Plastic Vs. Metal Retainers: Which One Is Right For You?

By Kendra Reed

Updated On

Congratulations on completing your orthodontic treatment! Now that your teeth are perfectly aligned, it’s time to move on to the next crucial step: wearing a retainer. Retainers are essential for maintaining the results of your orthodontic journey, ensuring that your newly straightened teeth stay in place. But with two main types of retainers available – plastic and metal – how do you know which one is the best fit for you? In this blog post, we’ll dive into the world of retainers, comparing plastic and metal options to help you make an informed decision.

Key Takeaways

  1. Plastic and metal retainers both have their own unique advantages and disadvantages in terms of durability, comfort, and aesthetics.
  2. Proper maintenance and care are crucial for the longevity and effectiveness of both plastic and metal retainers.
  3. Ultimately, the decision between plastic and metal retainers should be based on individual needs, preferences, and the advice of your orthodontist.

Comparing Plastic And Metal Retainers


When it comes to durability, metal retainers have a slight edge over their plastic counterparts. Made from sturdy wire, metal retainers are less likely to break or warp over time. They can withstand the daily wear and tear of biting and chewing, making them a reliable choice for long-term use.

Plastic retainers, on the other hand, are more susceptible to cracking or breaking if not handled with care. They can also warp if exposed to heat, such as being left in a hot car or washed in very hot water. However, with proper care and maintenance, plastic retainers can still provide a durable solution for maintaining your straight smile.


Comfort is a key factor when it comes to wearing a retainer, as you’ll be spending a significant amount of time with it in your mouth. Plastic retainers, like Essix retainers or Vivera retainers, are often praised for their comfort.

They are custom-made to fit snugly over your teeth, providing a smooth and seamless feel. Many people find that plastic retainers are less noticeable in the mouth and don’t cause as much irritation to the gums or cheeks.

Metal retainers, such as Hawley retainers, consist of a wire that wraps around the front teeth and is anchored by an acrylic plate that sits on the roof of the mouth. Some people may find the wire and acrylic combination less comfortable, as it can take some time to get used to the feeling of having a foreign object in the mouth.

However, many individuals adapt to metal retainers quickly and find them just as comfortable as plastic ones.


Proper maintenance is essential for keeping your retainer in top shape and ensuring its effectiveness. Both plastic and metal retainers require regular cleaning to prevent the buildup of bacteria and plaque.

For plastic retainers, cleaning is relatively simple. You can gently brush them with a soft-bristled toothbrush and mild soap or soak them in a denture cleaner solution. It’s important to avoid using hot water, as it can warp the plastic.

Metal retainers may require a bit more care when cleaning, as food particles can get stuck in the wire and acrylic plate. Brushing the retainer gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste can help remove any debris. Soaking the retainer in a denture cleaner or a mixture of warm water and baking soda can also help keep it fresh and clean.

In terms of cost, plastic retainers may need to be replaced more frequently than metal ones, as they are more prone to wear and tear. This can make metal retainers a more cost-effective choice in the long run.


For many people, the appearance of their retainer is a significant consideration. Plastic retainers, especially clear ones like Essix or Vivera, are often favored for their discreet look. They are virtually invisible when worn, making them a popular choice for adults and professionals who want to maintain a polished appearance.

Metal retainers, with their wire and acrylic structure, are more noticeable than plastic ones. However, advancements in orthodontic technology have led to the development of more aesthetically pleasing metal retainers. Some newer designs feature clear or tooth-colored acrylic plates and thinner, less conspicuous wires.

Ultimately, the impact of aesthetics on the decision between plastic and metal retainers comes down to personal preference and lifestyle factors.


Both plastic and metal retainers can be highly effective in maintaining the results of orthodontic treatment when worn as directed by your orthodontist. The key to success with either type of retainer is consistency and compliance.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, “There was no significant difference in retention between Hawley and clear overlay retainers after 6 months of use.” This suggests that both types of retainers can be equally effective in preventing orthodontic relapse.

Another study in the European Journal of Orthodontics found that “Vacuum-formed retainers (VFRs) and Hawley retainers are equally effective in maintaining the alignment of the anterior teeth.”

Ultimately, the effectiveness of your retainer will depend on your individual case, the type of orthodontic treatment you received, and your adherence to wearing the retainer as prescribed by your orthodontist.

Long-Term Considerations

When choosing between plastic and metal retainers, it’s important to consider your long-term orthodontic goals and lifestyle needs. Some factors to keep in mind include:

  1. Durability: If you have a history of breaking or losing retainers, a metal retainer may be a more durable choice.
  2. Comfort: If you have a sensitive mouth or gums, a plastic retainer may be more comfortable for long-term wear.
  3.  Aesthetics: If maintaining a discreet appearance is a top priority for you, a clear plastic retainer may be the best fit.
  4. Cost: If you’re looking for a cost-effective long-term solution, a metal retainer may be the better choice, as it typically requires fewer replacements over time.

It’s essential to have an open and honest conversation with your orthodontist about your preferences and concerns. They can provide personalized guidance based on your unique needs and help you make an informed decision about which type of retainer is right for you.

Also Read: Can Tooth Pain Cause Headache? An In-Depth Look


Choosing between plastic and metal retainers ultimately comes down to personal preference, lifestyle factors, and the advice of your orthodontist. Both types of retainers can be effective in maintaining the results of your orthodontic treatment, but they each have their own unique advantages and disadvantages in terms of durability, comfort, and aesthetics.

By understanding the key differences between plastic and metal retainers, and considering your individual needs and priorities, you can make an informed decision that will help you maintain your beautiful, healthy smile for years to come.

Remember, the success of your orthodontic treatment depends not only on the type of retainer you choose but also on your commitment to wearing it as directed and maintaining proper oral hygiene. With the right retainer and a dedicated approach to your oral health, you can enjoy the lifelong benefits of a confident, radiant smile.


1. Are plastic retainers more comfortable than metal retainers?

Comfort is subjective and can vary from person to person. Many people find plastic retainers to be more comfortable, as they are custom-fitted to the teeth and have a smooth surface. However, some individuals adapt well to metal retainers and find them equally comfortable.

2. How often should I clean my retainer?

It’s important to clean your retainer daily to prevent the buildup of bacteria and plaque. Gently brush your retainer with a soft-bristled toothbrush and mild soap or soak it in a denture cleaner solution. Avoid using hot water, as it can warp plastic retainers.

3. Can I eat with my retainer in?

It’s generally recommended to remove your retainer when eating to prevent damage and to ensure proper cleaning after meals. However, some orthodontists may advise certain types of retainers, like fixed bonded retainers, to be worn at all times, even during eating.

4. How long do I need to wear my retainer?

The duration of retainer wear varies depending on individual needs and the type of orthodontic treatment received. Some people may need to wear their retainer full-time for several months, while others may transition to wearing it only at night. Your orthodontist will provide specific guidelines for your case, but in general, retainers are a long-term commitment to maintaining your orthodontic results.

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