What is the Difference Between Braces and Retainers?

What Is The Difference Between Braces And Retainers
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If you or someone you know is in need of orthodontic treatment, you may have heard the terms braces and retainers. While both of these devices are used to straighten teeth and correct bites, they serve different purposes and are typically used at different stages of treatment. Understanding the difference between braces and retainers is important in deciding which treatment option is right for you. 

In this article, we will discover, what is the difference between braces and retainers and explore the different types available, the pros and cons of both treatments, as well as common issues they address such as overcrowding or misalignment.

What is the Difference Between Braces and Retainers?

It is important to understand the difference between braces and retainers. Braces are devices used to align teeth and jaws, which can treat a variety of dental issues from overcrowding to misalignment. 

Retainers, on the other hand, are used after braces have been removed to maintain the desired level of alignment achieved with braces and can occasionally be used for minor corrections or for patients who do not require more serious orthodontic work such as braces.

Braces come in various types, including traditional metal brackets, clear ceramic brackets, and lingual braces that are attached to the back of your teeth.

See our article: Options to Straighten Teeth.


Braces are devices used by orthodontists to adjust, move and hold teeth in place to create an aesthetically pleasing and health-preserving smile. They may include bands that go around the teeth or thin wire structures that exert pressure on specific parts of the teeth to help them move into the desired position. Braces come in many different types and depending on the type of braces and the complexity of a patient’s case, treatment can range from months to years.

Braces address a wide range of orthodontic issues, including overcrowded teeth, a misaligned bite, protruding teeth, and gaps between the teeth. In addition to aesthetic benefits, a properly aligned dental structure helps ensure healthier oral hygiene in the long run.

Metal braces are the traditional route for straightening teeth and correcting the severity of imperfections in someone’s bite. The process begins with a consultation appointment between an orthodontist and their patient where the orthodontist can discuss goals and examine the shape of the teeth. Afterward, custom-fitted brackets made from high-grade stainless steel are attached to each tooth and a metal archwire binds them all together. The archwire is then regularly adjusted during return appointments to slowly move the teeth into their desired position.

Treatment times vary but typically patients wear metal braces anywhere from nine months to three years depending on how severe the misalignment is before it can be removed and replaced with a retainer to prevent any further shifting or movement in their newly straightened teeth.

Clear braces work in a similar way to metal ones however as they use tooth-colored materials they are more aesthetically pleasing and less visible to others.

Wearing braces can provide cosmetic and orthodontic benefits, but there are some potential drawbacks to consider. Orthodontic treatment with braces can close gaps between teeth, straighten misaligned teeth, and much more. It can even help improve oral hygiene since difficult-to-reach areas become more accessible.

However, patients may experience the pain associated with tooth movement during treatment and irritation of the inner cheeks caused by metal brackets or wires. Braces may also require periodic tightening appointments, which is a time-consuming process for adults with busy schedules.


A retainer is a specially designed orthodontic appliance that helps to maintain the results achieved from braces or other teeth-straightening treatments. Retainers can come in two forms: removable or fixed.

Removable retainers are often made of acrylic and wire and are used to keep the teeth in their new, corrected positions while the patient adjusts to speaking and eating with them. Fixed retainers consist of an archwire bonded to the backside of the teeth and can be used if more stability is desired than removable retainers can provide.

An article from Health Direct states that a removable retainer (temporary) continues to support the realigned teeth, but can be taken out as and when required. This type of retainer is normally only worn at night.

A retainer is a crucial component of orthodontic treatment as its primary purpose is to maintain the proper alignment and shape of your teeth after the completion of active orthodontic treatment. Following the removal of braces or other orthodontic appliances, teeth tend to shift back to their original positions, and the retainer helps to keep them in their new corrected positions. Without the use of a retainer, the teeth may gradually move, undoing the progress made during the active treatment phase. The retainer works by exerting gentle pressure on the teeth, keeping them in their optimal position, and preventing any undesirable shifting. By keeping your teeth properly aligned and maintaining their new shape, the retainer helps ensure that your orthodontic treatment produces long-lasting, beautiful results.

