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Cleaning Plastic Retainers

If you have received full orthodontic treatment to straighten your teeth, whether using braces, Invisalign, or alternatives, afterwards you will need to wear a retainer for a recommended time to be sure your new smile is maintained. Not wearing it every day can result in the teeth starting to move back to their original positions.

Basic Cleaning is Important

But wearing it daily also means the retainer will be collecting bacteria that can turn into the sticky film called plaque, which causes periodontal (gum) disease and cavities, so it has to have a basic cleaning at the end of each day (plaque can harden into tartar otherwise, which is much more difficult to remove).

Cleaning Prevents the Buildup of Bacteria

Most retainers are made of biocompatible plastic and you need to use an approach that will clean, but not harm it. If retainers are scratched by something too harsh, that creates areas for the bacteria to accumulate. They are porous, so harsh chemicals can be absorbed and be dangerous to your oral health, including irritation of your lungs, eyes, and skin, as well as gastrointestinal system.

You can do a basic cleaning before you go to sleep, but indicators that a more thorough effort needs to be done include a bad smell coming from a retainer or spots of different colors on the plastic. 

These are tips from Dr. Song on how to safely clean a retainer:

  • Use cold or warm water to wash it off initially–hot water can distort the shape of the retainer.
  • Use a soft toothbrush to scrub it for one minute, but use a different one from the one you brush your teeth with twice a day. You can also use cotton swabs afterwards to eliminate spots. You can soak both first in liquid soap for a few minutes (castile soap is excellent).
  • Do not use a whitening toothpaste, which has abrasives.
  • Do not soak it in hydrogen peroxide, use distilled water (which will not deposit minerals) or a solution of half water and half white vinegar for a half hour, then rinse that off in cold running water. If brown or yellow spots remain (which are calcium deposits), get denture tablets sold at every convenience store and drop one into a cup of warm water and  let the retainer soak for 20 minutes, then scrub them off and rinse with cold running water.
  • A popular alternative is to use baking soda and water to create a paste, scrub the retainer with this, then rinse thoroughly.

Also remember to keep your retainer in its case when you are not wearing it, so that it does not accumulate bacteria from the air. To learn, contact our team today, we provide care to patients around Berkeley and the surrounding areas of El Cerrito, San Pablo, Richmond, Oakland, and more.