Hawley Retainer: What Kind Should You Get After Braces?

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hawley retainer
Should you get this classic retainer?

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 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.

If you're reading this article, chances are you are considering what type of retainer is best for either you or your child, after they get their braces off. To help you figure this out, 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 or your child's post-orthodontic needs.

What is a Hawley retainer?

A Hawley retainer is a removable device made of wire and hard plastic material. This type of retainer is usually what your mind will first jump to when the word retainer is mentioned. These retainers have that iconic wire across the anterior teeth look that has been the poster child for retainers since it's creation in 1919.

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 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 for the next nine months. Thereafter the retainer should only be worn nightly.

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.

How long does a Hawley retainer last?

A Hawley will typically last 5-10 years. The length of time that this device lasts is completely dependent on the care that is taken to prevent breakage and (obviously) 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. Acrylic and steel wire are clearly 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 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 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 degrade the health of your teeth. Typically, using denture cleaner tablets is the easiest way to remove plaque buildup on the acrylic palate of the retainer.

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 smell and plaque buildup on your retainer.

Hawley retainers without solder:

  • Soak your retainer daily for optimal oral hygiene. You can use denture cleaner tablets and let the wire retainers soak in the solution for 5-10 minutes.
  • 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.
How to clean a Hawley retainer

Hawley retainer cost

Hawley retainers are actually very cheap retainers for teeth. But, this is ultimately dependent 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.

Usually, a Hawley costs between $150 and $300. This is much cheaper than the fixed retainers, which can cost as much as $500, but more expensive than the clear Essix retainers, which can go as low as $50. However, it is important to bear in mind the fragility and likelihood of loss of all the different types.

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 to 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.

Despite the apparent convenience of ordering a retainer online, we recommend visiting your orthodontist to get a retainer fitted in person.

Hawley vs Essix retainer vs fixed retainers

Choosing the right type of retainer is a very personal endeavor. 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 pre-teen retainer look isn't for you. As always talk to 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 molds), and Fixed/Bonded retainers. There are pros and cons to each type that all require consideration before making a decision.

Hawley

Pros

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

Cons

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

Essix

Essix retainers
The Essix retainer, clear and removable

Pros

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

Cons

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

Fixed

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

Pros

  • Impossible to lose!
  • Lasts up to 20 or more years
  • Most sustainable option
  • Invisible
  • The most durable option

Cons

  • 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 Cost Lifespan Ease of maintenance
Hawley $150–$300 5–10 years Easy to remove and clean, durable, easy to lose
Essix $100–$250 6 months to 3 years Easy to remove and clean, easily breakable, easy to lose
Fixed/bonded $250–$500 Up to 20 years Difficult to maintain good oral hygiene, durable, impossible to lose

Conclusion

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 it's own set of benefits. It's hard to say which device is better as every set of teeth has its own specific needs. Basically what the decision will ultimately come down to is 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.

Hawley Retainer: What Kind Should You Get After Braces?
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Contributors:
Alexa Rose
Alexa Rose
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Alexa Rose is a writer and editor with experience researching and creating content for the field of dentistry. Her writing is always well researched and engaging, with actionable information about oral health
Sources
American Association of Orthodontists: Glossary of Terms. Consulted March 18, 2020. 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.  
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