Although they might seem to look similar, orthodontic retainers and night guards, however, they have different dental functions. This is a detailed guide on Dental Retainers VS. Nightguards

If you are wondering about the uses of Dental Retainers and Nightguards, who can use them and why would you wear them, this is the right article for you.

Answers to these questions will help you understand and identify the difference between Dental Retainers and Night Guards.

This is an extensive guide on Dental Retainers and Nightguards.

But first, let us understand what these are separate, in order to understand their uses, functions, and treatments.

Dental Retainers

Retainers help you to keep your teeth from moving after the straightening of them with braces.

It is important to note that it takes up to 4 to 6 months for the new position of your teeth to become permanent. During this time, your teeth will tend to move back to their previous position.

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This is called Relapse. To prevent this from happening, many dentists recommend wearing Dental Retainers.

Types of Retainers

There are  types of Retainers:

  1. Removable Retainers
  2. Permanent Retainers

Your dentist or orthodontist will help you choose the best type of retainers and it depends on what you required braces for and any conditions you might have.

You might be giver one type of retainer or you may receive retainers on the top of your teeth and a permanent one for the bottom teeth.

Let us look at these types separately and compare your options.

Removable Retainers

You can remove these retainers after 22 hours of usage. Moreover, you can also remove them before eating and during brushing or flossing your teeth.

The advantages of these retainers are that you can easily remove them when you want to eat and brush or floss your teeth. Moreover, they are relatively easy and convenient to get.

However, the disadvantages include that they can be easily damaged, cause excess saliva productions, and bacteria can grow and live on them.

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Moreover, if you do not keep them in the cases, you can misplace them.

The biggest flaw of removable retainers is that relapse is common. This is commonly observable in people who misplace them and do not get a new one.

If you do not wear the retainers, then your teeth will shift back to their previous position. You can clean your retainers by gently brushing them. Moreover, your orthodontist may also recommend soaking them.

There are 2 types of removable retainers.

Hawley Retainers

These are also called Wire Retainers and are made of thin wires and plastic or acrylic shaped to fit the roof of your mouth or along the insides of your lower teeth.

These metal wires are attached to the outside of your teeth to maintain alignment.

The advantage of using these types of retainers is that they can be easily adjusted so that they can fit your teeth or if your teeth need realignment later.

Moreover, they are more durable than plastic retainers, replaceable, and can last for years if you use them properly.

They also naturally touch your upper and lower teeth.

However the disadvantages include that it can affect your speech, are more noticeable and the wire may irritate your lips or cheeks initially.

Clear Plastic Retainers

These perfectly fit the new position of your teeth and are also termed Molded Retainers.

For this type, your dentist or lab technician will create a mold of your teeth. Thin plastic or polyurethane is then heated and sucked around the mold.

The advantage of these retainers is they are practically invisible, are less bulky, comfortable to use, and less likely to affect your speech.

However the disadvantages include that after the placement, you cannot adjust them, they cannot be repaired, they can warp if exposed to heat, and they tend to discolor.

Moreover, the top and bottom teeth do not touch naturally with this type and can trap liquid against your teeth which can cause cavities.

The major difference between these three brands is the type of plastic material. These are Vivera, Essix, and Zenedura.

Permanent Retainers

These retainers consist of a solid or braided wire to fit the shape of your newly positioned teeth.

The dentist or orthodontist will cement the wire on the insides of your teeth to keep them from moving.

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They are also called fixed, lingual wire or bonded retainers are often used on your lower teeth.YOu cannot remove them at home, therefore, you will need to visit your dentist or orthodontist to remove them.

Your orthodontist will recommend them if they think that the chances of relapse are great or you will not follow the instructions for using a removable retainer.

Because of the chances of cavities and dental plaque, your dentist will choose to let them stay indefinitely.

The advantages of using them are that they are not visible, they will not affect your speech, and cannot be damaged.

Moreover, they do not cause a problem as it is easy to comply with the instructions of your dentist.

However, the disadvantages are that it can be hard to maintain oral and dental hygiene, the metal wire may irritate your tongue and you may not like them as your dentist will attach them to your teeth.

Who needs a Retainer and Why?

