Types of Orthodontic Appliances

Types of Orthodontic Appliances

Every day, people seek the professional help of orthodontists to get straighter teeth, a more comfortable bite and a more confident smile. But the path to achieving these results takes time, patience and the willingness to use various types of orthodontic appliances to get the job done.

What orthodontic appliances will you need? Everyone’s orthodontic journey is different, with some needing several appliances and others only needing one, so you’ll need to see your orthodontist for specific recommendations. In the meantime, use this guide to the different types of orthodontic appliances to familiarize yourself with the possibilities and think about which might be in your oral care future.


Straightening your teeth will only be worth the time, money and effort if you keep them that way. Your teeth and jaws continue to move and change as a part of the aging and growth process.

Once your braces come off, our orthodontists will discuss how to keep your new beautiful smile looking its best. This may mean the placement of permanent bonded wire retainers on the inside surfaces of your teeth.  It could also mean wearing a removable retainer device.  If you want to keep your beautiful smile intact, you will need to wear these retainers as instructed by your doctor, many times for life.

Your original treatment contract includes one set of retainers after the braces are removed and retainer checks for two years. You’ll have to pay a replacement fee if you damage or lose your retainer due to neglect. If the retainers become loose or break, contact our office immediately.  Because they are worn for years, your retainers will also need periodic replacement. Your doctor will discuss your retainers in more detail with you on a case-by-case basis.

Types of Retainers

Two main categories of retainers exist — permanent and removable.

A permanent retainer stays in your mouth and requires an orthodontist to remove it. Permanent retainers consist of a braided or solid wire that your orthodontist curves to fit the shape of your teeth and cements in place. These retainers usually rest against the inside of your front teeth to keep them from shifting after being straightened. Permanent retainers are a good choice for patients whose teeth are at a higher risk of becoming unaligned.

A removable retainer can be removed from one’s mouth at will. This makes them a popular option for many patients, but the fact that they can be easily lost or thrown away puts many patients at a higher risk of dental relapse. There are two main types of removable retainers:

  • Hawley retainers: Hawley retainers, or wire retainers, consist of a metal wire and acrylic or plastic. This retainer is shaped to fit the inside of your lower teeth or the roof of your mouth. The metal wire maintains alignment by running across the outside of your teeth. Hawley retainers are durable, can last for years and allow your teeth to touch naturally when wearing one.
  • Clear plastic retainers: Clear plastic retainers are molded to fit the new position of your teeth and maintain their alignment. They’re created by first taking a mold of your teeth and then replicating the mold into a plastic form, which is the retainer. Clear plastic retainers are discreet and comfortable but are less durable than Hawley retainers.

Caring for Your Retainer

Whether you have a Hawley retainer or a clear plastic retainer, you need to take care of it. It can be expensive to replace a damaged or lost retainer. Plus, because it’ll be in your mouth for hours a day, you’ll want to keep it clean. Here are some ways you can care for your retainer:

  • Brush your teeth and your retainers after every meal. You may also soak your retainers in solutions specially designed for cleaning retainers.
  • If your retainer is not in your mouth, IT SHOULD BE IN ITS CASE! And do not ever wrap your retainer in a napkin or paper towel. Most appliances are lost in school lunch rooms or restaurants by being accidentally thrown away.
  • Pets think appliances make great chew toys! Please be sure to keep them out of your pet’s reach!
  • Retainers are made of heat-sensitive material. Therefore, keep them away from heaters, car dashboards or anywhere the temperatures can reach above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. This also means you should never use hot water to clean your retainer, including never putting it in the dishwasher.
  • Always use your fingers to put your retainer into place.
  • Call your orthodontist right away if you break or lose your retainer. This way, you can get a replacement before your teeth shift significantly.

Palatal Expanders

Palatal expanders are orthodontic devices that create more width in the upper jaw. They can help when the upper teeth are blocked out of the dental arch or crowded, or when the upper jaw is too narrow for the lower jaw.

The connective tissue between the upper jaw’s right and left halves is very responsive to expansion, especially for young patients. By turning a screw in the center of the expander with a special key to activate it, the expander places outward pressure on both halves of the upper jaw. This causes an increase in bone growth in the center of the jaw, leading to an increased palate width.

Lower Expanders

Lower Expanders

Lower expanders expand the lower jaw to reduce crowding in the teeth. These devices are activated similarly to the upper palatal expander by using a special key to turn the screw in the center. Again, the gradual outward pressure causes an increased amount of bone to grow between the right and left halves, ultimately increasing the width of the lower jaw.

Bite Plates

Bite plates correct deep overbites by stopping the front upper teeth from covering the lower teeth. Wearing a bite plate gives room to the lower back teeth, so they can erupt. They also help your lower arch stay level and flat.

Wear your bite plate at all times, even when eating. The only time to remove it would be when brushing your teeth or playing sports.


Headgear corrects overbites and overjets by slowing down the upper jaw’s growth and letting the lower jaw catch up. Remember to listen to your orthodontic’s instructions regarding when to wear your headgear to achieve the best results. Remember to only wear your headgear at home, as wearing it out of the house puts you at risk of injury or damaging the gear.


A facemask fixes an underbite by pulling the upper teeth and jaw forward. It also changes the relationship between the lower and upper jaws.

Those using a facemask must wear it around 12 to 14 hours per day and only at home, including during sleep. Wearing a facemask outside the home can put you at risk of damage or injury.


Class II overbites are a commonly corrected orthodontic malocclusion. Typically caused by the first lower molar being too far back from the upper first molar, historical correction often required wearing a headgear for several hours daily — not very much fun for the patient and often a compliance issue.  

The Forsus™ Fatigue Resistant Device is a new treatment alternative that may be placed in a single appointment with your existing braces in the back of the mouth. Its components are a telescoping spring on a small metal extension that provides light, continuous pressure on the teeth. It’s invisible and does not require daily changes, adjustments or use of an external appliance. Its open coil spring is easily brushed clean during regular brushing.

Orthodontists determine how long a patient has to wear the Forsus appliance on a case-by-case basis. But during the time that it is worn, its design features provide one of the most comfortable and effective treatments of Class II Overbite correction.


A Herbst Appliance is a rod and tube appliance that is attached to the back molars on each side of the upper and lower jaws. It is very effective in correcting large overbites due to small lower jaws in younger patients. It is typically worn for around 12 months.

The rod and tube may become disconnected if your teen opens their jaw too wide. If this happens, just have them open their mouths until they are able to slide the rod back into the tube. It is also a good idea for them to avoid hard, sticky candies, nuts, gum, ice and popcorn to keep from damaging the appliance.

Lip Bumper

A lip bumper helps gain space in the lower jaw and reduces crowding by pushing the lower molars back. Lip bumpers also help correct a lip trap habit. They push the lower lip out a small amount, causing the lower lip to put pressure on the lip bumper. This pressure is what moves the molars back. Those wearing a lip bumper should attempt to eat their meals with their lip bumper in.

Contact Us to Learn More

Mary Kay Becher Orthodontics is your Austin, Texas orthodontist. We are accepting new patients and want to ensure your orthodontic experience goes as smoothly and successfully as possible. Whether you need any of the appliances in this article for better orthodontic retention or are ready to start your orthodontic journey for the first time, we are excited to help you achieve your goals for your oral well-being.

Contact us today to set up an appointment!

Contact Us to Learn More

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