Clear aligners and retainers are both dental devices that patients can remove when needed. As a result, they may get confused. However, they can look different and serve distinct roles in dental and orthodontic care. Knowing these differences can help patients better understand their treatment plan and discuss options with their dentist. This article will explain how clear aligners and retainers work, then discuss the differences between each device.
How do clear aligners work?
Clear aligners are transparent, removable devices designed to gradually shift teeth into the proper positioning and fix malocclusion. They fit snugly over the teeth to slowly pull them into place.
Patients get several pairs of aligners, with each one being slightly further along in the treatment process. Every couple of weeks, the patient stops wearing their current set and moves to the next in the sequence.
Patients must wear their aligners at least 22 hours per day to stay on track. They can remove them for eating, brushing, and cleaning the device, as well as during activities like contact sports.
How do retainers work?
Retainers are orthodontic devices that prevent teeth from moving back into misalignment after braces or clear aligners. Their role is to hold teeth in place while bone and tissue settle into the new position. Many retainers are removable devices, but some are permanently installed until the provider determines it is safe to remove them.
Differences between clear aligners and retainers
Although clear aligners and retainers may look similar and deal with similar issues, there are several differences between the two:
Straightening teeth vs. maintaining straight teeth
Clear aligners straighten teeth out by slowly moving them into the proper places. Retainers, on the other hand, hold teeth in place after completing a teeth straightening treatment.
Clear aligners are invisible when worn. This allows the patient to continue smiling throughout their daily life without large, prominent braces showing. Retainers vary in their visibility. Permanent retainers may be installed on the back side of the teeth, rendering them invisible to outside observers. However, temporary retainers are often visible to external observers.
Clear aligners must be worn at least 22 hours per day. Patients can take them out to do the following:
- Clean the devices
- Brush, floss, and rinse
- Participate in activities that could cause damage or device loss, like contact sports
Retainer use can vary. If permanent, the patient will wear them 24 hours per day. If it’s a removable retainer, the provider often tells the patient to wear them most of the day for a few months. After a while, the provider may determine that the patient can start wearing it at night only.
Clear aligners can take six to 24 months, depending on the patient and their situation. This type of treatment can be faster than braces, which take at least 24 months in some cases. As for retainers, it can depend on the person. Some patients may have to wear them indefinitely, but only when sleeping when it’s not too inconvenient. Others may be able to stop after a few years.
Clear aligners first, retainers second
Clear aligners vs. retainers are not necessarily an “either-or” scenario. They can both be part of a malocclusion treatment plan. Clear aligners slowly shift teeth into place while offering the benefits of comfort and convenience. Once treatment completes, the patients may then shift to a retainer to hold those teeth into place for as long as necessary. Overall, both devices can help patients get their teeth into the right place and ensure they stay there.
Name: Carolina d’Arbelles-Valle
Job Title: Senior Digital PR Specialist