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Home » 5 Removable Dental Appliances: Which One Do You Need?

5 Removable Dental Appliances: Which One Do You Need?

In this article, we discuss 5 types of removable dental appliances. They are:

  • Retainers
  • Dentures
  • Mouthguards
  • Space maintainers, and
  • Palatal expanders

These dental devices date back to the 1900s when orthodontists used them to solve reversible dental problems.

Today removable orthodontic appliances are essential for ensuring good dental health and making your natural teeth look good by:

  • Replacing missing teeth
  • Preserving teeth alignment
  • Addressing bite problems

Clinical research shows that the quality of treatment result secured with fixed appliances is much better than with removable appliances. However, removable dental appliances have their unique place in dentistry for the advantages they offer.

5 Removable Dental Appliances You Need To Know About

1. Removable Retainers

Retainers are used after wearing braces to keep the teeth alignment correct.

Orthodontic appliances like this must be worn for at least four to six months, all day, except when eating.

Research shows that 40% to 90% of individuals who had braces got their misaligned teeth corrected after ten years post-braces and without retainers.

Speaking simply, a retainer takes the form of your brace-aligned teeth, keeping the teeth in place, so they do not return to their previous misaligned position. Realigned teeth need time to adjust to their new position.

NOTE: Your mouth may take time to adjust to a new appliance, so ask your dentist for specific instructions. Besides, wearing braces can be painful for you in the beginning simply because they pull the teeth in a certain direction.

2. Dentures

If you have missing teeth, dentists will suggest dental devices called dentures. Dentures fill in the missing teeth to:

  • Save you from problems caused by missing teeth and gaps
  • Create a beautiful and confident smile

Dentures are made by dental laboratory technicians following the exact measurements provided by your trusted dentist.

There are two types of dentures in dentistry. They are:

  1. Full dentures – Full dentures are used when every single tooth has been extracted (or missing) from your upper and lower jaw.
  2. Partial dentures – Partial dentures fill in the gap for one or more missing teeth. Nonetheless, there is also a fixed version of partial dentures called dental bridges.

To learn more about partial dentures, read our article Interim Partial Denture: A Mini Guide.

To learn about different types of dentures, read Dentures: Your New Artificial Teeth.

NOTE: If you have one tooth missing, you’ll need dental bridge treatment, provided the teeth on both sides of the missing teeth are strong. If they are weak, you’ll need dental implants and crowns.

Also read: Can you swallow your dentures?

3. Mouthguards

When you are in sports, using mouthguards will protect your teeth by adding an extra layer against any impact.

study states that a mouthguard, also known as a gum shield, is beneficial because it:

  • Reduces shock and prevents damaged teeth
  • It gives an extra layer of protection to the gingival tissue
  • Defends the jaw from bone loss and bone break

There are different types of mouthguards, such as:

  • Stock mouth protectors – These are readily available but may elevate discomfort because they may not fit your mouth. They are believed to provide the least protection to your teeth.
  • Boil and bite mouth protectors – They are flexible and can comfortably fit your mouth. They are heated in hot water and molded to the teeth with the tongue’s pressure.
  • Nightguards – A nightguard is often used when you have sleep apnea, as sleep apnea can cause extreme teeth grinding. A custom-made nightguard can be your permanent solution for sleep apnea if your doctor instructs so. Nightguards can also help prevent the adverse effects of bruxism.
  • Tongue thrust dental guard – A tongue thrust dental guard is a helpful tool that prevents forward pressure on your front teeth. (CAUTION: Research implies that tongue thrusting can highly affect a person’s dental structure as it makes the front teeth protrude).

4. Removable Space Maintainer

When your child loses a tooth, your dentist will recommend a removable space maintainer. As its name suggests, it retains the space of the missing tooth.

Removable space maintainers are often used on kids when their baby tooth is yet to erupt. They provide enough space for tooth movement, letting it erupt in its designated place.

Without a space maintainer, the nearby tooth may fall into the gap left behind by the missing tooth, causing pain and crooked teeth leading to tooth decay and gum problems.

Space maintainers have different classifications:

  • A mandibular removable bilateral space maintainer
  • A removable unilateral space maintainer
  • Bilateral band and loop space maintainer

NOTE: Maintainers work best for those with a growing jawbone and still have baby teeth.

5. Palatal Expanders

Palatal expanders or palate expanders are dental appliances that stretch the upper jaw or palate by being attached to the left and right upper molars.

