What is a Hawley Retainer?

A Hawley retainer is one type of orthodontic retainer to be worn after braces or aligners have straightened the teeth in order to keep the teeth in place. It uses either an acrylic plate or hard plastic connected by a thin metal wire to fit snugly on the roof of the mouth, with the wire up against the top teeth.

While Hawley retainers are one of the original versions of these devices, other options, such as Essix retainers, are removable, transparent and plastic. For many patients, an Essix retainer is more versatile and appealing than the more old-fashioned Hawley device.

How do Hawley retainers work?

Hawley retainers are removable and are generally worn at night. They include plastic and metal parts that are custom-fitted to the wearer's teeth and mouth. A metal wire keeps the six anterior teeth in place, while an acrylic plate is arched to hold to the roof of the mouth.

Pros and cons of Hawley retainers

Hawley retainers come with some pros and some cons and should be used based on whether they are the best option for the patient. Many times, the cons may outweigh the pros, indicating an Essix retainer is the preferred option.

Pros of Hawley retainers

  • Adjustable over time: Hawely retainers can more easily be adjusted to account for changes in the mouth and teeth. They are easy to mold to the patient's mouth, though adjustments do involve potentially costly appointments with the orthodontist.

  • Durable materials: These retainers generally include tough, durable metal and acrylic that survive the test of time. The materials are also difficult to damage or warp.

  • Easier to clean: Essix retainers offer more versatility, but some people find Hawley retainers easier to clean because there are fewer nooks and crannies. Since Hawley retainers are more focused on molding to the mouth than the full shape of the teeth, they have fewer places for gunk to build up.

Cons of Hawley retainers

  • Less discreet: An Essix retainer is likely the better option if discretion is important. Essix retainers from Motto™ are clear and invisible; no one will know the patient is wearing them. Meanwhile, the Hawley retainer wire sits on the front of the teeth, making it quite noticeable.

  • Difficulty speaking: Because Hawley retainers cover the top of the mouth, it is difficult for many people to form sounds that require the tongue to touch that area. Essix retainers, meanwhile, are fitted over the teeth, with no barrier between the tongue and the roof of the mouth.

  • Less comfortable: The plastic or acrylic plate over the roof of the mouth could be an uncomfortable reality for people wearing a Hawley retainer. An Essix retainer sits in one place - on the teeth - but a Hawley retainer sits on both the teeth and the roof of the mouth. An Essix retainer from Motto™ may be the best bet for more comfort.

  • Higher risk of irritation: Essix retainers are streamlined and Hawley retainers are bulkier. While no appliance promises zero irritation, the risk may be higher with Hawley retainers because they contain more parts and often cover a larger surface area in the mouth.

What is the average cost of a Hawley retainer?

A Hawley retainer usually costs between $350 and $500. Some insurance providers will cover the cost, so it is important to be proactive and understand the relationship between the retainer and the health insurance. Some orthodontists also offer payment plans to make the cost more affordable by paying monthly installments.

Essix retainers, meanwhile, are usually a more cost-effective option. They have fewer parts and materials and can start at $150. For a budget-conscious consumer, an Essix retainer is likely the preferred choice. Additionally, Essix retainers may have a lower risk of breaking or warping if cared for correctly, meaning fewer costly trips to the orthodontist to get the device fixed.

Motto™ offers Essix retainers that some patients may find more cost-effective and less burdensome than Hawley retainers. The cost of clear aligners can also be supported through payment plans.

Do metal retainers last longer than clear?

In general, a Hawley retainer that is properly cared for will outlast an Essix retainer similarly well-cared for. But this is only true when the patient takes cleaning and care seriously. The plastic material of an Essix retainer may be less durable than the Hawley's metal wire, but it is more difficult to break or damage the plastic than it is to break or warp the metal wire. Hawley retainers are more durable over time but more prone to human-induced damage than an Essix retainer.

Explore Motto™’s precision-fit retainers

Hawley retainers are not for everyone. Looking for a better option? Motto™ offers precision-fit Essix retainers that can keep the teeth as straight as possible following aligner treatment. Learn about how clear aligners work and how precision-fit retainers help, and to talk to a specialist to learn about why Essix retainers could be the best option.