Is the Hawley Retainer Right For You?
Getting your braces off doesn’t signal the end of orthodontic treatment. Maintaining that newly improved smile requires a long-term commitment to wearing a retainer. “Ideally, patients should wear their retainers for the rest of their life,” says John Buzzatto, DMD, MDS, President of the American Association of Orthodontists.
Hawley retainers are just one type of retention device that may be prescribed for use after braces come off. These dental appliances have been around a long time. In fact, the Hawley retainer is sometimes referred to as the “traditional” retainer.
Patients often see retainers as unnecessary, or too much trouble to bother with, but they are an important part of maintaining the smile you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Some patients who fail to wear their retainers end up having to repeat the entire orthodontic process.
What Do Retainers Do?
Retainers are not one-size-fits-all. There are a number of different types of retainers for both the upper and lower teeth, and your orthodontist will determine which one is best for you.
Retainers serve two purposes. They allow the teeth to settle into position while preventing movement, and they also give the bone a chance to rebuild. According to the American Association of Orthodontics, changes in tooth position occur naturally over the course of a lifetime.
The lower front teeth are the most prone to movement, especially if teeth were crowded before braces. Wearing your retainer is the best way to keep teeth aligned.
Types of Retainers
Retainers are specifically selected and customized to the individual patient. There are several styles of retainers, but most fall into three basic categories: The Hawley, the Essix and permanent retainers. Permanent retainers are placed by the orthodontist and cannot be removed by the patient. A second type of appliance, Essix retainers are a clear type of vacuum-formed retainers and fit over the teeth much like Invisalign, this type of retainer is growing in popularity.
Hawley retainers are made up of an acrylic plate that fits over the roof of the mouth (or an acrylic arch that sits behind lower teeth) and a metal wire that extends across the front teeth. Stainless steel clasps wrap around back molars. “In the United States, the Hawley is used in 47 percent of cases where a retainer is prescribed for the upper teeth, but it is only prescribed 29 percent of the time for lower teeth,” says Dr. Buzzatto.
Like all retainers, the Hawley has some distinct advantages and disadvantages, so you should discuss all options with your orthodontist.
Advantages – The retainer can be removed, so it doesn’t interfere with eating, brushing or flossing. Unlike vacuum-formed retainers, the Hawley does not cover the chewing surface of the teeth.
“Since the teeth are not socked in, the Hawley allows for better settling of the teeth,” says Buzzatto. This slight vertical movement of the back teeth can increase stability. The wires can also be adjusted on the Hawley to provide a more custom fit.
In addition to the traditional light pink, the Hawley also comes in a variety of bright colors, rainbow patterns and other designs and can be customized to match the patient’s taste.
Disadvantages – Probably the biggest disadvantage is that for the Hawley to be effective, the patient has to wear it. While being able to take it in and out is a plus, it can also be considered a negative, since it makes it more likely the retainer will be lost or damaged.
“Thirty years ago, patients wore their retainer full-time for six months, so there was a strong possibility it would be lost at school,” Bazzatto says. Loss is much less of a concern when the retainer is worn only a night.
No matter what type of retainer your orthodontist recommends, it’s up to you to wear it when you should. “The most frustrating issue for orthodontists is relapse from patient compliance issues,” says Bazzutto.