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Importance of Cleaning Your Orthodontic Retainer
While a retainer is sitting in your mouth and is positioned against your teeth, a large amount of tartar, bacteria, and plaque will likely begin to accumulate, which will need to be cleaned before tooth decay starts to occur. It’s heavily recommended that you clean your retainer once per day. Your teeth will naturally shift back to their old position, which is why it’s so important to wear your retainer regularly and make sure that it’s properly cleaned. If you don’t keep the retainer clean and wear it as often as you should, some of the progress that you made while wearing braces will likely be reversed.
Firstly, the doctor will make an impression of the teeth and decide which type of retainer will work best for your child’s teeth and lifestyle. Your doctor will recommend the best style of retainer for your child’s maintenance. The retainer will be made specifically for your child’s mouth and it may be either removable or permanent. Three common types of retainers are:
- Bonded Retainer: This is a bonding of wires to the inside of canine and lower teeth. While permanently affixed to your teeth, no one will know that you’re wearing them.
- Hawley Retainer: This traditional type of removable retainer is made from acrylic and wire. It’s comfortable to wear while keeping your teeth in place and it comes in a choice of colors.
- Essix Retainer: This removable retainer is clear in appearance, much like Invisalign aligners, and fits snugly over your teeth. There is no metal or wire in this retainer and no one will know that you’re wearing them.
Maintenance Can Vary Depending on Retainer Type
The type of maintenance you perform on your retainer depends on the exact type of retainer that you’ve been provided with after your braces have been removed. The three most common retainer types that an expert orthodontist may recommend include clear plastic, Hawley, and fixed retainers. A clear plastic retainer slips directly over your teeth and appears practically invisible when being worn. They are also very simple to remove and should remain in good shape as long as you take care of them. A Hawley retainer is crated out of a harder acrylic material that’s designed to fit the exact shape of your mouth. They also consist of a wire that ensures the retainer stays in place while it’s being worn. This form of retainer is removable, which makes it very easy to clean.
You could also be provided with a fixed retainer, which poses some problems that you’ll need to take into account. This is a permanent retainer that’s directly attached behind your lower teeth towards the front of your mouth. These are specifically designed to be used for certain patients who have a very high risk of their teeth moving back to their old position. The only way for this type of retainer to be removed is by a professional orthodontist like ours. Most people wear this type of retainer for years. Since it can’t be removed, the cleaning methods used for a fixed retainer differ from the other types.
How to Properly Clean Your Retainer
If you have a removable retainer, there are some basic steps that you should follow to properly clean the retainer. First, you should clean it immediately after it’s removed from your mouth. The retainer needs to be somewhat wet so that you can clean off any hardened debris. If you’re required to wear your retainer during the day, make sure that you remove and clean it following every meal or snack that you eat. You should also consider brushing your teeth at this time. The most effective way to clean a retainer is with a soft-bristled toothbrush. The soft bristles on this type of toothbrush will allow you to avoid scratching the retainer.
When you want to provide the retainer with a deeper clean, consider mixing some dish soap with lukewarm water. Place a toothbrush into this solution before gently brushing away any debris or plaque that’s built up on the retainer. A clear retainer is comprised of deep grooves, which is why you may need to use cotton swabs to reach into these grooves and clean them. If you find that some of the debris on your retainer can’t be cleaned no matter what you do, it’s important that you avoid scrubbing too hard, which may cause you to accidentally break the retainer. Instead, take it to your orthodontist to have the substances safely removed.
As for fixed retainers, these come with their own maintenance techniques. For one, you’ll want to floss around the wire daily so as to remove any food or particle buildup. You should focus primarily on the two front teeth on the lower row. Gently thread the floss through the small gaps in your teeth to avoid any bleeding. You could also use floss picks if you prefer how these handle. If you’re having any difficulties with flossing and cleaning your permanent retainer, your orthodontist will be able to teach you how to properly do so at your next visit to the office.
Additional Tips in Maintaining Your Orthodontic Retainer
When trying to clean a retainer, one thing that you always want to avoid is applying high amounts of heat to the retainer. High heat can create warping issues that change the exact measurements of the retainer and ruin the effectiveness of it. As such, make sure that your retainer is never placed in a microwave, dishwasher, boiling water, or washers and dryers. You also want to avoid removing your retainer in the car. During the summer months, accidentally leaving your retainer on the dashboard of your car can ruin it.
You should also stay away from using any chemicals while maintaining the retainer. Doing so is a hassle that only takes more time and doesn’t provide any notable benefits when compared to dish soap and water. Even if you clean your retainer, natural wear and tear will invariably occur, which is why it’s highly recommended that you have the retainer replaced on an occasional basis. You may only need to replace a Hawley retainer after 5-7 years. However, a plastic retainer may need to be replaced after a year or two.
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Cleaning Your Orthodontic Retainer (3 EASY WAYS)
Dr. Jasmine Gorton, a Bay Area native, graduated from UC Berkeley with Bachelor degrees in both Integrative Biology and Social Sciences and then went on to graduate from Harvard with honors for her Doctorate in Dental Medicine.
She continued her education at UCSF with a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Growth and Development, followed by an Orthodontic Residency with a Master of Science in Oral Biology.
She is Board Certified in Orthodontics. She received the American Association of Orthodontics Award for Craniofacial Research and the Harvard Odontological Society Award for Excellence in Research. Her work on preventing decay around braces has been published in the American Journal of Orthodontics.