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Is a Hawley Retainer the Right Treatment for Your Child?

Choosing to give your child braces is a major decision, but they will provide your child with a healthy smile that not only looks great, but can prevent tooth decay, jaw problems, and more. Once the braces come off, then it’s important for your child to wear a retainer.

? Why should your child wear a retainer?

After investing time and money into braces, your child’s retainer is essential to “retaining” the position of the teeth. After braces, teeth begin to settle into a more permanent resting place. Chewing food, biting, and even talking can affect their placement. Wearing the retainer will ensure those teeth settle into the proper location for the long term.

? What types of retainers exist?

Most orthodontists, including Dr. Jordan, offer three primary models of retainers. Two of them are removable, and one of them is permanent.

  1. The first removable retainer is called a Hawley retainer. Although it has experienced some upgrades since it’s invention in 1858, it’s one of the oldest retainers in dental history. It’s made of metal wires and sturdy acrylic that is molded to fit your mouth. As you’ve probably seen, the acrylic fits into the roof of the mouth while the wires hold the teeth in place. The acrylic comes in a variety of colors and can be customized for your child.
  2. The second removable retainer is called an Essix retainer. It is a transparent, removable retainer that fits over all your teeth and looks similar to Invisalign® trays. There are no wires and they are harder to see.
  3. The third type of retainer is permanent and called a bonded lower lingual retainer. This retainer is a metal bar that sits on the inside of your lower front teeth. Each end is bonded to your canines and held there to maintain your lower teeth’s position.

? Which retainer is right for my child?


Permanent retainers are ideal for teenagers who have all their adult teeth grown in, but are typically only used on the bottom teeth. Although they require some extra care to keep clean, they can’t be seen and their permanent nature make them very difficult to lose. Because of the way they fit, we don’t recommend them for upper teeth.

When it comes to your upper teeth, both Essix and Hawley retainers are good options. A 2012 study found that, “The retention characteristics of both Essix and Hawley retainers are similar.” That means, no matter which retainer you choose for your child, you can rest assured that it will help retain their teeth’s position.

The pros of an Essix retainer:

  • Because of their shape and invisible color, they are more difficult to notice
  • They interfere the least with keeping mouths clean

The cons of an Essix retainer:

  • They cannot be adjusted when required – they must be replaced
  • They cannot be repaired – they must be replaced

The pros of a Hawley retainer:

  • It can be adjusted to refine the position of your child’s teeth
  • They are more rugged than Essix retainers
  • They can be repaired

The cons of a Hawley retainer:

  • The metal wire over the front teeth is very noticeable
  • It can affect speech more than Essix retainers, although both types can alter speech

Ultimately, we often recommend Hawley retainers for children because they are easier to wear correctly. Not only that, but children are more likely than adults to break their retainer, so repairing is a great benefit. Also, they can be adjusted should your child’s teeth change at a young age.

How to use a Hawley Retainer


The Hawley retainer is easy to wear– you simply slip the wire around your front teeth with the sturdy acrylic fit into the roof of your mouth. It’s very important that the retainer is worn full-time in the first few months (full-time wear means at least 18 hours per day). Those first few months are really important for the teeth to settle properly. After a few months, we can typically reduce the amount of daily wear time required for maintaining the teeth’s position.

Caring for a Hawley Retainer

A great benefit of Hawley retainers is that they are removable. The only problem, of course, is this makes them easy to lose. It’s important to encourage and support children from forgetting their retainer on the lunch tray or trash can.

Hawley retainers should also be cleaned on a regular basis. Your child should brush their retainer every time they brush their teeth. Heat, however, will destroy a Hawley retainer. So don’t clean it by boiling it, microwaving it, or putting it through the washing machine.

Ask your orthodontist

The best way to make a decision about a Hawley retainer for your child is to consult your orthodontist. If you don’t have an orthodontist or recently moved to the Alpharetta area, then we encourage you to visit us here at Jordan Orthodontics.

Dr. Jordan will talk with you and your child to discuss your needs and preferences, helping to ensure a better smile for years to come. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.



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