Congratulations! You’ve transitioned from braces or clear aligners to the retainer phase of your orthodontic treatment. Although the freedom from flossing between brackets is liberating, your orthodontic treatment isn’t quite over.
Left to their own devices, your teeth will quickly drift back to their crooked positions. The answer is to wear a retainer for at least six months after you remove your braces or end your clear aligner treatment.
Retainers come in several types, including a Hawley retainer that looks like a partial denture, a fixed retainer that we attach to the back of your teeth, and a clear retainer resembling a clear aligner tray.
Dr. Andrey Gaiduchik and our Gaiduchik Orthodontics team in Carmichael, California, love to help our patients find the best way to achieve a healthy, dazzling smile. Because we know how important a retainer is to your overall orthodontic treatment, we’ve compiled this guide of our top tips for keeping your retainer clean so it can do its job as you transition into the final phase of your teeth-straightening treatment.
Your retainer can collect bacteria, plaque, and tartar, so it can develop an unpleasant smell or taste if you don't clean it regularly. Retainers can harbor harmful bacteria like Streptococcus (the bacteria that cause strep throat), including S. sanguinis, S. mitis, S. salivarius, Lactobacillus, and Veillonella. Although having some bacteria in your mouth is normal, too many can make you sick.
You might also end up with an infection from Candida albicans — AKA thrush — a harmful yeast usually found in your mouth that can build up on your retainer.
Streptococcus and Candida may not be a big concern if your immune system is strong. However, if you have a compromised immune system, be cautious. If you notice any redness, swelling, or other concerning symptoms in your mouth, inform your doctor right away.
Keeping your retainer clean requires a couple of extra steps, but it shouldn’t be a hassle if you follow these pro tips.
Your retainer is strong but not invincible, so treat it gently. Brush it with a soft-bristled toothbrush or a clean cloth at the end of the day, but never use a stiff brush.
If you have a fixed retainer, brush it well each time you brush your teeth, but if you wear a removable retainer, skip the abrasive toothpaste and use a gentle cleanser instead. Also, protect your retainer from heat. You may be tempted to disinfect your retainer by dropping it in boiling water, but don’t — heat will damage your retainer. The same goes for microwaves, dishwashers, and laundry machines.
Your local drugstore has a shelf full of specialized cleansers marketed as retainer cleaners, and some may be gentle enough to use safely. Talk with Dr. Gaiduchik about which brands he recommends.
In general, steer clear of harsh chemicals and read the labels on the products you use in your mouth. Parts of your retainer are porous and absorb the chemicals. If you use commercial cleaners like Polident® and Efferdent® that contain persulfate, don’t soak them for long and rinse them well before putting the retainer in your mouth. Side effects of persulfate exposure include:
The best cleaning solutions are natural and nontoxic, like:
It’s okay to use mouthwash while wearing a fixed retainer, but removable retainers made of plastic and acrylic can soak up the colors and chemicals in mouthwash. Also, avoid hydrogen peroxide, bleach, and rubbing alcohol.
Retainers love the moist environment in your mouth, so mimic that when you store it. Plop your retainer into a glass of distilled water to prevent it from drying out and cracking. Dry retainers also invite tartar to develop. Add a dash of white vinegar or baking soda to up the cleaning quotient and keep bacteria at bay.
Tossing your retainer into the dishwasher may seem like a genius way to sanitize your oral appliance in your kitchen appliance, but the high heat and drying cycle can damage your retainer.
Likewise, ultraviolet (UV) cleaners can sanitize your retainer, but the harsh UV light damages the materials over time. If you want to go high-tech, opt for ultrasonic cleaners that use high-frequency sound waves instead of UV light.
Your retainer should last years with proper care, but if you notice cracks, chips, or foul smells in your retainer, talk to Dr. Gaiduchik about replacing it. Request an appointment online or call Gaiduchik Orthodontics to learn more about retainers.