Retention procedures for stabilising tooth position after treatment with orthodontic braces

Conchita Martin, Simon J. Littlewood (Lead / Corresponding author), Declan T. Millett, Bridget Doubleday, David Bearn, Helen V. Worthington, Alvaro Limones

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Without a phase of retention after successful orthodontic treatment, teeth tend to 'relapse', that is, to return to their initial position. Retention is achieved by fitting fixed or removable retainers to provide stability to the teeth while avoiding damage to teeth and gums. Removable retainers can be worn full- or part-time. Retainers vary in shape, material, and the way they are made. Adjunctive procedures are sometimes used to try to improve retention, for example, reshaping teeth where they contact ('interproximal reduction'), or cutting fibres around teeth ('percision'). This review is an update of one originally published in 2004 and last updated in 2016.

Objectives: To evaluate the effects of different retainers and retention strategies used to stabilise tooth position after orthodontic braces.

Search methods: An information specialist searched Cochrane Oral Health Trials Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase and OpenGrey up to 27 April 2022 and used additional search methods to identify published, unpublished and ongoing studies. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) involving children and adults who had retainers fitted or adjunctive procedures undertaken to prevent relapse following orthodontic treatment with braces. We excluded studies with aligners.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently screened eligible studies, assessed risk of bias and extracted data. Outcomes were stability or relapse of tooth position, retainer failure (i.e. broken, detached, worn out, ill-fitting or lost), adverse effects on teeth and gums (i.e. plaque, gingival and bleeding indices), and participant satisfaction. We calculated mean differences (MD) for continuous data, risk ratios (RR) or risk differences (RD) for dichotomous data, and hazard ratios (HR) for survival data, all with 95% confidence intervals (CI). We conducted meta-analyses when similar studies reported outcomes at the same time point; otherwise results were reported as mean ranges. We prioritised reporting of Little's Irregularity Index (crookedness of anterior teeth) to measure relapse, judging the minimum important difference to be 1 mm.

Main results: We included 47 studies, with 4377 participants. The studies evaluated: removable versus fixed retainers (8 studies); different types of fixed retainers (22 studies) or bonding materials (3 studies); and different types of removable retainers (16 studies). Four studies evaluated more than one comparison. We judged 28 studies to have high risk of bias, 11 to have low risk, and eight studies as unclear. We focused on 12-month follow-up. The evidence is low or very low certainty. Most comparisons and outcomes were evaluated in only one study at high risk of bias, and most studies measured outcomes after less than a year. Removable versus fixed retainers Removable (part-time) versus fixed One study reported that participants wearing clear plastic retainers part-time in the lower arch had more relapse than participants with multistrand fixed retainers, but the amount was not clinically significant (Little's Irregularity Index (LII) MD 0.92 mm, 95% CI 0.23 to 1.61; 56 participants). Removable retainers were more likely to cause discomfort (RR 12.22; 95% CI 1.69 to 88.52; 57 participants), but were associated with less retainer failure (RR 0.44, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.98; 57 participants) and better periodontal health (Gingival Index (GI) MD -0.34, 95% CI -0.66 to -0.02; 59 participants). Removable (full-time) versus fixed One study reported that removable clear plastic retainers worn full-time in the lower arch did not provide any clinically significant benefit for tooth stability over fixed retainers (LII MD 0.60 mm, 95% CI 0.17 to 1.03; 84 participants). Participants with clear plastic retainers had better periodontal health (gingival bleeding RR 0.53, 95% CI 0.31 to 0.88; 84 participants), but higher risk of retainer failure (RR 3.42, 95% CI 1.38 to 8.47; 77 participants). The study found no difference between retainers for caries. Different types of fixed retainers Computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) nitinol versus conventional/analogue multistrand One study reported that CAD/CAM nitinol fixed retainers were better for tooth stability, but the difference was not clinically significant (LII MD -0.46 mm, 95% CI -0.72 to -0.21; 66 participants). There was no evidence of a difference between retainers for periodontal health (GI MD 0.00, 95% CI -0.16 to 0.16; 2 studies, 107 participants), or retainer survival (RR 1.29, 95% CI 0.67 to 2.49; 1 study, 41 participants). Fibre-reinforced composite versus conventional multistrand/spiral wire One study reported that fibre-reinforced composite fixed retainers provided better stability than multistrand retainers, but this was not of a clinically significant amount (LII MD -0.70 mm, 95% CI -1.17 to -0.23; 52 participants). The fibre-reinforced retainers had better patient satisfaction with aesthetics (MD 1.49 cm on a visual analogue scale, 95% CI 0.76 to 2.22; 1 study, 32 participants), and similar retainer survival rates (RR 1.01, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.21; 7 studies; 1337 participants) at 12 months. However, failures occurred earlier (MD -1.48 months, 95% CI -1.88 to -1.08; 2 studies, 103 participants; 24-month follow-up) and more gingival inflammation at six months, though bleeding on probing (BoP) was similar (GI MD 0.59, 95% CI 0.13 to 1.05; BoP MD 0.33, 95% CI -0.13 to 0.79; 1 study, 40 participants). Different types of removable retainers Clear plastic versus Hawley When worn in the lower arch for six months full-time and six months part-time, clear plastic provided similar stability to Hawley retainers (LII MD 0.01 mm, 95% CI -0.65 to 0.67; 1 study, 30 participants). Hawley retainers had lower risk of failure (RR 0.60, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.83; 1 study, 111 participants), but were less comfortable at six months (VAS MD -1.86 cm, 95% CI -2.19 to -1.53; 1 study, 86 participants). Part-time versus full-time wear of Hawley There was no evidence of a difference in stability between part-time and full-time use of Hawley retainers (MD 0.20 mm, 95% CI -0.28 to 0.68; 1 study, 52 participants).

Authors' conclusions: The evidence is low to very low certainty, so we cannot draw firm conclusions about any one approach to retention over another. More high-quality studies are needed that measure tooth stability over at least two years, and measure how long retainers last, patient satisfaction and negative side effects from wearing retainers, such as tooth decay and gum disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD002283
Number of pages258
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2023


  • Adult
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Orthodontic Brackets
  • Dental Care
  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontal Diseases
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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