Posted on November 21, 2019

Retainers are essential to retaining your straight teeth after treatment with braces or Invisalign®.

Taking care of your retainer is an essential part of maintaining good oral hygiene. Your retainer can trap food and become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Improper care can cause bad breath and tooth decay. 

So how do you properly take care of your retainer? Our experienced orthodontist is here to give you his best tips!

How to Take Care of Your Retainer

Not taking proper care of your retainer can be costly. Neglect could result in damage to your retainer and teeth.

If your orthodontist recommended a retainer as part of your treatment plan, here’s what you need to know to properly take care of it!

Regular Cleaning

You should clean your retainer every day to avoid an accumulation of food particles and harmful bacteria. (We’ll get into specifics of how to clean your retainer below). This is also a great opportunity to floss and brush your teeth.

Keep It Protected

You should always keep your retainer in a protective case when not using it. The slightest bending or shape alteration of your retainer will prevent it from working as intended. What’s more, it could break entirely and become useless.

Keeping your retainer in its case will also make it easier to keep track of. Also, the case will ensure your retainer stays clean and intact if you accidentally throw it away or drop it. (Accidentally throwing your retainer in the trash is more common than you might think).

Avoid Heat

Heat will cause your retainer to lose its original shape, so don’t leave it in a hot car, expose it to hot water, or leave it in the sun.

Essix and Hawley retainers are especially vulnerable to heat because of the material they’re made of. If they’re altered in any way, they won’t be able to keep teeth in line and may not even fit back into your mouth at all.

How to Clean Your Retainer

Essix and Hawley retainers have similar cleaning routines, while permanent or fixed retainers require unique care.

Essix and Hawley Retainer (Removable Retainers)

The best way to clean Essix and Hawley retainers is to use a soft-bristled toothbrush with a gentle soap. Use lukewarm water to activate the soap and rinse them.

We recommend soaking your retainer for 20 minutes at least once a day to disinfect it. You can use:

  • Distilled water and baking soda
  • Distilled water and soap
  • A 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water
  • Denture or retainer cleaning solution

Permanent/Fixed Retainer

A permanent retainer, also called a fixed retainer, is a little more tricky to clean. You’ll need dental floss and floss threaders.

  1. Work the floss threader between your teeth near the gum line so it’s under your retainer.
  2. Use the threader as directed to thread the floss through your teeth.
  3. Move it up and down to remove any food and plaque.
  4. Repeat this process between all teeth that are attached to the retainer.

In some cases, it’s very difficult to clean permanent retainers. If you’re not able to get dental floss underneath your permanent retainer, make sure you brush that area well and keep up with regular dental visits.

How NOT to Clean Your Retainer

There are plenty of ways to clean your retainer, but there are just as many ways you shouldn’t clean it.

Do not use:

  • Harsh Chemicals – Strong chemicals such as bleach or alcohol can cause pitting in your retainer. These pits are hard to clean and allow bacteria to accumulate.
  • Hot Water – Hot water may seem like the right choice for disinfecting your retainer, but it can easily cause it to become misshapen and lose its function.
  • Abrasive Soap – Abrasive soaps will scratch your retainer, creating places where bacteria can thrive. If you have an Essix retainer, it will become less transparent and more noticeable.
  • Toothpaste – Most toothpaste is too abrasive to safely use on your retainer. Like abrasive soaps, toothpaste will create small scratches on it. If your retainer is scratched up, it’s more noticeable when you wear it.

How Often Should You Clean Your Retainer?

You need to clean your retainer daily.  The easiest way to stay diligent about cleaning your retainer is to work it into your standard oral care routine.

If you have been instructed to wear your retainer overnight, then you should wash it when you wake up. Otherwise, you can wait until around midday and then again at night, followed by a 20-minute soak.

Tips for Taking Care of Your Retainer

Since retainer care can be an involved process, we compiled a list of additional tips to help you maintain a clean mouth and retainer all day, every day.

Stay Hydrated

While drinking water won’t clean your retainer, it will limit how fast bacteria can grow and multiply.

Staying hydrated helps keep your mouth and retainer clean by neutralizing some of the acids produced by bacteria. 

Remove Your Retainer to Eat and Drink

Always remove your retainer when you drink anything besides water, and do not eat while wearing it. If you eat with your retainer in, you run a very high risk of damaging it.

Also, eating with your retainer can cause food to get lodged in it and make cleaning much more difficult.

Keep a Cleaning Kit with You

Having all the right tools on you will make cleaning your retainer much less of a chore because you won’t have to hunt around for the right supplies.

Anytime you plan to leave the house for six hours or more, make sure you bring a to-go kit containing the necessary things you need to clean your retainer.

You should include the following items in your kit:

  • Dental Floss
  • Floss Threaders (for permanent retainer)
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Soft Bristled Toothbrush (for retainer)
  • Mild Soap (for retainer)

Need Help with Your Retainer in Castle Rock and Parker, CO?

Retainers are vital to maintaining straight teeth after alignment. With almost 20 years of experience, Dr. Struhs will help you get the best retainer for your specific needs at his offices in Parker and Castle Rock, CO.

Schedule an appointment online or give us a call today to keep your smile looking great for a lifetime!

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