How To Clean Retainers?

The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Your Retainer

April 27, 2024 Written By: Joyce Kahng, DDS

Hi, I’m Dr. Joyce. You probably already know that retainers play a big part in many oral health journeys. They help maintain the awesome results you get from braces or clear aligners, making sure your smile stays straight. But to really reap the benefits of this handy orthodontic appliance, you’ve got to be dedicated to taking care of it.

Retainers are kind of the unsung heroes in the dental game, often overlooked by the idea that once the braces are off, the job’s done. But keeping your smile in line actually requires a bit of daily effort. This guide is here to show you the ropes on how to keep your retainer clean, make it last, and ensure your dental health is top-of-the-line.

The Importance of Cleaning Your Retainer

First things first—why is retainer hygiene so important? Well, caring for your retainer is about maintaining more than just the device itself; it’s about preserving the health of your teeth and gums that your retainer is designed to protect. Neglecting to clean your retainer can lead to a buildup of harmful bacteria, leading to plaque, bad breath, and even serious dental problems over time.

The Basic Retainer Cleaning Routine

Cleaning your retainer should become as routine as brushing your teeth. In fact, it can be incorporated into your overall dental hygiene routine, so it becomes a habit.

When it comes to basic cleaning methods, these are some of the most effective steps:

Rinse After Eating

Rinse your retainer with water after each meal. This simple act helps remove food particles that can cause decay and foul odors.

Brushing Your Retainer

Use a toothbrush that you dedicate to cleaning your retainer alone. A soft-bristled toothbrush (which will not scratch the retainer’s surface) can be used with a gentle hand to remove any visible debris. Brush the nooks and crannies carefully to avoid missing any spots.

Use a Mild Soap

For a more thorough clean, an unscented, antibacterial soap can be used. Ensure you rinse your retainer well afterward to remove any soap residue that might cause an unpleasant taste or harm your mouth’s delicate pH balance.

Deep Cleaning: How Often Should You Do It?

While the basic cleaning routine should be performed daily, a deep cleaning is needed on a less frequent schedule. Here’s how often you should consider doing a deep clean and why it’s important.

Why Deep Clean?

Over time, even with daily maintenance, your retainer can accumulate a film of minerals, dead cells, and food particles. Deep cleaning helps remove this stubborn buildup, which cannot be eradicated with regular brushing alone.

How Often?

A deep clean should be performed at least once a week to keep your retainer in top condition. If you notice any unusual odors coming from your retainer, see discoloration or feel a film on the surface, these are also signs that a deep clean is necessary.

Deep Cleaning Methods

There are various methods to deep clean your retainer, such as soaking it in a cleaning solution like denture cleaner or using a mixture of water and white vinegar. Avoid harsh chemicals or boiling hot water, as these can damage your retainer, especially if it’s a type designed to be heat- or chemically sensitive.

Pro Tip: The Ultrasonic Cleaner

Investing in an ultrasonic cleaner can be a game-changer for those who want an advanced solution. An ultrasonic cleaner uses high-frequency sound waves to agitate a liquid, creating an effect that reaches into the tiniest crevices and removes even the toughest stains. While unnecessary, it’s a luxury option offering unparalleled cleanness.

Understanding Different Retainer Types

Not all retainers are created equal, so their cleaning methods may differ.

Permanent or Bonded Retainers

These are fixed behind your teeth and are not removable. Cleaning these tends to be more challenging, but using floss threaders and water picks can make the task more manageable. Regular dental check-ups are also critical to ensuring these retainers don’t cause buildup.

Removable Retainers

Removable retainers typically consist of clear plastic trays or Hawley retainers with metal wires. They are advantageous because they are easy to remove and clean, making them more accessible to maintain.

What to Avoid When Cleaning Your Retainer

Knowing what to avoid when cleaning your retainer is just as important as what should be done.

Harsh Chemicals

Bleach, alcohol-based mouthwashes, and the like can erode the materials of your retainer. Stick to gentle cleaning solutions like mild soap and white vinegar.

Toothpaste with Abrasives

Toothpaste with abrasives can leave microscopic scratches on your retainer, providing a surface for bacteria to cling to. Always use a gentle toothpaste suitable for retainers or just plain soap.

Hot Water

Heat can warp or otherwise damage your retainer, affecting both its fit and structural integrity. Lukewarm water is the safest temperature for cleaning your retainer.

Biting and Chewing

Never bite or chew on your retainer to adjust its fit or clean it, as this can lead to breakage or, at the least, a misaligned retainer.

Storage Solutions for Clean Retainers

How you store your retainer is as important as how you clean it.

The Case Is VITAL

Always store your retainer in its designated case when not in use. A case protects your retainer from damage and bacteria when it’s not in your mouth.

Avoid Napkins or Pockets

Storing your retainer in a napkin or your pocket can lead to loss or breakage. Always use your case.

Keep It Out of Direct Sunlight

Sunlight and heat can warp or damage your retainer. When it’s not in your mouth, store it in a cool, dry place.

When to Replace Your Retainer

Retainers are not meant to last forever, and knowing when to replace yours is key to maintaining a healthy smile.

Signs It’s Time

If your retainer is stained and you can’t remove the discoloration, cracked or broken, or your orthodontist tells you it’s time to replace it, then it’s time.

Frequency of Replacement

Typically, retainers should be replaced every two years at the very least. However, if you are prone to neglecting their cleaning, you might find yourself needing a replacement earlier, potentially in as little as one year.

Final Thoughts on Retainer Care

Don’t be discouraged if you struggle to stick to a retainer cleaning routine. It takes time to form a habit, but with a little discipline, soon enough, keeping your retainer clean will be as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth. And just like with all good habits, the effort will be well worth it in the end. Your bright, straight smile will thank you for it!

Smile smarter,
Dr. Joyce

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