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How Do I Clean My Retainer?

A retainer is in a glass full of mouthwash

Wearing your retainer may be the last step in your orthodontic treatment—but it is a very important one! Why? Because contrary to what you might think, your teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in place in your jaw; instead, they can actually (slowly) move around—whether you’re an adolescent, a young adult, or a senior citizen. In fact, that’s how your orthodontist was able to get your teeth into better positions. Wearing a retainer will help prevent your teeth from drifting out of the perfect alignment you just spent time (and money) moving them into.

Keeping that retainer clean and undamaged will ensure that it functions properly and does not cause oral hygiene problems. Plus, a clean, fresh-smelling retainer is a lot more pleasant to put into your mouth! You may think that a quick daily rinse is all it needs—but the fact is, that’s not enough to keep your retainer free of the bacteria that can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and mouth odors. Here are a few simple steps that can help you clean this appliance effectively.

The Tools

To clean your retainer you will need a toothbrush—but not the one you use on your teeth, because you will be putting soap on this one. Buy a soft-bristled brush just to use for this purpose. You can choose a brush made for cleaning dentures, which is somewhat bigger than a toothbrush if you prefer. You will also need some liquid soap. Dishwashing liquid works great, as does antibacterial hand soap. Denture cleaners are also fine, but they are more expensive than liquid soap, which does the same thing.

The Technique

Put just a little bit of soap on the brush and add lukewarm water to make a lather. Cradle the retainer in your hand as you use the soapy brush to gently scrub all of its surfaces thoroughly. When you are done, rinse the retainer well to remove the soap film; you don’t want it to have a soapy taste when you place it back into your mouth. The clean retainer should either go right into your mouth or into its case. Make sure to store the device in a safe place, away from heat and pets.

What NOT to do

It is possible to go overboard in trying to disinfect a retainer. For example, boiling water should never be used as it can cause the retainer to distort. Your retainer was made to fit your newly aligned teeth exactly, so maintaining its shape is crucial. Likewise, using bleach to clean a retainer is not advisable, because it can degrade the plastic base and also give the retainer a strong, unpleasant odor. Even regular toothpaste should not be used as a retainer cleanser because it has abrasive particles that can scratch the plastic, creating tiny nooks in which odor-causing bacteria can hide.

Keeping your retainer fresh and clean—the right way—will keep you on the path toward good oral hygiene and a beautiful smile.

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