How to Deep Clean a Retainer

Retainers with green case

Once braces are removed, most orthodontists will prompt you to wear a retainer. Getting your braces removed is an incredible feeling – for kids, this means eating popcorn, sticky candy, and other sweets that have been off-limits. While brushing teeth may now be easier, this doesn’t mean that dental hygiene can be relaxed. In fact, many people who wear retainers neglect to clean their retainers. This post will outline everything you need to know about how to deep clean a retainer.

Wearing a retainer is important so that teeth can adjust to their new placement in the mouth after tooth alignment. People that neglect to wear retainers may find that their newly aligned teeth drift back into their initial position, defeating the purpose of wearing braces in the first place. This is because the jaw bones and gums take longer to move to their new position than the teeth themselves. Additionally, they help stabilize your bite and maintain space for new teeth or wisdom teeth that might come in later.

Because the function of retainers is so important, they must be properly maintained. Plaque can form on the surface of retainers just like teeth, but even the dirtiest retainers can be cleaned. However, caution must be taken when cleaning them to prevent damage that can make them less effective.

If you’re wondering how to deep clean a retainer, or even maintain it generally, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we provide a comprehensive guide on retainer maintenance for teeth that’s so easy, even your kids can do it!

How to Deep Clean a Retainer

Plaque Buildup on Retainers

Brushing your teeth isn’t enough to keep your retainer clean. You may have noticed a residue building up on the surface. This is called plaque.

Plaque is a sticky coating of bacteria that is often triggered by acids after eating or drinking. While they are often triggered by sugary sweets, plaque is constantly forming inside the mouth. Brushing teeth and regularly visiting the dentist can help keep plaque at bay, preventing it from forming into hard tartar that can cause cavities, gum disease, and in later stages, tooth loss.

Plaque can damage the retainer if not properly cleaned. Additionally, it can accelerate plaque development in the mouth when not properly cleaned.

How to Deep Clean a Hawley Retainer

Most kids wear a Hawley retainer, which consists of a plastic base and wire rings that secure them to the inside of their mouth. Plaque buildup on Hawley retainers is not uncommon when they are not cleaned every time they are removed. To clean these without damaging them, you will need distilled water, baking soda, and white vinegar.

  1. Remove the retainer from your mouth or your child’s mouth
  2. For a light buildup, soak the retainer in distilled water. Use a toothbrush to brush away the plaque
  3. For a heavier plaque buildup, soak the retainer in a mixture of baking soda and distilled water. Afterward, brush the surface with a toothbrush. This can be used to remove odors.
  4. To prevent plaque buildup, regularly soak the retainer in white vinegar. This should be done on a weekly basis to kill any bacteria on the surface and prevent plaque from returning.

DO NOT use all three ingredients at the same time, as doing so can damage the retainer.

DO NOT deep clean a Hawley retainer with baking soda daily, as doing so can damage the retainer.

How to Deep Clean an Essix Retainer

Essix retainers, or clear retainers, are generally reserved for adults and are rarely given to children. Why is this the case? Maintenance.

Essix retainers are less distracting to wear than a Hawley retainer but are significantly more fragile than their Hawley counterparts.

After any meal, or after drinking anything other than water, adults should brush their teeth and rinse their Essix retainer to ensure that it doesn’t get discolored or develop an odor. Debris trapped between an Essix retainer and teeth can not only shorten the lifespan of your retainer but also accelerate plaque buildup on your teeth.

To deep clean an Essix retainer, simply place it in a mixture of distilled water and baking soda. Because it doesn’t contain metal, you can do this as often as you’d like without damaging it.

DO NOT use toothpaste to clean your Essix retainer. While you’ll likely be brushing more frequently throughout the day, toothpaste can scratch the plastic and damage the retainer.

How to Not Damage Your Retainer During a Deep Clean

Do Not Use Hot Water When Cleaning Retainers

Regardless of the type of retainer you or your child is wearing, you should not use hot water under any circumstances. A common mistake parents make when cleaning retainers is placing them in a dishwasher. The heat from this can warp the plastic components, making them unwearable.

Boiling water will also damage retainers, although to a lesser degree. Instead of using hot water, use lukewarm water.

Finally, it is strongly advised not to keep Hawley retainers in water for extended periods of time. The metal prongs that keep these braces aligned with your teeth can corrode, rendering them useless.

Retainers Can Be Damaged by Chemicals

After wearing metal braces, children who wear retainers might think that these tooth alignment devices are just as invincible. While they are generally made out of metal and hard plastic, they’re not quite as indestructible as you might think.

Retainers are made out of porous materials, meaning that while they are built out of firm plastics and metals, they can also be damaged by many kinds of cleansers. Products containing alcohol, like mouthwash, can seriously damage the material when it dries out, rendering it less effective and more prone to breaking.

Baking soda is an effective method of cleaning retainers. However, it may damage metal components with overuse.

Toothpaste should not be used to clean Essix retainers. These contain abrasive materials for breaking down plaque and can damage the plastic.

Maintaining Retainers for Teeth

Like your teeth, retainers also need to be taken care of to remain hygienic.

Hawley retainers should generally be kept in a moist environment, like the mouth. As a retainer dries, bacteria thrive and can damage your retainer the longer it remains uncleaned.

Always keep a retainer case on you. This will help prevent bacterial buildup when they are removed from your mouth, and also prevent you from losing it.

Dental Lab Direct Offers Direct-to-Door Retainers for You and Your Family

Maintaining your retainers with thorough cleaning will help ensure the lifetime of your retainer. Neglecting to wear a retainer for extended periods of time can render them ineffective, as they will no longer conform to the shape of your teeth. For this reason, it is essential to keep your retainer intact so teeth don’t shift out of alignment.

Have you broken or lost your retainer? Dental Lab Direct can help. We offer online retainers that are delivered directly to your door at a tremendous cost savings. Simply take an impression of your mouth, and within three weeks a retainer will be delivered to you. Contact us today to learn more about our services, or browse our offerings here.