Orthodontic Retention

You've worked hard for your beautiful smile; keep it that way!

Finally, your braces have been removed and your smile is beautiful, straight, and best of all, metal-free! However, your orthodontic journey isn't quite completed. To keep your smile looking its best, you'll have to wear a retainer to preserve and stabilize your results. Retainers are needed to control or limit potential changes in tooth position. They are used after braces treatment to hold teeth in their correct alignment while the surrounding gums, bone, and muscle adjust to the new positioning of your teeth.

Types of Retainers

Retainers are custom-made and can be removable or fixed.

  • Traditional removable retainers typically include a metal wire that surrounds the front teeth and is attached to an acrylic arch that sits in the roof of the mouth. 
  • Aligner-style retainers (Essix retainers), look similar to clear aligners and offer a more aesthetic alternative to wire retainers. This clear retainer usually fits over the entire arch of your teeth. It is produced from a mold of your newly aligned teeth.
  • Fixed retainers consist of wires bonded behind the bottom and/or top teeth.  We usually only recommed fixed retainers in very specific situations as they are very challenging to clean around.

Pros and Cons

  • Removable retainers can be taken out for eating and hygiene routines.
  • Removable retainers can get lost easily, so remember to keep yours in the case whenever you remove it to eat or brush.
  • Teeth with fixed retainers require a little extra attention to remove tartar while flossing. Patients with fixed retainers often must use floss threaders to pass dental floss through the small spaces between the retainer and the teeth.

Cleaning your Retainers

Do’s for Cleaning your Retainer

Do brush your retainer under cool or warm water. You might think that hot water will get rid of bacteria better. However, really hot water can warp your retainer, causing it to lose its custom shape. And if your retainer doesn’t retain its fit, your teeth may not be getting the retention they need.

Try a paste of water and baking soda. A paste of water and baking soda is a gentle yet effective everyday retainer cleaner. It kills odors, bacteria build-up, and plaque on your retainer without using chemicals. Make a mix of 50/50 water to baking soda — the mixture should be thick enough to stick to your retainer. Brush the paste inside and outside your retainer, then rinse off with cool or warm water. 

Make a fresh batch of baking soda/water paste every time you clean your retainer. That way, you minimize bacteria in the paste from the last time you dipped your toothbrush into it. 

Do soak your retainer in a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide. Make a 50/50 solution of warm water and 3% hydrogen peroxide. This solution helps take away yellowness in your retainer and kills bacteria, but it doesn’t remove plaque build-up. Ensure the plaque is gone by first brushing your retainer with the baking soda paste above. Soak your retainer in this solution for 30 minutes and rinse well with warm water before putting the retainer into your mouth. 

Or soak with water and vinegar. If you don’t have hydrogen peroxide at home, you can use vinegar instead. Make a solution of 50% warm water and 50% white vinegar. Soak your retainer for 20 minutes and rinse well so you don’t taste the vinegar! 

Do use a premade retainer cleaner. You can find many ready-made retainer cleaners at the drugstore if you prefer not to make your own. We understand that some patients like the convenience of a commercial product and feel more comfortable with it. 

So how do you clean retainers with a store-bought cleaner? Most come in tablets; you simply drop one of these retainer cleaner tablets into water to activate its cleaning power. Submerge your retainer for the amount of time instructed. Retainer cleaner tablets result in clean-looking retainers, minimal to no odor, and no more bacteria. 

Do drink lots of water. Water helps wash away food debris and sugars from your teeth and retainer. Food debris and sugars cause bacteria to increase and acids to weaken your tooth enamel. Weakened tooth enamel makes your teeth more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities. So long story short, water keeps oral bacteria at bay. Water also helps prevent dry mouth, which is linked to tooth decay.  And a dried-out retainer is more prone to damage and hardened plaque.

Do keep your retainer case clean. Bacteria can thrive in your retainer case just as much as on your retainer. Clean your case with mild dish soap once or twice a week, then wipe with a clean paper towel or cloth. 

Don’ts for Cleaning your Retainer

Don’t clean your retainer with disinfectant wipes. You know, like the kind you’d use to wipe counters and other surfaces. These wipes say they kill most bacteria, but it’s not the same kind as the bacteria on your retainer. Plus, the chemicals in these wipes will harm your teeth and leave an unpleasant taste on your retainer.

Don’t rinse or soak with scalding hot water. As we mentioned earlier, hot or boiling water can warp your retainer. A retainer that has lost its original shape can change the positioning of your teeth, moving them into new misalignment or allowing your teeth to shift back towards their old spots. 

Don’t use mouthwash as a retainer cleaner. You might have noticed that the wall of mouthwashes at your local drugstore is quite colorful. As nice as it is to look at, the color in your favorite mouthwash can stain your retainer’s plastic, so don’t soak your retainer with mouthwash.

Don’t brush your retainer with toothpaste. Toothpaste can be too abrasive on your retainer, scratching or dulling the plastic.

Don’t store it without a case. It’s worth the extra few seconds to place your retainer in its case. Leaving your retainer out on its own or even wrapped in a tissue or napkin can dry it out, and as we mentioned previously, a dry retainer is more prone to breakage and plaque. In addition, dogs see retainers as the best chew toy that they could ever have, so keep them away from your pets!