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Choosing the Right Retainer for Your Patient

May 30, 2023
Justin Chi, DDS, CDT
Choosing the Right Retainer

For patients who complete orthodontic or restorative treatment, retainers provide a convenient way to preserve their new smile. Retaining tooth alignment is reliably achieved with appliances like Clear Ortho, Clear-Lock™ and Hawley retainers. 

Clear Ortho Retainers
Clear-Lock Retainers
Hawley Retainers

Prevent tooth movement with custom-made retainers from your lab.

Because each patient’s treatment is different, I use the table below as a general guide to determine which retainer is optimal.

Retainers table

The following case examples show how I applied the information in this table to two different patients that had completed orthodontic treatment. The first patient, Fahim, was prescribed both Clear Ortho retainers and later Clear-Lock retainers. The second patient, Jolene, received a Hawley retainer. 


For protecting full-mouth restorative makeovers and maintaining tooth position, Clear Ortho retainers are an ideal choice. Their increased material thickness protects teeth and restoration from the harmful effects of bruxism. The downside to its thickness is some speech impairment and slightly less transparent appearance, making it more suitable for night wear. 

Patient's mouth partially opened
Digital scan of patient's teeth
Before sample of patient's teeth
After patient uses Clear Ortho sample

Fahim underwent Invisalign® treatment (Align Technology, Inc.; Tempe Ariz.) to place his teeth in a more ideal restorative position and to make room for posterior bilateral bridges that would lay the groundwork for his smile makeover. After each stage of the preparation, provisionalization and final cementation, Clear Ortho retainers were fabricated. The rigidity of the 1.5 mm material thickness ensured that his teeth kept their position through all interim phases of the full-mouth restorative treatment. 


Because Clear-Lock retainers have a thinner material thickness than Clear Ortho and Hawley retainers, the appliance is almost invisible in the mouth. This feature is appealing to day-wearers who wear their appliance in public. Clear-Lock retainers are available in sets of two, four or six. For patients who travel frequently, lose their appliances regularly or might damage their retainer, having an extra pair on-hand can save time and money.

Happy patient, Fahim
Digital scan from iTero scanner
Clear Ortho products
Close-up of patient's frontal teeth

Fahim’s full-mouth rehabilitation was completed without any unintended tooth movement, thanks to the interim Clear Ortho retainers. I then used my iTero® scanner (Align Technology, Inc.) to scan the patient. From the scans, I was able to fabricate the final Clear-Lock retainers. Clear- Lock was chosen because of its nearly invisible appearance while worn. 


Unlike Clear-Lock and Clear Ortho retainers, Hawley retainers don’t cover the full occlusal plane. Instead, a metal bar stretches across the anterior teeth, allowing the wearer to speak more easily. The Hawley retainer is custom waxed on the model during the fabrication process and offers a baseline material thickness of 2 mm.

Happy patient, Jolene
Sample of the Hawley retainers
Hawley retainer products
Close-up of patient wearing Hawley retainers

After Jolene’s Invisalign treatment was complete, I scanned her upper and lower arches for Hawley retainers. She requested the Hawley retainer because it enabled her to more easily close her mouth while asleep and speak while awake.


Although I have occasionally requested offerings like the Essix® retainer (available through Glidewell) or a bonded lingual retainer for special cases, the Clear Ortho, Clear-Lock and Hawley appliances are my most frequently prescribed retainers.

Retainers can also be excellent practice-builders. When you present a solution to your patients that is comfortable and cost-effective, they will be eager to safeguard their smiles. Choosing the right retainer for your patient can mean maintaining their smile for many years to come. 

Essix is a registered trademark of Raintree Essix Inc.