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Hawley Retainer: What Kind Should You Get After Braces?

Alexa Rose
Dr. Clarke Stevens
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The Hawley retainer is perhaps the most well-known type of retainer used for keeping teeth in place after orthodontics treatment.

It was developed in 1919 and since then 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 on the roof of your mouth.

We'll go over some basic information about the Hawley, such as:

  • How much does it cost?
  • Who can have one?
  • How does it compare to other retainers?
  • Can it be used to straighten teeth?

We hope this information helps you choose the best retainer for your post-orthodontic needs.

What is a Hawley retainer?

hawley retainer
Should you get this classic retainer?

The wire from the retainer will wrap around the front of your teeth and the hard acrylic will sit against the roof of your mouth. There are two wire parts in the back of the retainer to help keep it in place in your mouth. This is a removable type of retainer and is often an affordable option, granted you don't lose your retainer or need a retainer replacement too often.

How does a Hawley retainer work?

The Hawley retainer is the typical plastic and metal retainer that you get after braces from your orthodontist. A Hawley retainer is usually used to maintain alignment of the front teeth after braces are removed. It has an acrylic plate 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.

Ask a dentist: How long do I need to wear a Hawley retainer after braces?

Orthodontic patients may be discouraged to learn that after wearing braces to straighten their teeth they still need to keep them straight with a retainer. As your teeth move into place while wearing braces, the bone around the teeth softens to allow movement.

That’s why an appliance, often the traditional Hawley retainer, is needed to prevent the teeth from reverting back to the way they started. The last thing you want to do is spend 18 to 24 months wearing braces and then end up with a poor result.

While every patient is different, your orthodontist is likely to have you wear your retainer 24/7 for three to six months. Once that stage of treatment is complete, you will be able to ease up to wearing your retainer only while you sleep.

When your orthodontist is confident your teeth are stable in their ideal position you can wear them less often. Many patients choose to wear retainers indefinitely to keep their teeth straight as they grow older.

One rule of thumb: if you notice that your retainer feels tight when you put it on, you need to begin wearing them more often!

Dr. Clarke Stevens, Braces Omaha

Most orthodontists recommend that patients wear them full-time for the first three months and then nightly thereafter. However, you should always follow your orthodontist's instructions.

How long does a Hawley retainer last?

A Hawley retainer lasts for 5-10 years. The length of time that this device lasts is completely dependent on the care that is taken to prevent breakage and whether or not the retainer is lost and needs replacement.

Hawley retainers are much more durable than the clear Essix retainer, mostly because of the materials used. But that doesn't mean that a Hawley retainer is invincible. It is important to always make sure you store your retainer in the case when it isn't in your mouth, to remove your retainer while eating, and to properly clean the retainer daily.

How to clean Hawley retainers

hawley retainer cleaner
Keep your retainer clean

Hawley retainers require daily cleaning to prevent gum disease, bad smell, and food debris from becoming trapped against your palate or teeth. 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 on the acrylic piece and over time impact the health of your teeth.

Your orthodontist will give you instructions for cleaning your retainer, and you should be sure to follow those. But in general, cleaning Hawley retainers usually involves the following steps:

  • Rinse your retainer whenever you remove it from your mouth, and before putting it back in
  • Brush once a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Use mild dish soap for a deeper clean.
  • Soak your retainer once a week in a retainer cleaner like this one from cariPRO.

In the video below, Dr. Greg explains how he instructs patients to wash their retainers:

Hawley retainer cost

Hawley retainers typically cost between $150 and $300. They are actually very cheap retainers for teeth. But, the overall cost also depends on how well you take care of your retainers. If you have the tendency to lose or break your retainer, then maybe consider having a permanent retainer affixed to the back of your teeth instead.

Hawley retainer online

There is actually an online market for the Hawley retainer. The price of these usually falls within the range of $150–$300 and does not require a trip to the dentist.

Here are the steps that are usually taken by an online seller to get the appliance to you:

  • Compare products to determine which device is suitable for your teeth. Bear in mind that the Hawley retainer is typically used to hold teeth in place that are already straightened, it is not used to straighten teeth.
  • Order your teeth impression kit for your home.
  • Take your teeth impressions following the instructions in the kit and forward the photos to the company that will make the device to fit your mouth
  • Receive your device in the mail and follow the instructions.

Hawley vs Essix retainer vs fixed retainers

There are three main types of retainers: Hawley (the metal and acrylic combination), Essix retainers (clear, plastic molds), and Fixed/Bonded retainers. There are pros and cons to each type that all require consideration before making a decision.



Hawley retainers
The Hawley retainer shows wire on the front teeth.
  • Cheaper than a bonded retainer
  • More durable than an Essix retainer
  • Easy to clean
  • Cool colors and patterns for the acrylic palate piece.


  • More expensive than an Essix
  • Easy to lose
  • Only lasts 5-10 years
  • Visible on teeth
  • Possibly uncomfortable


Essix retainers
The Essix retainer, clear and removable


  • Cheapest option
  • Easy to order online
  • Invisible
  • Easy to clean


  • Fragile
  • Easy to lose
  • Only lasts 6 months to a few years

If you think you might be interested in this kind of clear retainer, you can order your custom-made online through Sporting Smiles. They send you an impression kit to your home, you make your impressions, and then you send them in to be crafted by professionally trained technicians in a dental lab.

Once they've made your retainers they send them back to you. This service works whether you need retainers for the first time, or if you've lost or broken yours.

You may also find that without proper cleaning, your retainers become just plain gross over time—at which point it's also important to change them.

You can order your custom-made Essix retainers online and get 10% off your order when you use promo code SMILE10.

You can also find out more about Sporting Smiles in our full Sporting Smiles review.


Fixed/bonded retainers
A fixed/bonded retainer is attached to the back of the front teeth


  • Impossible to lose
  • Lasts up to 20 or more years
  • Most sustainable option
  • Invisible
  • 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:

Retainer type



Ease of maintenance



5–10 years

Easy to remove and clean, durable, easy to lose



6 months to 3 years

Easy to remove and clean, easily breakable, easy to lose



Up to 20 years

Difficult to maintain good oral hygiene, durable, impossible to lose


Hawley retainers are an effective way to keep your teeth in line after orthodontic treatment. These retainers consist of an acrylic plate that typically rests against the roof of your mouth and a metal wire that goes across the front of your teeth. Hawley retainers usually cost between $150 and $300, and they can last between 5 and 10 years with proper care.

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 permanent retainer instead. These are more expensive up-front but can't be lost or forgotten!

If you're still unsure which retainer would be best for you, speak to your dentist and listen to their recommendation. If you try a removable retainer and don't get on well with it, you can always switch to a fixed wire later on.


Can a Hawley retainer straighten teeth?

Hawley retainers aren't used to straighten teeth unless a slight shift is needed after orthodontic treatment has been completed. Their primary purpose is to keep teeth in position and prevent a relapse.

How much is a Hawley retainer?

A Hawley retainer costs anywhere between $150 and $300. These retainers are quite cost-effective as they are also durable and typically last between 5 and 10 years. Essix retainers are cheaper, but they tend to last less time.

Is a Hawley retainer better?

Hawley retainers are better because they are a durable and effective way to keep your teeth straight after you've finished with braces. They don't last as long as permanent retainers, but they also aren't as expensive. They are more expensive than clear retainers like Essix, but they last longer as well.

Hawley Retainer: What Kind Should You Get After Braces?
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American Association of Orthodontists: Taking Care of Your Retainer. Consulted March 18, 2020.

NCBI: The retention characteristics of Hawley and vacuum-formed retainers with different retention protocols. Consulted March 18, 2020.