The Hawley retainer is perhaps the most well-known type of retainer used for keeping teeth in place after orthodontic treatment. It was developed in 1919 and until recently has been the go-to option for orthodontists and patients alike. This type of retainer can easily be identified due to its iconic wire that goes across the front teeth, and acrylic plate that sits inside the mouth.
If you're reading this article, chances are you're considering what type of retainer is best for either you or your child, after finishing with braces. To help you figure this out, we'll go over some basic information about the Hawley, such as:
- How much do Hawley retainers cost in the UK?
- Who can have one?
- How do they compare to other retainers?
- Can they be used to straighten teeth?
We hope this information helps you choose the best retainer for your or your child's post-orthodontic needs.
Table of contents
What is a Hawley retainer?
A Hawley retainer is a removable device made of wire and hard plastic material. When you hear the word retainer, this is probably what you think of first. Unlike some other more modern types of retainer, the Hawley is quite noticeable thanks for the wire that sits along the front few teeth to keep them in place. The design hasn't changed much since its creation in 1919.
The wire from the retainer wraps around the front of your teeth and the hard acrylic sits against the roof of your mouth (for uppers) or the hard part of the gums (for lowers). There are two wire parts in the back of the retainer to help keep it in place in your mouth.
Hawley retainers are removable This is a removable type of retainer and is often an affordable option, provided you don't lose it or need a replacement too often.
What can a Hawley retainer do?
A Hawley retainer is usually used to maintain alignment of the front teeth after braces are removed. Hawley retainers are typically worn full time for three months after braces are removed and then nightly and at home only for the next nine months. Thereafter, nightly wear is usually sufficient but your orthodontist will advise you on exactly when to wear it.
Typically the Hawley retainer is used for top teeth, but it can also be used for the bottom teeth. The acrylic arc is designed to fit comfortably on the lingual walls or palate of the mouth while the wire wraps around the teeth and helps them to maintain their position.
Can a Hawley retainer move teeth? It's not what they are usually used for, but it is possible to make minor adjustments to tooth alignment by positioning the wires in a certain way. Your dentist might do this if you haven't worn your retainer enough after braces and your teeth have started to relapse.
How long does a Hawley retainer last?
A Hawley will typically last 5-10 years, as long as you take good care of it and don't lose it or break it.
Hawley retainers are much more durable than the clear Essix retainer, mostly because of the materials used. Acrylic and steel wire are much longer-lasting than a thin plastic shell, but that doesn't mean that a Hawley retainer is invincible. It is important to always make sure you store your retainer in its case when it isn't in your mouth, to prevent loss or damage. You should always remove it while you eat, and also take care to clean it properly every day.
The way you insert and remove your retainer can also affect its lifespan. Don't bite down on it to clip it into place, and always use the clasps at the back to remove it, rather than pulling on the bow at the front. In the video below, orthodontist Dr Sarah Sadek shares some more tips for Hawley retainer care.
How to clean Hawley retainers
Hawley retainers require daily cleaning to prevent gum disease, bad smells, and trapped food debris. Oral hygiene is always important, but even more so when there are retainers involved. Neglecting to clean your retainer can lead to a build-up of plaque which will contribute to enamel degradation over time.
Read our retainer cleaning guide to find out the best products to use for cleaning a Hawley retainer. You can buy special retainer cleaning tablets, or use denture cleaning tablets, although these may cause slight discolouration to the acrylic over time.
It is important to note that there are two types of Hawley retainers and each type of retainer requires a different method of cleaning.
Hawley retainers with extra metal pieces soldered on:
- DO NOT soak a retainer with soldered pieces regularly. This will eventually break down the solder on the retainer, leading the wire to snap.
- Soaking your retainer every once in a while is okay, but not every day.
- Use a soft toothbrush and toothpaste daily to prevent bad smells and plaque buildup on your retainer.
Hawley retainers without solder:
- Soak your retainer in a cleansing solution daily, or at least once every few days, to maintain optimal oral hygiene.
- Brush your retainers as you would your teeth, with a soft bristle toothbrush and toothpaste. Don't forget to brush the metal wire as well.
Hawley retainer cost in the UK
Hawley retainers cost £70 – £150 for one, so up to £300 for a set, which is more than you'll usually pay for clear retainers. However, since Hawleys last much longer (in theory), they can work out to be the cheaper option in the long term.
If you or your child have had orthodontic treatment on the NHS then your first retainer will be included with this. If it gets lost or broken then you will probably have to pay for a replacement. Note that NHS retainers may have more limited colour options than those purchased privately.
It may be possible to repair a Hawley retainer if the plastic cracks or a wire comes loose. Take it to your orthodontist and they will let you know whether it can be saved.
Can you buy a Hawley retainer online in the UK?
Some places do sell Hawley retainers online. The process involves you ordering a kit and taking impressions of your teeth at home. Your retainer is made from these impressions and shipped out to you. Although this is not all that different to what happens when you visit an orthodontist, there is nobody to check that the finished thing fits properly.
After spending so many months (and so much money) getting your teeth straight in the first place, is it worth risking your new smile for the sake of saving a few pounds?
Hawley vs clear Essix vs fixed retainers
Choosing the right type of retainer is a very personal endeavour. Making sure that you have the right appliance for your dental, personal, and aesthetic needs can seem overwhelming. But rest assured that choosing the correct orthodontic device is really very simple. Especially as an adult needing orthodontic treatment, maybe the teenage retainer look isn't for you. Of course you can discuss your options with your dentist or orthodontist before making any definite decisions.
There are three main types of appliances: Hawley (the metal and acrylic combination), Essix (clear, plastic trays), and fixed/bonded retainers. There are pros and cons to each type that all require consideration before making a decision. Here's an overview:
- Cheaper than bonded
- More durable than an Essix
- Easy to clean
- Cool colours and patterns for the acrylic palate piece
- Lasts 5-10 years
- More expensive than an Essix
- Easy to lose
- Visible on teeth
- Possibly uncomfortable
- Cheapest option
- Easy to clean
- Easy to lose
- Only lasts 6 months to a few years
- Impossible to lose!
- Lasts up to 10 years – maybe more
- Most sustainable option
- The most durable option
- Difficult to clean
- Expensive upfront cost
- Takes time to adjust to the feeling inside the mouth
Check out the table below for a summary of the differences:
In short, Hawley retainers are a durable and affordable choice if you don't mind having a visible wire at the front. Clear retainers aren't as durable but have the benefit of being almost invisible. If you're worried about losing, dropping, or forgetting to put your retainer in then consider a fixed retainer instead. These are more expensive up-front but can't be lost or forgotten!
The Hawley device is the oldest type of retainer and the only truly adjustable one. While an Essix device may be more desirable due to its invisibility and comfort, the Hawley has its own set of benefits. It's hard to say which device is better as every set of teeth has its own specific needs.
The decision will ultimately come down to a combination of aesthetics, price, and comfort, since both the traditional Hawley and the new-age Essix accomplish essentially the same goals. If the price and commitment of a fixed/bonded appliance are too much to handle then the Hawley may just be the right choice for you.