Retainers also aid in preventing some teeth from being more dominant than others, thus maintaining a symmetrical shape and preventing them from shifting into each other. They can also be used to correct small issues such as bite alignment or correcting malocclusion due to wear and tear over time. Sometimes retainers can be prescribed for more complex treatments such as jaw joint problems and even snoring.

While retainers provide key advantages, like keeping your teeth from shifting back to their original positions, there is also a downside to wearing them. Some patients can struggle to get used to having a foreign object in their mouth and maintaining a high level of dental care. Additionally, regular visits to an orthodontist may be necessary for adjustments, which can be costly and add time constraints to your day.

Patients need to be aware that wearing a retainer is only beneficial if it is worn as often as prescribed by their orthodontist; without proper diligence, it can become ineffective.

Depending on your individual treatment plan, your orthodontist may suggest wearing the retainer during the day or solely at night. Retainers are typically worn for at least a year, or longer, to aid in retaining the newly achieved shape post-treatment.

See our article: Do Retainers Melt?

Aligners as an Alternative to Braces

If you’re considering orthodontic treatment with braces, it’s worth exploring the option of clear aligners. Aligners have become a popular alternative to traditional braces as the technology holds many benefits and conveniences that are not seen in other treatment options. They are best for mild to mid issues.

Aligners are custom-built to fit each patient’s mouth, making them more comfortable than braces. Additionally, their discrete nature allows patients to go about their lives without feeling embarrassed or self-conscious that they are wearing braces.

Furthermore, aligners can easily be removed when eating or brushing teeth and are simple and quick to put back in place compared to using dental floss between brackets of regular braces.

Despite these advantages, aligners should not be used for more serious orthodontic issues and complex bite problems due to their inflexibility in providing sufficient tension needed for severe movements of teeth. For these types of cases, other methods such as traditional metal braces or clear fixed bracket systems should be considered instead.

However, aligners have another benefit of not requiring regular dental appointments to adjust them so you also save time as a treatment option. Aligners are also very affordable when compared to all kinds of braces.

Here are some of the best aligners available and some real customer feedback:

SmileDirectClub – This is the most popular option that is the best for 3D scanning and comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Byte – This brand offers aligners that are the most affordable with a lifetime guarantee and a free HyperBite and teeth whitening kit with each purchase.

NewSmile – A budget option that still offers superior aesthetics and includes a free teeth whitening kit and retainer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Use Retainers Instead of Braces?

It is possible to use retainers as an alternative to braces but only if there is a very minor issue, such as only one or two teeth being misaligned.

Retainers should generally be used as a post-orthodontic tool for keeping straightened teeth in position.

Braces treatment normally costs around $2,500 – $7,000 depending on the severity of the issue that needs to be treated. On the other hand, a retainer can cost as low as $99 with brands such as SmileDirectClub and there are often special price promotions with other retainer brands that can make them even cheaper.

What Are the Differences Between Aligners and Retainers?

While both braces and aligners are commonly used for teeth straightening purposes, the two options vary in how they work and what they offer in terms of treatment.

The most notable difference between the two is the fact that retainers are used primarily to maintain final orthodontic results while aligners are used to adjust malocclusion.

Retainers come into play after brace treatment or other corrective orthodontic measures have been completed, as they help ensure patients don’t revert to their previous malocclusions. Generally worn at night or for a set period each day, retainers make sure teeth remain steady in their proper positions after the initial treatment has been finished.

On the other hand, aligners provide adjustments to bite patterns using a series of removable trays created from 3D-printed impressions of the patient’s teeth. Unlike retainers, aligners must be changed regularly to adjust the misalignment of teeth, usually every couple of weeks depending on the severity of malocclusion and individual progress, until desired results are achieved.

With aligner treatment, which normally lasts 6-18 months, an orthodontist will likely recommend at the end of the treatment that you switch to wearing a retainer to ensure that the hard work completed by your aligner is kept in place.




National Library of Medicine


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