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The Process and Benefits of 3D Printed Dental Retainers

By March 4, 2021September 18th, 2023Orthodontics
3D printed dental retainers

3D Printed Dental Retainers

While 3D printing in orthodontics really began in earnest over two decades ago with the advent of Invisalign®, it has become more commonplace in recent years. In fact, at Richard Chan Orthodontics, we have a 3D printer in our office that we use to customize 3D printed retainers for our patients using advanced, thermoplastic material. 

While there are several types of orthodontic retainers, including permanent retainers that are bonded to the teeth and Hawley retainers that consist of acrylic and wire, 3D-printed, clear retainers are the most popular option among our Monroe, Mill Creek, Bothell and Everett, WA Invisalign and braces patients.

In this post, we’ll be covering how the process of getting a 3D-printed retainer works and why we consider these the best retainers for the teeth. 

What Are Teeth Retainers Used For?

Before we get into the retainer process, let’s talk about what retainers for the teeth are used for. A dental retainer is designed to hold your teeth in place after orthodontic treatment. During the active phase of your treatment when you have braces or you’re wearing clear aligners, the bone and tissue that support the teeth break down and the ligaments loosen, allowing your teeth to move where we want them. 


It takes time for new bone to form and the ligaments to tighten back up and secure the teeth in their new places in the jawbone. A retainer for your teeth maintains ideal alignment as this occurs and prevents the teeth from shifting. 

The Conventional Dental Retainer Process

The conventional way of creating retainers leaves a lot to be desired. The orthodontist fills a tray with a putty-like substance and you have to bite down on it and wait for the impression materials to set, which can sometimes take several minutes. They then use your dental impressions to create a custom retainer. A lot of patients gag during the process of getting traditional dental impressions and it’s not very comfortable. Thankfully, we use 3D technology at our practice so there are no goopy, messy molds! 

New and Improved: The Process for 3D-Printed Retainers

3d printer in the process of printing retainersHow is getting a 3D-printed retainer different? Well, after your braces or Invisalign treatment is complete, we take digital impressions using our iTero® scanner. The 3D teeth scanning process with iTero is quick, comfortable and painless. You can breathe normally throughout it, it only takes a few minutes and there is no gagging. A Richard Chan Orthodontics team member simply waves the small, handheld wand across your teeth and gums and it snaps images in motion. 

The iTero scans are uploaded to a computer and converted into a super precise, 3D CAD model of your mouth, which is sent to our 3D printer. Dr. Chan and his team will then print and fabricate your custom, clear, plastic retainer

You’ll wear your clear retainer, which is technically called an Essix retainer and sometimes referred to as an Invisalign retainer by patients, according to Dr. Chan’s instructions. It will hold your teeth in their new places so that they don’t shift after your braces or Invisalign treatment. 

The Benefits of 3D-Printed Retainers

3D printing dental retainers has made helping patients maintain their smiles much more streamlined. Why do our team and patients consider 3D-printed retainers to be the best retainers for the teeth? Well, here are some of the benefits:


When dental impressions are sent to a third-party lab so they can create a custom retainer, it can take three weeks or so for you to receive the retainer. Then, if you lose your retainer, getting a replacement will also take time. With a 3D-printed retainer, we’re able to design, fabricate and print the retainer right in our office, allowing us to get you your retainer sooner. If you need a replacement, that will be quick and easy as well, ensuring your teeth don’t shift while you wait for your appliance. 


The removable, clear retainers are similar to Invisalign aligners. They’re made from smooth plastic, are designed especially for your mouth and they slip over your teeth. There’s no irritation and patients find them to be extremely comfortable. Yet, it’s not just the clear, plastic retainers themselves that are comfortable; the process is comfortable and clean too. As we said, we use our iTero scanner to take quick digital impressions and you don’t have to bite into a goopy mold and hold it in your mouth while trying not to gag. 


The digital impressions from the iTero scanner are high-definition and precise. Digital scanning creates a real-time, virtual rendering of your mouth. When we use the scans for 3D printing dental retainers or other appliances, you get a truly custom fit for the best possible results and comfort. 


It’s quick and easy to take digital impressions and you’ll receive your 3D-printed retainer in less time. Additionally, we keep your digital dental model. So, if you lose your retainer and need a replacement, you won’t have to come in for new scans. We can make you a new one immediately from your previous scan. We’ll tell you when it’s ready and you can either come to the office to pick it up or we can mail it to you. 


3D-printed retainers are more affordable than other options. This is because creating them takes significantly less time and when they’re printed in the office, there is no outside lab involved. We pass these savings on to our patients. 


While eventually you’ll only wear your retainer at night, if you do have to wear it full-time at first, a clear retainer is less noticeable than a Hawley retainer, which has a wire that wraps around your teeth. The plastic is clear and smooth and the retainer fits like an Invisalign aligner. Most people won’t even notice you’re wearing it.

Of course, precision, effectiveness and convenience are important, but the retainers being virtually invisible is one of the main reasons our patients think clear retainers are the best retainers for the teeth.

Better Oral Health

With removable retainers, like a clear retainer or Hawley retainer, you can brush and floss as you normally do. This allows you to maintain excellent oral hygiene, which, of course, is key if you just invested in braces or Invisalign treatment to get your dream smile. While most of our Alaska and Washington orthodontic patients are amazing at keeping their permanent retainers clean, the wire does create more areas for food and plaque to hide, which can increase your risk of tooth decay

To learn more about our high-tech options for creating confident, beautiful smiles, including 3D-printed retainers, schedule a complimentary consultation at Richard Chan Orthodontics in Mill Creek, Monroe or Bothell, WA or Juneau, AK. 

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