions of little bacteria which degrade your tooth enamel over time. Wearing an Essix retainer can end up harming your teeth if you don't clean it (and your teeth) properly. Here are the steps to follow:
- Remove the retainer and brush the inside and outside using a soft-bristled brush and dish soap (not toothpaste as it can damage it).
- Rinse with cold water, make sure there is no soap left unless you want your mouth to taste like the inside of a dishwasher!
- Dry it off and pop it back in your mouth or store it in its case. Quick and easy!
Deep cleaning Essix retainers can take a bit longer, but if you don’t routinely do this it can lead to a few problems. Neglecting to thoroughly clean your Essix appliance can lead to:
- A bad smell
- Discolouration of the plastic
- Poor dental health
Here are the recommended steps for deep cleaning:
- Remove the retainer and lightly brush it as you would with daily cleaning
- Place it into a glass of cool water with one or two retainer cleaning tablets (such as Retainer Brite)
- Rinse after the fizzing of the tablet stops (3-5 minutes)
- Brush with the leftover tablet water quickly and rinse
Many people don’t think that brushing retainers is totally necessary for the care of a removable retainer but ask any orthodontist and they will insist that brushing your retainer is just as important as brushing your teeth.
For more information about what it's like wearing clear Essix retainers, watch the video below from Emma Louise. Do note that she uses Steradent, a denture cleaner, whereas we would recommend a specialist retainer cleaner.
An Essix retainer can be a great way for people who have had braces to maintain the new alignment of their smile. Because they are hardly noticeable, it doesn't matter if you have to wear them all day at first. Plus, the fact that they are removable makes them easier to clean than fixed retainers.
Clear retainers cost less than other types but probably won't last as long. Properly caring for them will help prolong their life, but when they do break, be ready to replace them quickly so that your teeth don't start shifting out of position again.
Can I eat with my Essix retainer?
People sometimes assume that because Essix retainers fit so well, you can get away with eating with them still in your mouth. This is inadvisable because the chewing of food may damage the retainer and then you'll have to replace it altogether. Plus, food can get stuck around the retainer causing bad smells and attracting bacteria to your teeth. You should also remove your retainers to drink anything except water.
Also avoid wrapping them in a paper napkin while you eat. It's likely to get stuck to them, for a start, and it's also very easy to throw them away accidentally. Instead, use the case provided by your orthodontist.
Are Essix retainers better?
An Essix retainer may be the better choice for you, and it may not. Below is a short pros and cons list to help you decide if a clear retainer is right for you.
- You don't have to limit what you eat, as long as you remove them first
- The easiest option when it comes to cleaning
- Clear and practically invisible
- Not too expensive
- Difficult to speak with at first
- Easily warped or broken from heat or stress
- Can get stained if you don't clean them properly
What is the difference between a Hawley and an Essix?
A Hawley is also called a “wrap around” retainer and is the poster child for adolescent orthodontia. With its characteristic fun coloured plastic and single wire across the front teeth, the Hawley was once known as the only option in post-braces life.
Have a look at the following table for a summary of the differences between these two options:
To sum up, an Essix is a clear alternative to the Hawley that snaps into place and doesn't leave the characteristic wire that interrupts your smile. Basically, you can become an orthodontic ninja and hide your retainer from everyone you know!
Can you buy Essix retainers online?
You may be able to purchase a plastic retainer online for less than the price at the dentist, but we don't recommend it. Dental labs craft your retainers to precisely fit your teeth, and without this professional involvement you risk damaging the smile you spent so long correcting while wearing braces.