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Essix Retainer: Everything You Need to Know for After Braces

essix retainer
What will you wear after braces?

The Essix retainer, what a mouthful! No, it’s not a strange legal term, it’s actually a really neat piece of orthodontic technology. It’s likely you have never heard of an Essix retainer, but you have probably heard of Invisalign, clear retainers, or removable retainers—while some of these retainers serve different functions, they are all similar appliances.

Sometimes Essix retainers can be used to slightly shift the position of your teeth, however, Invisalign and other clear aligners are best for teeth straightening. An Essix retainer is preferred by many people over permanent retainers because of the minimal aesthetic impact on your smile after receiving orthodontic treatment. It could be that wearing a removable Essix retainer may just be the best way for you to keep the time spent fixing your smile a secret from all those around you; let’s find out!

What is an Essix retainer?

An Essix retainer is a removable retainer made of clear plastic material. Essentially, these smile correctors are a plastic mold made to fit your unique dental arrangement and snap in to keep your smile looking great. They come in upper and lower sets 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. These types of retainers are easy to wear because they can be removed easily for cleaning and eating and don’t impact the appearance of your smile.

A clear retainer of this type can also be worn to correct your teeth alignment during the day (however this is usually only effective when only one or two teeth need to be moved). 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 aligners, but it's not the cheapest. If you're considering 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. Basically, this entails taking a mold of your own teeth and filling in the missing tooth with a prosthetic tooth to give the appearance of a complete smile when the Essix retainer with tooth replacements are snapped in.

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 on the tooth next to it due to natural shifting, and Essix retainers are one way to prevent this from becoming too problematic.

Essix retainer for after braces

Essix retainers are most commonly used to maintain alignment after braces. These retainers are commonly prescribed to be worn at night during sleep and sometimes accompany permanent retainers to ensure that teeth do not shift out of place.

Essix retainer cost

Essix retainers tend to be on the cheaper end of retainers. They can cost anywhere from $50–$200 per set and will last up to 5 years with proper maintenance. Ensuring that the retainers are clean and kept safe will keep the cost of replacements down.

However, Essix retainers have a tendency to degrade over time (plastic and stomach acid don’t make the best of friends) and snap or break, especially if you are a nighttime tooth grinder. Keep this in mind when you are working out the total cost of your retainers.

Essix retainer care

essix retainer cleaning
It's essential to keep your retainer clean

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.

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 that can lead to tooth decay.

Everyday cleaning

Cleaning your retainer regularly is extremely important 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:

  1. Remove the retainer and brush the plaque off the inside and outside using dish soap (not toothpaste as it can damage it).
  2. Rinse with cold water, make sure there is no soap left unless you want your mouth to taste like the inside of a dishwasher!
  3. Dry it off and pop it back in your mouth. Quick and Easy!

Deep cleaning

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:

  • bad smell
  • discoloration of the plastic
  • poor dental health

So without further ado, here are the recommended steps for deep cleaning:

  1. Remove the retainer and lightly brush off the plaque as you would with daily cleaning.
  2. Place it into a glass of cool water with one or two retainer cleaning tablets (such as Retainer Brite).
  3. Rinse after the fizzing of the tablet stops (3-5 minutes)
  4. 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.

The following video shows the recommendations of an orthodontist for keeping your Essix retainer clean:

This video describes the care of Clear Essix retainers. Thank you for trusting us with your orthodontic care. Julie Staggers Orthodontics


The primary function of an Essix retainer is to keep your teeth in their new correct position after orthodontic treatment. In rare cases, this type of retainer may be used to slightly correct the position of teeth, but normally that's a job for clear aligners or traditional braces.

Using retainers and properly caring for them will ensure that your mouth remains camera ready and healthy for many years to come. But, as always, speak with your orthodontist about which option is right for you.


Can I eat with my Essix retainer?

People sometimes assume that because Essix retainers are so sneaky, 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.

It is also important to note that it isn't recommended to wrap your retainer in a napkin while you eat. Many people accidentally throw their retainers out this way and that is an unnecessary headache. Most orthodontists will give you a retainer case included in the cost, which is an easy way to keep your Essix clean during meal times as well.

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 Essix is right for you.


  • You can take it out; making them easy to maintain as well as causing fewer eating restrictions
  • The easiest option when it comes to cleaning
  • Clear and practically invisible


  • Difficult to speak with at first
  • Easily warped or broken from heat or stress.

What is the difference between a Hawley and an Essix?

A Hawley is more commonly known as a “wrap around” retainer and is the poster child for adolescent orthodontia. With their characteristic fun colored plastic and single wire across the top 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:

Type Material Costs Lasts for: Invisible?
Essix Clear plastic $50-$200 3-5 years Yes
Hawley Wire and plastic $150-$300 5-10 years No

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!

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American Orthodontists Association: Glossary. Taking Care of Your Retainer. Consulted 3rd March 2020. American Dental Association: Prosthodontics. Consulted 3rd March 2020.