Retainers are an important part of orthodontic care following alignment correction with braces. Once your braces come off, your teeth are prone to gradually moving out of the proper positions you just spent all that time getting them into. Retainers hold your newly adjusted teeth in place while new bone tissue grows around them, which will eventually secure them where they are (although teeth may still move over time even after this happens).
There are three basic types of retainers, and two are removable (the third type is known as fixed or permanent retainers). Of the removable ones, there are plastic and wire Hawley retainers that sit against the roof of your mouth, and clear plastic retainers that fit over your teeth (which go by the names clear aligners, Essix, or Vivera).
Just like you had to learn how to care for your braces, caring for removable retainers is also important. Because retainers sit in your mouth, they’re exposed to food, beverages, bacteria, and other buildup that occurs in there. They’re also not too difficult to damage or lose when they’re not in your mouth.
So, here are the basics of caring for removable retainers to protect them, as well as your oral hygiene.
Removable Retainer Care
- Follow the instructions your orthodontist provides regarding when to wear and when to remove your Hawley retainer or clear aligners.
- Remove your retainer to eat. Also, remove clear aligners when drinking anything besides water, as the liquid can get inside them and sit against your teeth, which can promote tooth stains and decay.
- Store your retainer in its case whenever you’re not wearing it; carry the case with you at all times so you’re prepared if you have to remove it while away from home.
- Don’t wrap your retainer in a napkin while you’re eating, as this makes it really easy for it to get thrown out.
- Don’t keep your retainer where your pet can get it. Dogs in particular have a fondness for chewing on Hawley retainers (which doesn’t just ruin them—it’s also a choking hazard and potential source of injuries for your dog).
- Keep your retainer away from sources of heat, as they can cause it to deform. Don’t leave it in a hot car or direct sunlight, near a radiator or heat vent, next to the stove, etc.
- Follow the retainer care and cleaning instructions you get from your orthodontist. Generally, you’ll brush it with warm water and a mild soap. Once a week or so, soak it in an appropriate effervescent cleanser for a more thorough cleaning.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to scrub your retainer without damaging it.
- Don’t use bleach, alcohol-based mouthwash, or harsh chemicals to clean your retainer. Many toothpastes are too abrasive as well, so avoid them unless it’s one your orthodontist OKs.
- Clean your retainer immediately after taking it out of your mouth, before any accumulation has time to harden on it.
- Don’t keep your retainer in when you brush your teeth, or your mouth won’t get an adequate cleaning.
- Don’t put a dirty retainer into its case. But still, remember to occasionally clean your retainer case.
- Contact your orthodontist promptly if there’s a problem with your removable retainer (it’s broken, warped, not fitting correctly, etc.).