After my daughter broke her retainers, and my son lost his, I decided to investigate cheaper, mail-order replacement options.
If you have had any experience with braces, you will likely also be familiar with retainers. Retainers are needed to hold the teeth in place once the braces are removed, but unfortunately, retainers are easy to break and lose. Once a retainer has been lost or broken, it needs to be replaced to keep the teeth in place. If you visit an orthodontist to have your retainer re-made, the cost will be high. However, there are cheaper alternatives available.
Retainers are used to hold the teeth in place after having orthodontic work done. Sometimes retainers are used to hold the teeth in place between different stages of orthodontic work. There are two kinds of retainers. The traditional type of retainer is made using colored plastic and has wires attached, this is called a Hawley retainer. The other type is made of clear plastic and called a vacuum retainer, with this type, the plastic surrounds the teeth and becomes nearly invisible and is similar to the Invisalign-type of braces, only thicker. Both of these types are equally effective at holding the teeth in place but the Hawley retainer is believed to last longer. The vacuum retainer doesn't allow the top and bottom teeth to touch when biting down. Another difference with these retainers is food can be eaten with the Hawley retainer but not with the vacuum retainer.
Differences Between Hawley and Vacuum/Essex Retainers
Eating With retainer
Minor teeth adjustments can be made
Likely, often goes away over time
Top and bottom teeth touch
Nearly Invisible when worn
Unfortunately, these retainers are easily lost and broken and they are very expensive to replace. Although the first retainer is usually included as part of orthodontic work, any replacement retainer will have to be purchased separately and these retainers do not come cheap. I recently had to replace my daughter's top and bottom set, which she broke by putting them away in a pocket instead of her case which set me back $750. After paying the cost of braces themselves, the idea of losing and replacing a retainer and having to pay even more money is upsetting.
The Importance of a Retainer
Without a retainer to keep the teeth in place, they will very likely shift. Although braces are worn for a number of years, retainers have to be worn for a lifetime to prevent the teeth from rotating and shifting. Some orthodontists suggest using a fixed retainer, this is done by placing a permanent wire on the inside of the teeth to keep them in place, but this is uncomfortable for some. The type of retainer is less important, what matters most is using a retainer to maintain proper position and alignment.
Not long after dishing out the cost of the replacement set for my daughter, my son lost his retainer. This is when I decided to see if there was any alternative to going to an orthodontist or dentist to order a new retainer. After searching online, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could create my own mold and ship it out to have retainers made and a much lower price. The price was $68, which was far less than going to a dentist or orthodontist. The service I used was called Sporting Smiles, but there may be other options, as well.
Mail-Order Permanent Retainer
The permanent retainer mold was also very easy to make. Once I received the materials, I simply made sure the frame fit my son’s mouth, mixed two types of molding materials together, placed the materials in the frame, placed it in my son’s mouth for four minutes. I then placed it back in the box and mailed it back to the company. My son now has a retainer and the whole experience was great and the cost was far less than going to an orthodontist or dentist. The quality of the product is identical to the one that the dentist or orthodontist would have made.
Discovering this alternative has given me a big sense of relief in knowing that if another retainer is lost or broken, a replacement is easy to get and affordable too. It is a shame that after having years of costly orthodontic work done there is still another cost to replacing a retainer through a dentist or orthodontist but now this is another more affordable option that can provide both Hawley and vacuum (invisalign type) retainers.
It has been a few years since I began using Sporting Smiles, and some time has passed since I wrote this review. I have since received many private messages asking for more information based on this article.
I am happy to report that we continue to use Sporting Smiles and are more than pleased with their service and products. They even keep the mold for a year in case you need a replacement during that time. This would be less expensive than getting a new mold made. My son just had his braces removed, and I will soon be ordering a backup retainer.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2014 Ariel Laur
Nichii on June 24, 2017:
I'm interested in purchasing a retainer, please provide information. Thanks!
Mae on June 07, 2017:
I had a Hawley Retainer for the lower part of my mouth due to a bottom front tooth that was comming forward.I ended up loosing it and need a new one and after hours of research I decided to possibly order one online. A reply would be appreciated
Tennessee Anderson on July 29, 2016:
What comes in the mail the first time you order? Also what kind of teeth do you guys work with that can be mold for the plastic retainers to be fixed?
Isabelle on June 24, 2015:
Did you use the stay tray?