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Unveiling the Bonded Retainer: Everything You Need to Know

8 min read
by Dylan Hao |

You’ve seen retainers in various shapes and sizes, and now it’s time to have one for yourself. It’s an exciting transition out of the bulky orthodontics you had.

Still, you’re probably concerned about forgetting to wear it or misplacing this essential oral appliance and messing up your hard-earned, newly-aligned teeth.

That’s where a bonded retainer enters the picture.

This single wire or fiber, also called a “permanent” retainer, is adhered to your teeth. The adhesive is strong enough to keep the retainer bonded until you’re ready to remove it.

So what is this innovation of dental and orthodontic technology, and is it really permanent? Here, we’ll unveil the bonded retainer and teach you everything you need to know to decide if it’s your perfect straight-teeth solution.

What Are Bonded Retainers, Exactly?

The purpose of a retainer is to keep your teeth in place and prevent them from shifting back into their original position, coming in crooked, or leaving unwanted spaces. The typical retainer (like our custom clear retainer) is worn during strategic periods throughout the day, such as while sleeping and between meals — if you remember to put it in place. 

A bonded retainer stays adhered to the back of your teeth. There, it doesn’t get in the way of your regular oral functions (chewing, talking, etc.), and you don’t have to remember to wear it and take it everywhere you go.

How a Bonded Retainer Works

Most of us see our teeth as permanently in one location. This isn’t technically the case, though.

Your teeth are connected to your skull through a heavy-duty attachment called the periodontal ligament. This tissue is made up of stretchy fibers that can pull apart and retract back into place. 

Understanding the Rubber-Band Effect of Your Periodontal Ligament

Imagine the fibers as a brand-new rubber band. When it’s fresh and hardly used, it’s difficult to pull apart. But over time and with use, it becomes easier to stretch. As the fibers of this “rubber band” loosen (aka, as you get older), your teeth can shift. 

The fibers also move when you use braces and other orthodontics. But when you remove those devices, the ligament can slowly return to its natural placement. Regular retainers help, but when they’re not worn, that repositioning effect is going on beneath the surface.

Bonded retainers help reshape the periodontal ligament and the bone structure underneath, adjusting the alignment of your teeth. They’re connected to the bottom of your teeth, so they’re often referred to as lingual retainers.

The fibers connecting your teeth to the bone and skull can’t relapse into their old positions because the retainer holds them in place 24/7.

How Long Bonded Retainers Last 

The most frequent placement of a bonded retainer is on the back of the bottom teeth. The thin metal wire connects to your canine teeth with a maximum-hold bonding material. 

Since the bonded retainer matches your bite, you won’t notice it while eating or talking. It can be removed and replaced for dental cleanings, check-ups, and other necessary situations.

Do Bonded Retainers Really Work?

Research on bonded retainers consistently shows positive long-term effects of teeth placement. Those who use this type of retainer during their initial “retention phase” (the period right after braces are removed) have low rates of teeth reshifting back into their original placement.

Although removable appliances were the norm in dentistry and orthotics to keep teeth from shifting back out of alignment, the introduction of fixed retainers changed that. 

The first generation of these appliances featured a stainless steel round wire that adhered to the canines, but it was bulky. Over the next few decades, the innovation became compact and comfortable. Fast forward to today, and many orthodontists prefer permanent retainers for long-term use.

Fixed retainers have plenty of advantages over their removable counterparts: 

  • They’re better aesthetically because they’re hidden.
  • Patients don’t need to remember to wear them.
  • They’re effective.
  • They can be worn all day, every day, for a lifetime.

However, some downsides are debated in the orthodontic community:

  • The doctor must bond them precisely in place for them to work efficiently.
  • The same compact design that makes them more comfortable also makes them delicate and easy to break.
  • Like long-term braces treatments, when they’re worn in place for long periods, they can cause enamel weakness and dental health problems.

Who Can Benefit From Bonded Retainers?

close-up of a young woman's beautiful open-mouthed smile with straight white teeth

Although fixed retainers have impressive advantages, they’re not suitable for everyone. If your doctor has already brought these appliances up to you, they likely consider you a good candidate. 

Permanent retainers aren’t commonly recommended for children. Sure, they usually forget their retainer and may even throw them in the garbage with their lunch trash.

However, the appliances are more expensive than regular retainers. Until all of their adult teeth come in, you’ll constantly be removing and replacing the fixed retainer to make room for the newly grown enamel. While it’s not surgery, bonding the appliance to teeth is an intensive process.

Adults may qualify for bonded options if they have healthy teeth and gums. A bonded retainer is a good alternative if you’re concerned about aesthetics and convenience. And, if you’re busy and worried about forgetting your removable appliance, consider permanent.

