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Permanent Retainer: Your Guide to Cost, Problems and Benefits

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permanent bonded retainer
keep your teeth straight after braces

Your braces are off, your teeth are straight and beautified, and now your orthodontist is recommending a permanent retainer.

It can feel a bit like you were tricked; all the metal in your mouth was supposed to be the solution! But does this really mean for the rest of your life? Will the pain and expense of orthodontia plague your mouth until the end of your days?

Permanent retainers usually last up to 20 years but can degrade faster or slower depending on the level of care. But does that mean that this option is better than a removable retainer? Out of all the retainers for teeth, which is the best?

In this article, we'll answer your questions about fixed retainers, and cover all sorts of information like:

  • Cost of permanent retainers
  • Their benefits
  • Potential problems
  • If they break

We hope this helps you decide if this is the best option for you!

What is a permanent retainer?

A permanent retainer (commonly referred to as a ‘fixed bonded retainer,' ‘fixed,' or ‘bonded retainer') is a metal bar placed behind your teeth to keep them from shifting back to the position they were in before braces. They are permanent because they are bonded with dental cement to your teeth, normally just the front four to six teeth.

Usually, your orthodontist will recommend these either immediately or six months after the removal of your braces to ensure that your teeth stay aligned. Some people get permanent retainers fixed to both their upper and lower teeth, however, dentists are less likely to recommend a permanent retainer for top teeth because they have a greater chance of breaking prematurely.

Removable retainers can be removed and replaced easily. There are two types:

removable vs permanent retainer
Removables are easier to lose

Retainers after braces are very important. To avoid the painful and forceful shifting of braces yet again, a permanent retainer gives you a permanent way to keep your teeth in place.

Not wearing a retainer after braces can harm your smile and ultimately lead to your orthodontist suggesting braces a second time around.

Permanent retainer pros and cons

There are several types of retainers. Choosing the right retainer can feel like a daunting task in the wake of invasive orthodontic treatment. Will it hurt? Will it cost a fortune? What happens if it breaks? Are they removable? How often do you have to wear it? There are so many pros and cons to the different types of retainer that it may feel like a chore just to decide.

Pros

The most beneficial thing about permanent retainers is that it's impossible to forget to put it in. Once it is in place you can forget that it exists and never have to worry about the caretaking that comes with removable retainers. This also allows you to avoid all the pain that comes with putting in a removable retainer that has spent too long out of your mouth and on your shelf. Let's take a look at some of the other pros:

  • Visibility: Another benefit to these retainers is that since they are bonded to the back of your teeth they are invisible to everyone else. This differentiates them from some removable retainers, which show a wire across the front of your teeth.
  • Affordability: Over time the cost of a permanent retainer vs a removable retainer will likely work out to be less as there is no opportunity for it to be lost and it is much less likely to be broken.
  • Lose-ability: A permanent retainer is a “set it and forget it” method of orthodontic treatment that is easy to use and nearly impossible to lose.

Cons

fixed retainers flossing
Fixed retainers make it more difficult to floss

While permanent retainers may sound like the best option as far as teeth retainers, permanent retainer problems are not unknown.

A permanent retainer can make your teeth difficult to clean well as the wire on a bonded retainer can trap bacteria and food and increase your chance of cavities since flossing becomes more difficult. A simple brushing of the teeth isn't enough; in order to avoid dental damage, thorough flossing is required. When it comes to flossing with orthodontics, you may want to consider purchasing a water flosser for easier cleaning.

Is a permanent retainer painful? Not necessarily, but they can be uncomfortable or annoying as your tongue is constantly touching it. But that goes away pretty quickly after getting it in.

A built-in retainer can, like any other dental device, degrade over time. You may have to replace your retainer at some point and it is much more difficult to replace a permanent retainer than a removable retainer since it requires you to physically be with your orthodontist to make the fix.

Bonded retainers have the potential to increase plaque buildup and trap bacteria as well as being more troublesome to replace or fix in the event that the retainer breaks.

So you've got some things to consider; have a look at the following table for a summary of the pros and cons:

Pros Cons
Virtually invisible Makes it more difficult to clean teeth
Impossible to lose Could break requiring replacement or repair
You don't have to remember to put it in Costs more than removable retainers
Lasts for many years

Permanent retainer cost

woman with braces
Permanent retainers do cost more

How much is a retainer? The cost of retainers can be the biggest deterrence for any orthodontic patient. They can be a bit pricey, but you have to take into account that the initial fixed retainer cost will keep your teeth straight for tens of years.

Permanent retainers cost anywhere between $150 and $500 for one. You may need a bottom teeth retainer and a retainer for your top front teeth as well (up to $1000 for both the lower and upper front teeth).

What if you shell out up to $1000 for a permanent retainer and you need to have it removed? Permanent retainer removal costs are anywhere from $150-$500 (this includes the cost of repair and replacement if the permanent retainer broke on one side).

The price for a permanent retainer is a bit high, but considering that it will ultimately be less than removable retainers, which are more easily lost and damaged, permanent retainer prices are very reasonable considering their lifespan is upwards of 20 years!

How to remove a permanent retainer?

While a bonded retainer may last 20 years, sometimes the metal retainer attached to the back of your lower teeth or upper teeth is just too annoying and you will want to remove your fixed retainer.

The internet has tons of at-home solutions to offer, including mixing a paste of baking soda and peroxide to soak off the glue affixing the metal wire to your teeth. But the only safe and effective way to remove a bonded retainer is to seek treatment from your orthodontist.

Attempting to remove a retainer on your own can put your teeth at risk of damage and possibly require your teeth to need further treatment.

Is a permanent retainer right for me?

Your orthodontist is the only true authority on what type of retainer you should have. The differences between removable retainers and permanent retainers have been outlined in this article to help you make the best choice possible with the guidance of your dental care provider.

Investing in this option is a great way to ensure that the money spent on prior orthodontic treatments will not go to waste when you forget to use your removable retainer for several weeks in a row and your teeth end up shifting.

In the video below you can see one patient trying to make the decision between permanent and fixed retainers.

Conclusion      

So now you know that a permanent retainer is a great way to keep your teeth in line for many years after orthodontic treatment. There are certainly some disadvantages; they are more expensive than removable retainers and they can break over time, requiring replacement or removal. Ultimately, your dentist will be able to advise you if a permanent retainer is the best treatment option for you.

FAQs

How long do you wear a permanent retainer?

Just like regular retainers, you should wear a permanent retainer for the rest of your life, unless instructed otherwise by your dentist or orthodontist. That being said, at some point your permanent retainer may break, so you'll have to go in to have it fixed or to have a new one applied.

How do you remove permanent retainer glue at home?

If your permanent retainer breaks or falls off, you might be tempted to try to remove the glue by yourself at home. But for your own wellbeing, please go to a dentist or orthodontist to have the glue removed, it's the only truly safe and effective way.

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Contributors:
Amanda Napitu
Amanda Napitu
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Amanda specialises in writing informative content about dentistry. She has been a regular contributor to Dentaly.org since 2017.
Sources
Journal of the American Dental Association: High proportion of postorthodontic fixed retainers seem to survive after 10 years. Consulted 27th February 2020. American Association of Orthodontists: Will I Need to Wear Retainers After Treatment? Consulted 27th February 2020.
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