Teeth are in a constant state of flux. Even your so-called permanent teeth will gradually shift over the course of your lifetime. People can also experience teeth shifting during pregnancy. For most adults, teeth shift is negligible and goes unnoticed.
However, for adults who have recently had orthodontic treatments with home aligners (or any orthodontic treatment, for that matter), teeth shifting is especially likely after treatment. To combat that, home aligner companies provide post-treatment retainers to keep teeth in place.
If you want to keep your newly-perfected teeth in place after treatment, you’ll need to wear your post-treatment retainer faithfully. In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about retainers, including why you need them, how much it costs to get them, and more.
How Home Aligners Move Your Teeth
Home teeth aligners work a lot like Invisalign, but they bring treatment directly to your home instead of your local orthodontist’s office. Instead of visiting your orthodontist’s office for an initial consultation, you’ll take impressions of your teeth. The home aligner company uses those impressions to create your treatment plan for you, and ultimately, your clear aligners.
Each clear aligner is created to fit your unique smile. When you wear each clear aligner, the clear plastic of the tray starts exerting constant, gentle force on your teeth, pulling them into new positions. You wear each aligner for two weeks and then move on to the next aligner in your kit, repeating the process until you’ve worn every set.
For most people, home aligner treatment lasts approximately six months. And let’s face it; that’s pretty fast. When you move your teeth that quickly, they need time to acclimate to new positions. If left to their own devices, your teeth tend to shift back to their original positions after treatment. That’s where retainers come in.
How Retainers Work
Retainers come in several different shapes and sizes, but if you use home aligners, you’ll be given what’s called a clear retainer. Clear retainers look a lot like your aligners (they’re manufactured in the same way, building off the positions established by your final aligner), but they’re designed to be worn for much longer than two weeks.
The only real difference between your clear aligners and your clear retainers is that aligners are designed to pull on your teeth; retainers are designed to hold them in place. That’s why some companies actually have your last set of aligners double as your first set of post-treatment retainers.
But how long do you need to wear retainers? Ultimately, that depends on who you ask. Some professionals say you should wear them all day for a year after treatment; others say you just need them at night. Home aligners companies vary in their recommendations, too. In general, you can expect to wear your post-treatment retainer full-time for two weeks, and then you should be able to switch to nighttime wear only.
Most companies recommend that you continue wearing your post-treatment retainer at night indefinitely (purchasing a new retainer every six months since they wear out over time). Based on research, you should wear it for at least a year. That’s the minimum amount of time your teeth will need to solidify in their new positions.
Not wearing your retainers can undo all the hard work you’ve done wearing your aligners. Without proper retainer wear, your teeth can shift so much that you’d ultimately require a second round of orthodontic treatment.
How Much Do Retainers Cost?
Just like aligner prices vary from one company to the next, so do post-treatment retainers. However, the average price hovers around $99. That said, some home aligner companies will give you the first set of retainers for free. Since that’s a $100 expense (give or take), it’s a nice extra.
Even if you get your first set for free, you’ll eventually need to purchase a set (they tend to wear out after six months).
Which Companies Provide Free Retainers?
Free retainers aren’t an automatic given; not all companies provide them. Four of the most popular home aligner companies do, however. Here’s a quick glance at the companies which give the first set of retainers for free:
- Byte: Byte is our #1 pick for home aligners, and there’s a lot to love about them: a Byte-for-Life guarantee, the fastest treatment method on the market, both daytime and nighttime treatment, and of course, free retainers. Once your first set of retainers wears out, you can replace them for $99.
- Candid: Candid is our #2 pick for home aligners. Our favorite aspect of their treatment? Their Remote Monitoring program. While we won’t go into all the specifics here, Remote Monitoring strikes a nice balance between the convenience of home aligners and the frequent oversight you’d get with an in-office method like Invisalign. And when it comes to retainers, Candid makes life pretty simple. Your last set of aligners actually acts as your retainers, so they’re free (or at the very least, they don’t cost extra). After six months, you can replace them for $99.
- AlignerCo: AlignerCo is extremely budget-friendly. In fact, they’re the most affordable option on the home aligner scene. Their base price is just $1,145, and their first set of retainers are free. Their additional retainers are sold in bulk, which presents an expensive upfront cost but offers the lowest retainer price available. With their “Worryfree Protection” plan, you’ll pay $599 (though often on sale for $499) for six years of retainers (2 retainers a year, so 12 sets in total).
- SnapCorrect: SnapCorrect is one of the smaller names on the home aligner scene, but for the right person, they’re a great fit. They offer an intriguing extra: free whitening for life once you’re a customer. Their first set of retainers is free, too. Any additional sets cost $95.
Retainers are, without a doubt, an extremely important part of your treatment. Our advice? Don’t ignore them. We understand—after all the time you’ve spent wearing your aligners, you probably don’t feel like wearing more plastic. But if you don’t wear the retainers, then your teeth will shift back towards their original positions. We strongly recommend that you wear them faithfully, exactly as prescribed by the home aligner company you choose.
Beyond that, however, we encourage you to consider all aspects of home aligner treatment. Retainers are important, and we love that you can get the first set for free with a fair number of companies. However, retainers are not the only aspect of treatment. There are other factors to consider: cost, treatment speed, treatment quality, customer service, and more. You shouldn’t evaluate a home aligner company based on retainers alone.
To help you make an informed decision—factoring in retainers and all the other important aspects—we’ve compared and ranked all the top home aligner companies. Check out the full comparison review.