A person holding a pair of retainers, demonstrating care and cleaning on a blue background.

If you’ve had braces, you know the excitement and anticipation of getting them off! It’s a huge moment to unveil your newly straight, pearly whites, and enjoy eating all the foods that have been off-limits for so long. While it’s definitely a moment worth celebrating, don’t let the excitement get the better of you so that you forget the next phase of your treatment: your retainer!

Dr. Neil and Dr. Diana know a thing or two about retainers and how useful they are to keep your teeth straight long after the braces come off. It’s not only important to continue wearing your retainer as instructed, but you also need to take excellent care of them. When your retainer is well maintained, it can be used for many years to come.

Why Are Retainers Important?

A retainer is the last and longest part of your orthodontic treatment. Once your braces are off, a retainer is worn to keep the teeth from shifting. That’s why being diligent about wearing and maintaining your retainer is so important. No one wants you to lose those straight teeth that you’ve invested so much time, effort, and money into!

Depending on your unique needs, your orthodontist will typically recommend a fixed retainer, a Hawley retainer, or an Essix retainer. We’ll get into the details of those unique retainers in a minute, but regardless of what kind of retainer you have, it’s important to wear them as often as your orthodontist recommends. It’s also necessary to keep them immaculately clean.

Why Do You Need to Keep Retainers Clean?

There’s a reason you’ve been taught to brush and floss your teeth every day. Oral hygiene is essential to maintaining strong, healthy teeth throughout your life, as well as preventing bacteria, plaque, and tartar buildup. You need to keep your retainer clean for the same reasons. Retainer hygiene equals oral hygiene. Plus it will be much easier for you to stay committed to wearing your retainer when it’s nice and clean rather than it becoming dingy and smelly!

Types of Retainers and How to Clean Them

Fixed retainers

A fixed retainer is exactly what it sounds like: a retainer that stays fixed onto your teeth. Unlike braces that are secured onto each individual tooth with brackets and wire, a fixed retainer is typically only fixed onto a few teeth and is bent along the inside of your bite so that it’s invisible to others. This type of retainer helps to prevent unwanted tooth movement but does not replace the need for nightly removable retainer wear so your teeth maintain their position.

Brush thoroughly twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste, taking extra care to go around the retainer to scrub out stuck food particles and plaque. When flossing, use the floss threader that is given to you when you have braces to thread the floss underneath the wire. Then proceed as usual!

Hawley retainers

The Hawley retainer has been around for a long time but it is still recommended by orthodontists depending on the case. A Hawley retainer is an acrylic piece made from an intraoral scan or impression of your teeth and mouth.  A Hawley retainer fits securely onto the roof of your mouth or along your bottom teeth.

Caring for these retainers is straightforward, and starts with a simple rinse in lukewarm water when you remove them to put them away. Rinsing helps remove some of the surface saliva that can otherwise dry onto the retainer and make it more difficult to clean later. And always use lukewarm water because hot water can warp the acrylic!

After rinsing, Dr. Neil and Dr. Diana recommend grabbing a toothbrush that you only use for retainers, and scrubbing your retainer with either alcohol-free mouthwash or hand soap. That way you’ll be killing bad bacteria and scrubbing off any buildup or residue. Just rinse well afterward to avoid getting any soap in your mouth later.

If you notice a white build-up on your Hawley retainer, that can be easily remedied with a soak in a denture solution like Polident or another retainer soaking fluid. This fluid should help break up any buildup that you can then easily brush and rinse off.

Essix retainers

An Essix retainer looks just like an Invisalign aligner, except it’s at the end of the treatment and not meant to shift your teeth. It is designed to hold your teeth in place while you wear it, and is nearly invisible with the clear, firm plastic tray.

Cleaning an Essix retainer is similar to how you clean your Hawley retainer: use lukewarm water to rinse, and scrub with a reserved toothbrush and cleaning solution. Because Essix retainers have deep grooves, be sure to scrub well, and soak in a retainer solution often to reduce buildup over time.

Why Cleaning and Caring for a Retainer is Important

New England Orthodontic Specialists Can Help Keep You on Track!

If you’re ready for your own ‘before and after’ moment, the team at New England Orthodontic Specialists is ready to help you get there! From braces, Invisalign, retainers, and whatever specialized care you might need, you will find it here. Schedule a free consultation at one of our four office locations in the Boston area to get started!