woman smiling after cleaning retainer

How To Clean Retainers

Enhancing one's smile is something everyone can smile about. If your teeth are crooked or overcrowded, or you have an overbite, you may be a candidate for an orthodontic device to correct your tooth or jaw alignment. Retainers are one of those devices, and people who need to wear them should also know how to clean retainers.

How Do Retainers Work?

Orthodontic treatment uses gentle pressure to move teeth, adjust jaw growth and retrain mouth muscles. Orthodontia employs fixed and removable devices. Braces are fixed devices, while retainers can be fixed or removable devices worn on the roof of the mouth or over the teeth. They prevent teeth whose position has been corrected from shifting back to their original position.

Retainers come in two types: fixed and removable. A fixed retainer is cemented to the backs of your teeth permanently. The two most common types of removable retainers are the Hawley retainer and the Essix retainer. When determining how to clean your removable retainer, first identify which kind you have.

Hawley Retainers

A Hawley retainer stabilizes your teeth after orthodontic treatment as the bone hardens around them. It's molded to fit your mouth. The plastic and metal used to make the retainer are susceptible to heat distortion and impact damage, so it's important to handle your Hawley retainer with care.

Make sure to clean your Hawley retainer daily to remove bacteria and food particles. However, avoid rinsing it with hot water or exposing it to heat. Brush it gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush and periodically soak it in a cleaning solution similar to a denture cleanser. Remember to always store your retainer in its protective case when it isn't in your mouth.

Essix Retainers

An Essix retainer is made entirely of transparent plastic that covers the teeth, which makes it less noticeable than other retainers. Essix retainers keep the teeth straight and aligned following orthodontic treatment, or they may be used as an alternative to braces. Like the Hawley retainer, the removable Essix retainer is molded specifically to each patient's mouth.

Essix retainers have their own cleaning and care program. If you're instructed to wear one at night, rinse it with cold water before insertion and then rinse it again in the morning when you remove it. If you wear your retainer while eating, use a soft toothbrush to clean it with cool to lukewarm water after each meal. The American Association of Orthodontists notes that drinking liquids other than water while wearing your Essix retainer, especially colored liquids like coffee, red wine and tea, may cause staining. Don't brush the retainer with toothpaste, as this may scratch it, and avoid putting your retainer in hot water, as it may shrink. Every two to three months, wash your retainer with a special cleaner. Your orthodontist can recommend an appropriate cleaning solution.

Keeping Retainers Clean

According to KidsHealth, bacteria, plaque and tartar can all collect on a retainer just like they do on teeth. Sticky and colorless, plaque is a film of bacteria and sugars that forms on teeth and is a main source of cavities and gum disease. If not removed from teeth daily, plaque may harden into tartar.

The best way to keep bacteria, plaque and tartar from collecting on your retainer is to implement a thorough oral care regimen. Brush at least two times each day to remove plaque from your teeth. Complement that with flossing to reach the areas between teeth and along the gumline. Limiting your intake of starch, sugar and sticky foods may help reduce plaque buildup.

Lastly, don't forget to care for your retainer daily and schedule regular cleanings with your dentist. If you have questions about how to clean retainers, consult your dentist or orthodontist.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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