The last major step in your orthodontic treatment is a retainer. After braces have readjusted the alignment of your teeth, retainers help keep them in place. They’re every bit as important as braces to give you the beautiful smile you want. It’s important to keep in mind that with retainers comes the responsibility of properly maintaining them. Cleaning retainers isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. To keep your retainer in good shape, read this guide for cleaning retainers so you can avoid any setbacks to your new smile!
Why It’s Necessary to Clean Your Retainer
Your mouth is full of bacteria. Even if you brush twice a day, floss and use mouthwash, you can’t avoid bacteria buildup. While good dental care routines will prevent them from building into plaque or causing gingivitis, you’ll never completely remove them. When you wear your retainer, it comes into contact with all of the bacteria too. Without daily cleaning, it will thrive and grow into plaque that’s bad for your overall dental health.
Additionally, scientific studies have shown that infectious pathogens like Candida and Staphylococcus can be found on orthodontic retainers. While they are a low risk for healthy individuals, if you have mouth sores, cuts or a compromised immune system, they can lead to serious illness. When you clean your retainer, you remove much of the bacteria on the retainer – which keeps your retainer and your mouth healthy.
How to Clean Retainers
There are three distinct types of retainers. How your clean yours will vary slightly based on which type you or your child uses:
Cleaning Clear or Acrylic Retainers
Both of these types of retainers can be cleaned the same way. There are a few steps to follow, and it’s important not to do anything that might damage the retainer. If you have any questions, always ask your orthodontist!
#1. Rinse Your Retainer
Start by using some lukewarm water to simply rinse your retainer. This will help remove any loose particles of food. It’s best to do this immediately after removing your retainer. If you let your retainer dry, it gives bacteria a chance to harden. It’s easier to clean your retainer before this happens.
#2. Use a Soft Brush & Mild Dish Soap
With a soft-bristled brush and either dish soap or a specialized non-abrasive toothpaste, scrub your retainer completely. Even if you have perfect dental care, bacteria and debris will end up on your retainer. Cleaning retainers with a brush is the only way to effectively remove plaque and keep your gums healthy.
We recommend that you have a second, softer toothbrush that you use exclusively for cleaning your retainer. Toothbrushes made for dentures are a great option – they’re made with softer bristles that won’t damage the retainer. Likewise, mild dish soap is non-abrasive and helps prevent you from scratching the retainer, which can create perfect hiding places for bacteria.
In some cases, particularly with clear plastic retainers, there may be deep grooves that require a little extra help. Use a cotton swab to clean these grooves to make sure no bacteria are left behind.
#3. Let It Soak
Your orthodontist may recommend that you soak your retainer. The solution you use should be formulated for retainers, make sure you don’t use denture soak tablets. If you aren’t positive, ask your orthodontist. They can recommend a good soaking solution and explain how to use it. If your retainer has metal wires, remember that oversoaking can lead to corrosion. Always follow the directions on the packaging or from your orthodontist.
Cleaning Bonded Retainers
If your treatment uses bonded retainers, you won’t need to worry about removing them to clean them. However, it’s not enough to just brush your teeth to keep them clean. Cleaning bonded retainers requires daily flossing!
The easiest way to floss is using a floss threader, which is an essential tool during orthodontic treatment. Use the threader to get a piece of floss between the retainer and your teeth. From there, you simply need to floss in an up-and-down motion all around your teeth. After each tooth, you can simply slide the floss sideways instead of repeatedly rethreading it.
Tips for Cleaning Retainers the Right Way
#1. Never Use Hot or Boiling Water
While it may seem like an obvious way to keep your retainer clean, boiling water can render your retainer useless. High heat can warp your retainer, which will damage it in a way that requires a complete replacement. Always clean your retainer with lukewarm water. And despite what you may read online, you should never try to clean your retainer in the dishwasher.
#2. Avoid Regular Toothpastes & Toothbrushes
This is another easy mistake to make. Regular toothpaste is designed for your teeth, which are protected by strong enamel. The abrasive chemicals in common toothpastes are too much for retainers to handle, and you’ll likely scratch them. Likewise, normal toothbrushes have rigid bristles. You need a softer brush to clean your retainer without causing damage.
#3. Pay Attention to Warning Signs
Despite being in your mouth most of the day, a retainer isn’t supposed to smell or taste gross. These are signs that bacteria have built-up on your retainer. If you’re regularly cleaning your retainer but still see these signs, it could indicate that you’re not cleaning thoroughly enough. You may also see a white film on your retainer – this is plaque. Make sure to keep your retainer free of plaque, because once it hardens, it’s very difficult to remove!
#4. Don’t Forget to Clean Your Case
Just like bacteria spreads from your mouth to your retainer, it can spread from your retainer to its case. You should rinse and scrub your retainer case too! It won’t help you to clean your retainer every day if you keep it stored in a bacteria-filled case.
Did You Damage Your Retainer? Contact Dr. Andy Immediately!
If you lose or break your retainer, it’s critical to contact Dr. Andy right away. Your retainer keeps your teeth in the correct position after your braces are removed. When you can’t use your retainer as instructed, you could impact your overall orthodontic treatment. If you suspect something is wrong with your retainer, give us a call!
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