Do Retainers Cause Cavities?

Retainers are orthodontic appliances fitted to keep your teeth in place after orthodontic treatments. In general, patients are required to wear retainers overnight, although some patients have permanent retainers or wear their retainers during the day as well.

Since they are worn for long stretches of time, many patients wonder if their retainers end up causing cavities. Our answer: well-cared-for retainers do not cause cavities. However, just like your natural teeth, if retainers are dirty and rarely get cleaned they are more likely to trap cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth.

Here’s how to keep your mouth healthy and cavity-free while wearing a retainer.

What are Cavities?

Cavities are small erosions into your teeth caused by bacterial buildup. You may have heard that sugar causes cavities. This is because the bacteria in your mouth process sugars quickly, turning them into acids that eat away at your teeth. Cavities can sometimes be sore or cause sensitivity in affected teeth, but it’s often difficult to tell if you have cavities without visiting the dentist.

What Are the Most Common Types of Retainers?

Generally, there are three main categories of retainers that patients use. Essix retainers, Hawley retainers, and permanent retainers.

Essix Retainers

Essix retainers are made out of clear plastic and are designed to entirely fit over teeth like a mouthguard. These retainers are popular for post-orthodontic maintenance since they keep all teeth in place and are relatively inconspicuous to wear.

Hawley Retainers

Hawley retainers are made with metal wires that hook around teeth anchored to a piece of acrylic plastic that sits on the roof of the mouth. These retainers are highly durable due to their sturdy metal and acrylic components.

Fixed Retainers

Patients who need more consistent support may opt for fixed retainers that are secured to teeth using dental glue. Fixed retainers are similar to braces, but less noticeable and intrusive.

What are the Risks of Developing Cavities?

Remember, retainers don’t inherently increase your risk of developing cavities when they are properly cleaned and cared for.

Trapped Bacteria – When poorly cared for, Essix retainers run the risk of trapping bacteria around healthy teeth. Since these retainers fit entirely over each tooth, they cause prolonged exposure to bacterial buildup.


Fungal Buildup – Since Hawley retainers hold teeth in place with wires, there’s less chance that bacteria will accumulate around the teeth. However, the acrylic component that sits on the roof of the mouth may lead to fungal complications like thrush if not properly cleaned.

Obstructed Cleaning – Permanent retainers may make cleaning difficult since they obstruct your access to certain areas. This may cause tartar and bacteria to accumulate in hard-to-reach spots.

How Can I Prevent Cavities?

The best way to prevent cavities when you have any sort of retainer is to practice consistent and thorough hygiene.

  • Brush Your Retainers
    Essix and Hawley retainers should be brushed regularly using denture cleaners or denture-safe toothpaste. This removes bacterial and fungal buildup and keeps appliances fresh.
  • Soak Your Retainers
    Essix and Hawley retainers can be soaked in denture cleaner for a deeper clean. Do not boil retainers or soak them in hot water as this might warp the plastic.
  • Practice Good At-Home Oral Hygiene
    Once of the best ways to prevent cavities from developing is to brush and floss your teeth every day. Additionally, make sure to brush your teeth, or at least rinse with mouthwash, before putting in your retainer.
  • Visit the Dentist
    To help prevent plaque and tartar buildup, schedule routine visits to the dentist. If you have a fixed retainer, your dentist will clean hard to reach areas and may provide you with special cleaning tools to use at home.

Getting Your Retainer with Dental Lab Direct

Finding the perfect retainer is easy at Dental Lab Direct. We specialize in high-quality dental appliances customized to fit your specific needs. Our appliances are made using FDA approved materials, so you never need to worry about safety for long-term wear. Dental Lab Direct’s 3-step ordering process makes getting your new appliance hassle-free. Once you receive our impression kit in the mail, complete your dental impressions at home and mail the kit back to us. Then, your new custom appliance will arrive in 2-3 weeks. Contact us today to get started!