After your teeth move to a new position permanently, the effects of chewing, growth, and everyday wear can lead to relapse.

Therefore, your orthodontist will recommend you to wear them for the rest of your life.

If you are using a removable retainer, it is important to follow the instructions of your orthodontist or you might not be able to reap the benefits of them.

A study suggests that the most common instruction to use a retainer is to wear them daily, 7 days a week for at least a year after removing the braces.

After the use of retainers, your dentist or orthodontist will check your teeth to make sure your teeth are not moving. You will have checkups every 1,3,6.11 and 24 months after removing the braces.


Your dentist will recommend Nightguards or Mouthguards to treat teeth grinding.  Bruxism or teeth grinding is a common condition in which an individual clenches or grinds their teeth.


One study suggests that about 8 to 35% of adults grind their teeth and are not aware of it.

Many dentists recommend using mouthguards or nightguards to help limit overnight grinding and prevent wearing down of the teeth.

You can wear a mouthguard during the night to protect them from wearing down enamel and during sports.

There are 3 types of Nightguards:

  1. Stock Mouth Protectors
  2. Boil and Bite Mouth Protectors
  3. Custom-made Mouth Protectors

Stock Mouth Protectors

These are ready to wear the type of mouthguard and are inexpensive.

You can buy them from a sports store or departmental stores. However, you cannot do anything to adjust them, they will feel bulky, and can make breathing and talking difficult.

Moreover, they are unable to provide little or no protection. The dentist often does not recommend using them.

Boil and Bite Mouth Protectors

They can easily fit in your mouth and are made of thermoplastic material.

bite mouth protectors

You can buy them from any sports shop. You can place them in hot water to soften them and then place them in the mouth. These can shape them around your teeth using your finger and tongue pressure.

Custom made Mouth Protectors

These are custom-made according to an individual in the office of the dentist or a professional laboratory.
First, your dentist will take impressions of your teeth and will then mold a mouthguard using a special material.

Because of special material, the extra time, and the work, this type is an expensive one than other types however, it is most comfortable and provides protection.

In most cases, you will wear nightguards on your upper teeth, however, you might also want to wear them on your lower teeth.

Moreover, an effective nightguard is comfortable, resists tears, is durable, and easy to clean. They should also not restrict your speech and breathing capabilities.

Who needs a Nightguard?

Anyone can use Nightguard from children to adults, who play contact sports like football, soccer, ice hockey.

Moreover, those who complain about teeth grinding habits should also wear them as it prevents them from wearing down teeth enamel. If you don’t do so it can lead to different dental conditions like cavities and gum diseases.

Now let us discuss the difference between dental retainers and nightguards.

Dental Retainers VS. Nightguards

According to the American Association of Orthodontists, AAO, the function of the retainer too to maintain or retain the position of teeth after the removal of braces.

The retention phases according to AAO is critical to the long-term success of your orthodontic treatment. The primary purpose of orthodontic retainers is to keep the bones and teeth from shifting after the removal of orthodontic treatments.


Orthodontists recommend using retainers after the removal of braces or other appliances.

However, Nightguards prevent teeth grinding or Bruxism and protect your teeth during sleep according to the American Sleep Association, ASA.

Your dentist may prescribe using a Nightguard or Mouthguard if they diagnose the following issues:

  • Broken Teeth
  • Sore Jaw Muscles
  • Damage to the bone

You can purchase them either from the market as OTC or can be custom-made by your dentist. They are either soft or hard plastic and you can use them on the top or bottom teeth.

One of the major differences between nightguards and retainers is that you use nightguards at night while you have to wear the retainers for the whole day.


Now that you are well aware of the types and functions of Retainers and Nightguards, Dental Retainers VS. Nightguards, you can ask your dentist or orthodontist what is right for you.

Moreover, depending on your dental concerns, your dentist will recommend the appropriate treatment for you. If you want to prevent the relapse after orthodontic treatment, you will get a retainer.

However, if you grind your teeth at night, they will advise you to wear a Nightguard. Whatever your dental concerns are, the best option is to visit your dentist’s clinic and have a thorough examination to determine if retainers or Nightguard are right for you.