Nothing quite compares to the feeling of having your braces removed. Chances are, you’ve had metal-mouth for a couple of years, and have been counting down the days until you could eat a caramel apple or not feel the wire stabbing your cheek. While getting your braces off is cause for celebration, there is still an element of responsibility that is required, because now you need to worry about your retainer. 

Why You Need to Wear a Retainer

Your braces have been working hard to align your teeth into straight, neat rows where your teeth and gums align into a perfect bite. Moving teeth is a slow process. You probably noticed how slow your teeth moved when you’d ask your dentist or orthodontist every month, “How much longer until they come off?” and the answer was always a longer wait than you thought you could manage. Though teeth move slowly, not consistently wearing your retainer can cause your teeth to want to move back to their original, pre-braces state. It takes a couple of years to train them to stay where they are. Don’t go through the time and money of braces, just to fail to wear your retainer. 

Types of Retainers

There are three main types of retainers. It’s important to know what kind of retainer you have so you can properly take care of it. 

Hawley Wire Retainers: Hawley retainers are designed to have a metal wire that crosses over your teeth and a plastic shield that covers the roof of your mouth.

Essix Retainers: These retainers cover the entirety of your teeth with clear plastic. 

Permanent Retainers: Permanent retainers are metal wire glued to the backs of your teeth.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of retainer, but the overall benefit is that they will keep your teeth from moving. 

Wearing Your Retainer

Every mouth is different, and so is every dentist or orthodontist! You may be asked to wear your retainer for 22 hours a day—only taking it off to eat and clean it. Once your teeth seem stable, you might be asked to only wear it at night. Wearing your retainer is important and unless you want to go through the ordeal of braces again, you’ll wear it religiously. 

Cleaning Your Retainer

It would be nice if retainers could clean themselves and always stay shiny and clean… but that’s not the case. Even though you brush your teeth before you insert your retainer, plaque and tartar can still build-up. Not only does it dull the shiny metal or plastic, but it also makes it smell bad. Keeping your retainer free of bacteria and smelling nice makes it much easier to wear—and better for your teeth. Here are some easy, affordable ways to clean your retainer. 

  1. Rinse with warm water and gently scrub with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  2. Create a paste using water and baking soda to scrub with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  3. Soak your retainer in a glass with gentle dish or hand soap (like Castille) and rinse. 
  4. Mix one part water with one part vinegar and let the retainer soak in the mixture for 15 minutes.
  5. Use a commercial retainer cleaning solution.
  6. Take it to the dentist and ask them to clean it. 

How Not to Clean Your Retainer

  1. Don’t use toothpaste. It is abrasive and can create scratches on plastic. 
  2. Don’t over soak a Hawley retainer as it can corrode the metal.
  3. Never boil it or use a strong disinfectant. This can warp the retainer and bleach may create stains.
  4. Soaking it in mouthwash may seem effective as a cleaner, but it dries out the retainer which can cause the patient to also suffer from dry mouth. 
  5. Denture cleaners use a known allergen in their tablets which can also cause retainer discoloring.

Talking to your dentist about wearing your retainer and ways to take care of it can help you have a straighter, cleaner smile. Just don’t forget to wear it!