This orthodontic device has an adjustable screw to change its scope and width.

It is a part of a dental treatment plan if only minimal adjustments are needed.

You may need palatal expanders if you have one or more of the following dental conditions:

  • Crowded teeth: You don’t have enough room in your mouth for your teeth to fit properly.
  • Overlapping teeth: Generally caused by genetics or habits such as thumbsucking. May also be caused by having a mouth that is too small to fit all your teeth.
  • Crooked teeth: This may be the result of many dental conditions, including teeth crowding, small jaw size and shape, having too many teeth, and poor tooth or palate development.
  • Impacted teeth: Your teeth have been blocked from breaking through the gum for various reasons, including overcrowding and small jaw size.
  • Difficulty chewing: This may result from tooth decay or loss, gum disease and infection, and oral cancer.
  • A misaligned bite: Your teeth are not aligned properly. The condition is called malocclusion.

The Pros of Removable Dental Appliances

Wearing removable dental appliances comes with several advantages:

  • They can be cleaned easily
  • They can be removed before eating, which makes it easier for you to chew food naturally
  • You can readjust or change them when needed
  • You can use them only when needed
  • They are an efficient solution for you if you have mild to moderate oral health problems

The Cons of Removable Dental Appliances

With the benefits come the disadvantages of wearing removable devices, including the following:

  • Since they are removable, they can easily be lost
  • They may affect your speech
  • They may cause limited tooth movement causing discomfort in your mouth

Permanent Dental Appliances vs. Removable Dental Appliances

Now that we know what removable dental appliances are, we want to learn how they differ from fixed dental appliances. Note the following three main differences:

  • A removable appliance can be detached from the mouth and teeth by the user, given the dentist’s instructions, while only a dentist can remove permanent or fixed appliances.
  • Permanent dental appliances are attached to the teeth using metals, bands, and dental cement, while a removable appliance only uses bent wires.
  • Permanent teeth appliances like dentures are thinner, while removable dentures are made with thicker materials.

How to Clean and Take Care of Your Removable Orthodontic Appliances

For your dental appliances to work efficiently, they must be taken care of regularly. Here are what you need to do:

  1. Remove your dental appliance and rinse it over running water.
  2. Apply mild soap and brush gently using a denture brush or a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  3. Get into the nook and crannies of your dental appliance and brush it in circular motions.
  4. Use cotton buds with water to get into the ridges of the baby or adult teeth.
  5. Soak in dental cleansers if advised by your dentist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Braces a Removable Dental Appliance?

No, braces are not removable dental appliances. Only your dentists can remove them when your teeth have already been correctly aligned. In comparison, retainers are removable dental appliances. You use retainers after using braces.

When Should I Use Removable Orthodontics?

Use removable appliances only when your dentists recommend them as part of your orthodontic treatment plan for your dental problem. Dental health is important. It is not the space for your DIY experiments.

Can I Eat With Removable Orthodontic Appliances?

Unless your dentists say so, remove your removable dental appliances before eating. Eating with the appliance may harm them and cause further complications to your oral health.

How Long Should I Use a Removable Orthodontic Appliance?

How long you wear your orthodontic appliance depends on your treatment plan. Your dentist will be the best person to give you a timetable.

However, here’s a glimpse of the estimated time frame:

  • Removable retainers – four months to one year
  • Removable dentures – use every day (can be removed during sleep), and replace after five years
  • Mouthguards – use them every game/activity time and replace them after six months
  • Removable space maintainer – until the permanent tooth is about to erupt
  • Palatal expander – six months to one year

Removable Dental Appliances: Final Words

A removable oral appliance, when used correctly, can be of great help when you try to replace missing teeth, protect spaces for lost teeth, and correct teeth alignments and bites.

However, all these can be possible only if you take care of your natural teeth and your removable appliances by sticking with your dentist’s advice and instructions.


Millett, D. et al. Adhesives for fixed orthodontic bands. The Cochrane Database System Reviews. 2016 Oct 25;10(10):CD004485.

Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). 2006.

Green, J. The Role of Mouthguards in Preventing and Reducing Sports-related Trauma. Primary Dental Journal. 2017 May 1;6(2):27-34.

Jalaly, T. et al. Effect of Tongue Thrust Swallowing on Position of Anterior Teeth. Journal of Dental Research, Dental Clinics, Dental Prospects. 2009 Summer; 3(3): 73–77.

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