How to Effectively Clean Your Retainers: 6 Effective Methods

by Dr. Nimesh Patel
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Whether you opted for the traditional metal braces or the more aesthetically pleasing ceramic braces, achieving a straight, confident smile is just the first hurdle. Once your treatment is complete, your orthodontist will likely recommend wearing retainers to maintain your new smile.

These removable aligners require consistent cleaning to prevent the buildup of plaque and bacteria, which can lead to bad breath and staining. Here are the best 6 ways to keep your retainers sparkling clean and your smile healthy.

clean retainers in a container | mdphoto16 from Getty Images via
Photo credit: mdphoto16 from Getty Images via

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Why is There a Need to Clean Retainers? 

Owning a retainer comes with the responsibility of proper cleaning. Unsure about the best methods? Consult your dentist or orthodontist. Remember, the bacteria that build up on your teeth can thrive on your retainer too. Essentially, placing an unclean retainer in your mouth is like reintroducing those bacteria and plaque to your teeth and gums. To avoid this scenario, here are some easy-to-follow cleaning tips!

6 Ways to Clean Your Retainers

1. Avoid Hot Water When You Are Cleaning Your Retainers

While it might seem like hot water would kill more germs, it can actually bend your retainer out of shape. This can make it uncomfortable and less effective at keeping your teeth in place. Use cool or lukewarm water for rinsing instead.

2. Use a Toothpaste

Remember to brush your retainer along with your teeth as part of your daily routine. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and choose a non-whitening toothpaste to avoid any damage to the retainer. After brushing, give your retainer a good rinse before putting it back in your mouth.

After taking out your retainer, make sure to brush your teeth again to clean any areas that were covered by it. This extra step helps keep your mouth clean and prevents any buildup of plaque or bacteria.

3. Use Denture Cleaner

Using denture cleaner once in a while to clean a retainer is generally okay, especially if you don’t have other options available. But remember, using it too much can make the retainer turn yellow over time.

To clean your retainer with denture cleaner, start by rinsing it off, then let it soak in the cleaner for about 30 minutes. After that, gently scrub it with a soft toothbrush. If it still tastes like the cleaner after, keep rinsing until the taste goes away.

4. Try a Baking Soda Mix

For a simple and gentle everyday cleaning method, you can make a paste with water and baking soda. This mixture helps get rid of smells, bacteria, and plaque without using harsh chemicals. Mix equal parts water and baking soda to make a thick paste. Brush it onto your retainer, inside and out, then rinse with cool or warm water.

5. Using Vinegar for Cleaning

White vinegar is a gentle disinfectant known for its ability to remove odors and residues.

For a deep clean, create a vinegar solution by mixing equal parts white vinegar and warm water in a small container. Let your retainer soak in this solution for about 20 minutes.

For retainer surfaces covered in a film or mineral deposits, a soft toothbrush can be used to gently scrub the surface. Following this, rinsing the retainer with cold water is advised before soaking it once again for an additional 20 minutes.

Given the strong odor associated with vinegar, individuals may opt to clean their retainer outdoors or use a disposable dish to minimize the lingering scent.

6. Retainer Cleaning Products

For those preferring convenience, there are retainer cleaning products available from various manufacturers.

Follow the instructions on the packaging carefully. Some products may require the use of additional equipment or extended soaking times. Also, be mindful that certain cleaners may not be suitable for all types of retainers or individuals with sensitive teeth or gum issues.

Orthodontists can provide personalized recommendations for retainer cleaners based on individual needs.

pin on pinterest_how to clean retainers

What Happens if You Don’t Clean Your Retainers? 

Your retainer can gather bacteria, plaque, and tartar if you don’t clean it regularly. This buildup might cause it to smell or taste strange over time. 

Moreover, retainers can host harmful bacteria like Streptococcus species, including S. sanguinis, S. mitis, and S. salivarius, as well as Lactobacillus and Veillonella. While some bacteria are normal in the mouth, too many can cause health issues.

You might also come into contact with Candida albicans, a yeast found in the mouth. If it accumulates on your retainer, it could cause an infection.

While these bacteria and yeast may not be a big problem for people with a healthy immune system, those with weakened immunity should take extra care. If you notice any unusual symptoms in your mouth, such as redness, swelling, or other concerns, it’s important to let your healthcare provider know promptly.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How often should I clean my retainer?

For optimal retainer hygiene, it’s recommended to clean it daily, ideally coinciding with your regular teeth brushing routine. This helps remove any food particles and prevents bacteria buildup. Additionally, a more thorough cleaning with a retainer-specific solution is recommended at least once a week.

My retainer has this white film on it. What is it? 

That white film is most likely something called plaque. It’s a mix of leftover food bits, saliva, and bacteria that can build up if your retainer doesn’t get cleaned regularly. Brushing and soaking your retainer can help prevent plaque buildup, which can cause bad breath and other problems.

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