Cleaning your retainer: Your new routine

It’s exciting to see your teeth getting straightened while wearing clear aligners. It’s even more exciting to see the final results after your braces or Invisalign® treatment is done, and you’ve moved on to retainers. Whether you are still in treatment or your treatment is completed, your work isn’t done. It’s still incredibly important to maintain great oral hygiene, and that includes making sure you clean your Invisalign and retainers thoroughly. 

Oltjen Orthodontics offers self-ligating braces, clear braces and Invisalign in Overland Park and Olathe, Kansas, and we want you to have the smile of your dreams. We also want you to KEEP the smile of your dreams. That’s why we emphasize the importance of cleaning your Invisalign trays and retainers properly and thoroughly. Without proper hygiene, your perfect smile could be marred by tooth decay, cavities, infection, and even tooth loss. We want you to know why it’s so important and how to clean your Invisalign and retainers properly.

Why cleaning retainers and clear aligners is important

You already know how important it is to maintain good oral hygiene during and after your treatment with braces or Invisalign. It’s just as important to keep the devices that go into your mouth clean; otherwise, they can spread bacteria and trap plaque that can accelerate tooth decay and cause infection. 

You floss and brush your teeth daily because plaque builds up on your teeth, gums, tongue, and the rest of your mouth. Bacteria and tartar also build up on your teeth and gums, which is why brushing and flossing are so important. Without proper care, that same bacteria, plaque, and tartar will also build up on your retainers and clear aligners. 

Bacteria are naturally present in your mouth in mild quantities. Unclean dental appliances can accumulate bacteria each time you put the devices in your mouth. Some of that bacteria, such as Streptococcus, can cause mouth sores and other illnesses if they build up too much. You may also get a buildup of Candida albicans, a yeast that can accumulate on retainers or clear aligners and cause an infection.

Accumulating bacteria and yeast can be dangerous for a healthy person but even more dangerous for someone with a compromised immune system. Illness and infection from dirty appliances can lead to tooth loss, but they can also lead to serious illness. 

At Oltjen Orthodontics, we want to know if you experience any abnormal symptoms in your mouth, such as redness, swelling, pain, or bleeding. We’ll likely recommend that you see a dentist right away. 

What types of dental appliances do I need to keep clean?

What types of “dental appliances” are we talking about? Well, you want to keep anything that goes into your mouth as clean as possible. In this case, we’re talking about retainers and clear aligners. There are three main types of retainers, two of which are removable. 

Once your braces or Invisalign treatment is complete, you’ll likely get one of these three types of retainers:

  • Conventional Retainer — A combination of a custom-molded acrylic mouthpiece and wires that fit over your teeth to hold them in place. This retainer snaps onto and off your teeth easily and can be removed for easier cleaning.
  • Clear Retainers — These often go by Vivera, Essix, or just clear retainers. They look similar to an Invisalign tray, but they’re meant to keep your teeth in place rather than moving them. They can be removed for easy cleaning.
  • Fixed Retainers — This is a wire bonded permanently to the back of your teeth so they don’t move. The good thing about this type of retainer is that it usually can’t be seen (unless you yawn really big!). The downside is that tartar can build up easily around the retainer because it’s not removable. It is crucial to be extra vigilant to keep the area around the retainer clean and free of plaque. 

The other type of dental appliance is the clear aligner that’s used to provide orthodontic treatment instead of braces. There are different types of clear aligners, but Oltjen Orthodontics offers Invisalign and 3M Clarity clear aligners. They’re two of the top professional brands of clear aligners with tried-and-true reputations for delivering exceptional results. We recommend that our patients clean their Invisalign or Clarity trays regularly, rinse them every time they remove them and replace them in their mouths.

Cleaning retainers and clear aligners

As we’ve stated, it’s vital that you keep your dental appliances clean. There are several options to do this, depending on the situation. For example, if you remove your aligners or retainer briefly to eat, you should brush your teeth before putting them back into your mouth. As for retainers or aligners, you should at least rinse them in lukewarm water and lightly brush out any residue or debris before putting them in your mouth again. 

Here are a few more cleaning tips for you! 

  • Rinse ASAP! — Rinse out your retainers or clear aligners as soon as possible, preferably before they dry. This makes getting any plaque or debris off the appliances easier, especially if you’re just giving them a quick brush or rinse between meals. 
  • Don’t use toothpaste! — Toothpaste can be abrasive and can scratch your clear aligners, making them less clear. It will also scratch the acrylic on your retainers. 
  • Use dissolvable cleaners made for dental appliances — Retainer cleaners in the form of dissolvable tablets are available from most major retailers and pharmacies. There are similar tablets available for clear aligners. Dissolve the proper tablets in lukewarm water and follow package instructions. Denture cleansers aren’t recommended for retainers because they contain a substance called persulfate that can irritate your mouth. 
  • Other options available — If you can’t find or prefer not to use the tablets, different solutions can clean your retainers or clear aligners. Dissolve a tablespoon of baking soda into a cup of warm water, soak your retainers or aligners for thirty minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Another option is to dilute hydrogen peroxide in either warm water or distilled white vinegar. Or one more option is to use clear antibacterial soap (not colored, which can stain) in lukewarm water to clean your aligners. Be sure to rinse them thoroughly, as the soap can make you sick. 

