Why Cleaning and Caring For a Retainer is Important

You’re shaking with excitement the whole way to your appointment at Andrew Pedersen Orthodontics. Today is the big day.

The day the braces are coming off.

You’re already drooling in the waiting room as you write a list of all the foods you’re going to eat that you haven’t had since starting treatment. You barely say hello to Dr. Pedersen as you get ready in the chair. He takes your braces off and hands you a mirror. You run your tongue over your teeth over and over again – they look even better than you imagined! You’re ready to jump out of the chair to show the world your new smile…when he hands you your retainer and its protective case.

Wait. What?

So what IS a retainer?

During active treatment, we apply pressure to your teeth that causes the bone and tissue holding the teeth in place to soften. This allows for teeth movement. Unfortunately, this bone and tissue usually take a little longer after active treatment to become situated around your teeth, and unless stopped, teeth can take this opportunity to move around.

When you finish active treatment, you will have to wear a retainer for a while. A retainer is an orthodontic appliance that must be worn after you’ve completed the final stage of the alignment process to hold the teeth in their final positions. It can be fixed or removable, like the Hawley or essix retainers. These devices keep the teeth in their desired locations as the bone and tissue surrounding them rebuilds, and proper wear is essential to maintaining the look you’ve worked so hard for.

How long do I need my retainer?

You will likely have to wear your retainer twenty-four-seven for the first couple months. If you have removable retainers, you will need to remove them only for eating, drinking, and cleaning. After a few months, you can switch to only wearing them at night. 

As your teeth stabilize, their positions become more permanent, but teeth can always move, and you will probably need your retainer for a while. Dr. Pedersen can discuss specifics with you during your appointment. 

It is important to note Dr. Pedersen might prescribe your retainer to be worn differently than we have described here. Whatever instructions you are given, follow them closely! Not properly wearing your retainer risks your teeth shifting and, in severe cases, needing to restart active treatment! 

Do I need to clean my retainer?

Yes! Your retainer is not an invincible, self-cleaning item, though it would be cool if it were! You will need to carefully clean and look after it. The good news is that it’s super easy to do! Let’s check it out.

Removable Retainer Cleaning

You will need to remove your retainer to clean it and brush and floss your teeth like normal. Whether you have a Hawley or essix removable retainer, the care for them is almost identical. 

A Hawley retainer will need a soft-bristled toothbrush, non-abrasive toothpaste, and lukewarm water. For an essix retainer, swap the toothpaste for an unscented, antibacterial soap! Be sure the water is lukewarm because extreme temperatures can warp the material. 

Run the appliance under the water and lightly scrub it with the appropriate cleaning product. Scrubbing too hard or using a harsh product can damage the surface, so be gentle. Allow the retainer to dry completely before replacing it in the mouth. 

Fixed Retainer Cleaning

Fixed retainers are a little more tricky to take care of but still uncomplicated! To floss with your permanent retainer, slip the floss between the teeth under the retainer. You can try floss threaders if you have difficulty getting the floss between the teeth. A water flosser is also perfect for those hard-to-reach places and removing unseen or stubborn gunk. Next, give your retainer an extra scrub when you brush your teeth. And that’s it! Cleaning your permanent retainer might be frustrating at first, but once you build a routine and have some practice, it will be second nature!

Your retainer can have bacteria, germs, and plaque, just like your teeth and gums. If you clean your mouth and not your retainer, the germs on your orthodontic equipment can transfer onto your newly cleaned teeth! Improper oral and orthodontic hygiene allows for a build-up of bacteria that can result in bad breath, tooth decay, infections such as gum disease, and even tooth loss! These germs also cause your retainer to have a foul smell and taste, which isn’t encouraging or inviting to wear for hours. Taking a few minutes a day to clean your appliance increases the likelihood of you having a happy, healthy smile for years to come!

Remember to always ask Dr. Pedersen before using any product on your fixed and removable orthodontic appliances!

What do I do when I am not wearing my retainer?

Remember when we said your retainer isn’t invincible? That’s where your protective case comes in! 

You might be surprised how many retainers end up in restaurant trash cans, on movie theater floors, or in a curious pet’s chew toy pile every year. Your protective case guards your retainer against physical damage, such as being stepped on if it falls to the floor unnoticed. It also keeps dust and other particles floating in the air off of the appliance. You want the outside of the case to get the germs and teeth marks instead of your retainer! Take your protective case everywhere you go to keep your appliance safe.

Why Cleaning and Caring For a Retainer is ImportantWant more information about retainers?

It is important to keep your retainer safe. If it becomes lost or damaged, a replacement can be made, but if it happens often enough, you risk your teeth regressing. Proper care promotes a healthy mouth and maintains your alignment! Our team at Andrew Pedersen Orthodontics is passionate about your oral healthcare and would love to help you build good habits for a beautiful smile! If you have any questions about how to care for your retainer, contact our office to schedule an appointment! Our dedicated team is excited to speak with you!