Why Cleaning and Caring For a Retainer is Important

Today’s the day! You’re heading to the About Faces & Braces Orthodontics office to get your braces off, buzzing with excitement and daydreaming about all the food you’re going to eat that you haven’t had in months. You struggle to sit still as the wires and brackets are removed. Dr. Shawn or Dr. Candice hands you a mirror so you can look, and you can’t stop watching your tongue glide over your newly freed teeth. You start to get up to go out and show the world your new smile when you’re given a retainer and its protective case.


What is a retainer?

When you undergo orthodontic treatment to align your teeth, you are breaking down and rebuilding bone in your jaw. The breaking of bone allows the teeth to shift, and the rebuilding holds them in their new positions. 

Once your braces come off, your orthodontist will give you a retainer to wear. A retainer is a removable orthodontic appliance designed to hold teeth in their final positions while your bone and tissue settle around the teeth. If you don’t wear your retainer as directed, you risk your teeth regressing and prolonging your treatment. How long you wear your retainer depends, but for many patients, you’ll wear it 24/7 for a few months and then switch to only at night indefinitely. 

We know it is exciting not to have braces anymore, but you must wear your retainer to keep your smile looking as good as it did the day your braces came off!

What kind of retainers are there?

The kind of retainer that you get depends on the treatment you went through and the severity of your alignment needs. To understand how to care for your retainer, you first need to know which one you have.

There are two types of removable retainers, the Hawley and the overlay. Hawley retainers are probably what you think of when you think of “orthodontic retainers.” They are made of acrylic and use a metal wire to hold the teeth in place. The overlay retainer, also called an essix retainer, looks almost like a clear aligner, but it holds the teeth in place instead of applying pressure to shift them.

Those needing a more or less permanent option can consider installing a fixed appliance. Fixed retainers are usually installed onto the back of the lower teeth, and a removable retainer is used for the top row of teeth. For most patients, though, we recommend a removable retainer for both rows of teeth.

Do I need to clean my retainer?

Yes, you need to clean your retainer regularly! A well-maintained retainer is a happy one and keeps your mouth germ-free and healthy!

Your mouth is home to bacteria and plaque that can transfer back and forth from your retainer and mouth. That means if you take your retainer out to brush and floss your teeth and put it back in without cleaning it, the germs on your retainer will spread to your freshly cleaned mouth! A build-up of this bacteria can make your breath and retainer smell unpleasant, as well as cause tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, and other infections or diseases. 

Keeping your retainer clean is crucial to the health of your mouth. An added bonus is that proper maintenance of your appliance will make it more appealing and comfortable to wear for hours every day and night.

How Do I Care For My Retainer?

Now that you know what kind of retainer you have and the importance of cleaning, it is easy to learn how to care for it. Proper retainer maintenance takes only a few minutes per day and can leave you with fresh breath and better oral health.

To clean your removable retainers, you’ll need a soft-bristled toothbrush, unscented, antibacterial soap or gentle, non-abrasive toothpaste, and lukewarm water. Rinse the retainers with the lukewarm water. If you have a Hawley retainer, you can use a nonabrasive toothpaste to gently scrub with. If you have an essix retainer, use the antibacterial soap to clean your retainer with. Be careful not to use water that is too hot or cold because extreme temperatures can warp the aligners. Don’t scrub too hard, either, because that can create scratches or damage to the surface of the aligner that can make them uncomfortable or more visible when worn. Place the retainer back in the case and allow them to dry fully before putting them back in the mouth! Remember, do not use any product on your retainer without first asking Dr. Shawn or Dr. Candice!

Cleaning your fixed retainer is a little more tricky, but it still only requires a few minutes. When you floss, slip the floss through your teeth under the retainer for proper cleaning. You might even want to consider investing in a water flosser, a machine that uses water to clean teeth and gums by removing particles and germs in hard-to-reach places. After flossing, you should brush your teeth. Make sure to give your retainer an extra bit of scrubbing to eliminate any food or drink particles and residue. Taking the extra care to clean your fixed retainer will keep your mouth free of dangerous bacteria and keep you smiling and healthy!

Why Cleaning and Caring For a Retainer is ImportantWant More Help With Your Retainer?

Getting into the habit of caring for a retainer might be a little difficult initially, especially after the anticipation and excitement of finishing active treatment. However, taking the time to learn and form a routine is essential to the preservation of your perfectly aligned smile. If you need or want more help with your retainer or are just trying to decide what option is right for you before you finish treatment, our team is always happy to help!

Schedule an appointment at About Faces & Braces Orthodontics for expert care, reliable information, and unbeatable customer service! 

We look forward to helping you safeguard all your hard work so you can have a smile that you are endlessly proud of!