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If you’ve recently had braces or another orthodontic treatment, you’re probably aware of the importance of wearing your retainer. But did you know that cleaning your retainer regularly is just as crucial?
Retainers are in your mouth for a large portion of the day, which is plenty of time to accumulate bacteria and plaque. Cleaning your retainer will help you avoid tooth decay and other oral health problems. It’ll also keep your mouth healthy and contribute to a beautiful smile.
This article discusses why cleaning your retainer is essential and explains popular retainer cleaning methods and products. Consult your dentist about any questions you have regarding cleaning your retainer.
Cleaning your teeth is crucial for good oral hygiene. The same goes for any appliance for your mouth, such as a retainer.
Orthodontic appliances like retainers can easily collect bacteria and become a magnet for plaque and food debris. When this happens, it can cause bad breath and discomfort in your mouth.
The type of retainer will affect the way you care for it. Some dentists recommend retainers that are fixed into place. However, removable options are also available.
Regardless of your retainer type, speak with your dentist about the proper way to care for it. Doing so ensures the retainer stays in good condition and is not damaged.
These are the different types of retainers and how you should clean them:
Permanent retainers, also known as fixed or bonded retainers, get cemented to your teeth. They’re great options for people who have trouble wearing removable retainers.
Here’s how to clean a permanent retainer:
You can also use a water flosser (oral irrigator) as an adjunct tool to help keep your permanent retainer clean.
Clear plastic retainers, called Essix retainers, look like clear aligners but are usually thicker. They’re discreet and removable.
To clean a clear plastic retainer:
A Hawley retainer is a removable appliance that’s custom-made to fit your mouth. It’s made with acrylic and metal to help prevent your teeth from shifting.
Hawley retainers often accumulate hardened plaque and food particles on the acrylic palate portion of the retainer. Keeping the retainer clean is important to avoid damage over time and prevent bad breath.
To keep a Hawley retainer clean:
Clear aligner trays are similar to clear plastic retainers. They’re designed to fit around your teeth and are removable appliances.
It’s essential to keep your aligners clean so they can keep your teeth in the correct position while looking nearly invisible. Unsanitary aligner trays will make your teeth look dirty and can affect the quality of your oral health.
To keep your clear aligner trays clean:
While some great retainer cleaners are out there, other products can cause significant damage. The best retainer cleaning products are ones that are mild and non-abrasive.
Recommended cleaning products include:
When you brush your teeth, you should also brush your retainer. Use a separate toothbrush with soft bristles and non-whitening toothpaste.
Hard-bristled toothbrushes and toothpaste with abrasive ingredients can scratch a retainer’s plastic.
Baking soda is a good product to use when cleaning your retainer. Not only does baking soda curb bacteria without harsh chemicals, but it can also help whiten retainers that become discolored.
Mix a paste of half water and half baking soda. Apply the baking soda paste to your retainer and gently scrub it with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
You can also clean your retainer with white vinegar. This common household product is a gentle disinfectant that can help remove odors and stains.
Mix half white vinegar and half water, then soak your retainer for at least 20 minutes. After you remove it, rinse and brush your retainer with cool water.
Castile soap is a safe and non-toxic way to keep retainers clean. It’s possible to make your own castile soap with olive oil and coconut soap. However, premade castile soap is available in most grocery and drug stores.
To clean your retainer with castile soap, simply squeeze a drop into a container of warm water. Then, immerse the retainer in the water and clean it with a brush.
Retainer cleaners are special cleaning solutions made specifically for retainers. This is a good option for people who don’t want to make their own cleaning solution.
Talk to your dentist before using a premade retainer cleaner, and always follow the instructions on the packaging. Retainer cleaner may not be right for you if you have gum disease or sensitive teeth.
Occasionally soaking retainers in denture cleaner may help remove hardened mineral deposits. However, you should talk to your dentist or orthodontist about whether a denture solution is right for your particular retainer. Some denture cleaners are too harsh for certain retainers.
Soak your retainer in a denture cleaner for the time indicated on the product’s packaging or as directed by your dentist.
If you notice your retainer looks slightly different than when you first got it, this is a sign to give it a good clean. Here are some other signs:
You should be cleaning your retainer daily. If you brush your teeth twice daily, try to clean your retainer simultaneously. This makes the process more convenient.
Speak with your dentist to learn how to clean your retainer and what products are safe. Aside from that, here's what you should keep in mind when cleaning your retainers:
There are some common misconceptions about retainers, and you want to avoid them to prevent damage. Some myths include:
Water is great, but it's not effective on its own. You need to disinfect retainers to remove harmful bacteria and food particles.
Food and plaque can build up on your retainers within a day. Leaving them to develop is harmful to your retainer and your oral health.
It can result in harmful bacteria build-up, leading to bacterial and fungal infections.
Retainer-made products are deemed safe if they’re non-abrasive and designed for oral appliances. Speak with your dentist if one is good for your retainer type.
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