Your orthodontist will determine if you qualify or discuss other treatment options with you. You’ll need to have enough surface area and strong enamel for the bonding material to adhere to.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Permanent Retainers?

If bonded retainers were 100% perfect, adults would not need a regular retainer. But, as we mentioned earlier, this impressive appliance has pros and cons.

The Advantages of Choosing the Permanent Retainer Route

Retainers are provided after you’ve spent a good chunk of time and money to have your teeth straightened. They are now aligned, and you want to keep them that way.

A bonded retainer takes the control out of your hands, where you may forget to wear the appliance or lose it. The permanent fixture keeps your teeth in their new positions — for life!

If you’ve ever worn a regular retainer, you know it can be annoying. It sits across the front of your teeth and the roof or bottom of your mouth, making it challenging to talk normally. You have to remove it before you can eat, then put it back in place before bed.

Bonded retainers are hidden and don’t get in the way when you eat or make you sound funny when you speak.

Best of all, you’ll never lose your retainer or forget to bring it on a trip. It’s in your mouth, where it will stay unless you choose to have it removed.

Disadvantages of the Bonded Retainer

Before you decide to invest in a fixed retainer, it’s essential to get the whole picture of what you’re getting into. 

For instance, bonded retainers take some getting used to, especially when it comes to oral hygiene tasks like brushing and flossing. You’ll need a special dental floss threader to get between the thin wire connected to your teeth. Because it’s harder to keep the teeth clean in those areas, people with bonded retainers have to be extra diligent to avoid tooth decay and gum disease.

Permanent retainers are usually placed behind the lower teeth and connected at the canines. If you have crooked or misaligned teeth in the upper jaw, they may not be protected with the fixed placement of the wire.

Another thing to consider is the procedure required for adhering the lingual wire to the back side of the teeth. It can be a long process. While it’s not typically painful, it isn’t the most comfortable, either. 

Once it’s attached, it shouldn’t go anywhere. However, the retainer wire can be loosened if you eat chewy or hard foods. You should also know that it’s possible to dissolve the bonding material if you eat and drink a lot of sugars and foods with artificial additives.

How Much Does a Bonded Retainer Cost?

Retainers come in various categories, such as the removable version (officially called a Hawley), bonded (lingual), and clear removable devices. The price for each depends on factors like the brand used (popular options are Vivera, Zendura, and Essix retainers), how many arches are necessary, and the material. 

Bonded retainers can be made of copper or titanium. Depending on the material, you can expect to pay $225-$550. In comparison, Hawley retainers cost $150-$340, and you’ll have to pay the full amount if you lose it. Clear plastic retainers can cost hundreds of dollars each.

In addition to the appliance, you’ll also pay for the initial placement, which can cost anywhere between $250 and $700.

Insurance Coverage of Bonded Retainers

insurance coverage for bonded retainers

Some insurance plans cover orthodontics, but you’ll need to check with your insurer to verify that this includes bonded retainers. If it does, what does that cover? 

Ask your doctor for the codes they’ll bill for the placement and device, and then find out how much the insurance company pays for those codes. Your orthodontist may bundle the costs together to reduce the out-of-pocket expense for you, or you may have to pay for any codes that aren’t reimbursed by your plan.

Also, pay attention to your annual limit. Dental plans are often capped at a low yearly payout. Once you reach that amount, the rest of the expenses are your responsibility.

What Are the Alternatives to Bonded Retainers?

Now that you’ve read the essentials about these impressive oral appliances, you might have realized they may not quite be what you need. So what are your options instead?

Removable retainers are the other obvious solution, but they aren’t your only choice. These are great for keeping your teeth from shifting, but you need more protection if you’re a bruxer. 

Bruxism is a common condition that causes a person to grind their teeth and clench their jaw unconsciously. When that happens consistently, the enamel erodes, teeth shift, and muscular damage occurs. Over time, bruxing can be dangerous to a person’s overall health.

Instead of a retainer, bruxers often wear night guards. These oral appliances, like those made here at JS Dental Lab, aren’t designed to keep your teeth from shifting. Instead, they prevent the upper and lower arches from touching, reducing the symptoms of bruxism and preventing further damage.

If your concern is that bruxing is causing your teeth to shift or become damaged, reach out to our friendly professionals at JS Dental Lab today to find out how a custom-made night guard can help you.

Read more: 8 Reasons to Choose JS Dental Lab Custom Night Guard


Bonded orthodontic retainers have been around in the dentistry world for a while, gradually becoming more and more impressive. But even with all of the changes in technology, there are still some drawbacks to these fixed dental appliances. 

Choosing the correct dental device depends on whether your aim is retention, hiding it from visibility, ease of use, or avoiding dental damage. With those goals in mind and the knowledge you’ve picked up here, you can decide which oral appliance is right for you!

Shop our dental devices now!

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