Cleaning permanent retainers

It can be challenging to keep permanent retainers clean. Plaque and tartar can build up on them easily if they aren’t cleaned properly every day. It may take a bit of practice to get the hang of brushing and flossing with a permanent retainer, but the team at Oltjen Orthodontics is happy to give you a few pointers. 

A fixed retainer will be bonded on each end or bonded to each tooth. It’s a little easier to clean if the retainer is just bonded on the ends, but it is possible to clean underneath it. 

Our biggest tip for cleaning a permanent retainer: Get a floss threader. There are several brands available at most major retailers and pharmacies. The floss threader is a very thin piece of plastic with a large loop on end. You’ll thread the floss through the loop, then slide the other end through your teeth and under the retainer, much like threading a needle and sliding it through a cloth. 

Once you have the floss under the wire, you’ll floss normally, sliding the floss up and down and back and forth around each tooth. You’ll need to floss below the wire, then floss above it. You’ll also want to floss between the wire and the tooth. This is easier for retainers that are just bonded on each end, but it’s still possible for retainers bonded to the back of each front tooth. 

If you have trouble cleaning your fixed retainer, you can visit us at Oltjen Orthodontics, and we can give you a tutorial and a few added tips. 

Cleaning tips dos and don’ts

We’ve tossed a lot of information about cleaning retainers and clear aligners. Let’s consolidate it all to make it easier for you. Here are your dos and don’ts of cleaning your retainers or clear aligners. 

The dos

  • Do brush and floss your teeth regularly throughout your treatment and afterward. 
  • Do remove your Invisalign or 3M Clarity clear aligners to eat or drink anything but water. 
  • Do store your aligners in a case when they aren’t in your mouth. 
  • Do brush your teeth after eating or drinking, and put your clear aligners back into your mouth.
  • Do rinse your clear aligners thoroughly, preferably right after you remove them, before putting them back into your mouth.
  • Do wear your clear aligners at least 22 hours a day for them to be fully effective. 
  • Do use cleaning tablets made specifically for Invisalign or other clear aligners.
  • Do use cleaning tablets specifically for retainers. 
  • Do soak your clear aligners or retainers for the time specified on the packaging only.
  • Do rinse your clear aligners or retainers thoroughly after cleaning.
  • Do use safe cleaning products if the tablets aren’t available, such as diluted baking soda, white distilled vinegar, or clear antibacterial soap.
  • Do brush and floss around your permanent retainers.
  • Do use a floss threading tool to make flossing around your permanent retainer easier.
  • Do use a soft-bristled toothbrush with water only to clean stubborn debris from your retainers or clear aligners. 
  • Do use a cotton swab if you need to scrub debris from your clear aligners or retainers.

The don’ts

  • Don’t eat or drink anything but clear water with your clear aligners and retainers in your mouth.
  • Don’t drink coffee, tea, colored (flavored) water, or fruit juice with your clear aligners or retainers in, as these beverages will stain your clear aligners or retainers. 
  • Don’t wrap your clear aligners or retainers in a napkin when removing them. It’s too easy to accidentally throw them out.
  • Don’t forget to put your clear aligners or retainers back in your mouth after eating or drinking. Leaving them out too long regularly can extend your treatment time.
  • Don’t put your clear aligners or retainers back into your mouth without brushing your teeth first.
  • Don’t put your clear aligners or retainers into your mouth without rinsing or cleaning them first.
  • Don’t use toothpaste with retainers or clear aligners, as it is too abrasive and will scratch your appliance. 
  • Don’t use denture tablets to clean your appliances, as they are often too abrasive and may contain a substance that can irritate your mouth.
  • Don’t use regular or colored soap to clean your appliances, as they can stain and make you ill. 
  • Don’t skip cleaning your clear aligners or retainers daily. 
  • Don’t skip flossing, even if it is a bit more difficult with a permanent retainer.
  • Don’t use a sharp object to scrape debris from your clear aligners or retainers, as it can damage the appliance. 
  • Don’t use a toothbrush with anything other than soft bristles to clean your appliance, as non-soft-bristled toothbrushes can scratch your appliance. 
  • Don’t soak your clear aligners or retainers in anything other than lukewarm water. Hot water can cause your appliance to warp, which means it will need to be repaired or replaced.
  • Don’t hesitate to call if you have questions or concerns about cleaning your clear aligners or retainers.
  • Don’t hesitate to make an appointment if you damage or lose your clear aligners or retainers. 
  • Don’t hesitate to contact your dentist or orthodontist if you experience any pain, swelling, discomfort, or illness. Bad oral hygiene can lead to infection or illness, which should be treated immediately. 

Great oral hygiene creates a great smile!

It may seem like there’s a lot to remember when it comes to keeping your clear aligners or retainers clean, but it’s worth it in the long run. Once you settle into the routine of cleaning and maintaining your retainers or Invisalign, you will find the tasks much easier than you think. It’s worth it because the end result is a gorgeous smile you can proudly show off. 

If you find cleaning your clear aligners or retainers a challenge, contact Oltjen Orthodontics if you’re in the Olathe, KS, or Overland Park, KS, area. We would be happy to work with you and set up the best routine for maintaining great oral hygiene. We’ll also be there to help you maintain your appliances. We want you to achieve — and keep — the smile of your dreams!