What is a retainer?
A retainer is a dental tool designed to shape the outline of your teeth. Retainers are designed to fit perfectly into your mouth and reposition your teeth so that they are well-aligned. They are made with a rubber ring that glides over the anterior of your teeth into your mouth.
The hold of a retainer on the teeth is quite firm. Some retainers clasp directly onto certain braces, depending on your preference. According to orthodontists, it is recommended to use retainers after having your braces removed.
In America over 5 million people use braces. After having your braces removed, it is advisable to start using retainers as a final step of your alignment treatment. It is also advisable to wear your retainer several hours in a row, preferably at night, to get the results you are looking for.
Different Types Of Retainers
There are quite a few types of retainers on the market, including:
1. Hawley Retainers
These are detachable retainers and they are commonly known for the hard material and wire used in their production.
2. Clear Essix Retainers
These kinds of retainers are also detachable and are mostly made of transparent material.
3. Permanent/Fixed Retainers
These are mainly custom-fitted retainers that are normally bound to the inner side of your teeth. To install or remove these types of retainers you have to visit your orthodontist.
What is the work of a retainer?
Retainers are designed to support your teeth. When you have crooked teeth, you will first use braces to adjust and align your dental formula. Once the braces have finished their job and have been removed, it is now time for your orthodontist to prescribe you a retainer. As such, retainers are used after you have removed your braces to help your teeth conform to their new position.
Normally, teeth move around your mouth, when talking, chewing, biting, swallowing, or conducting any movement at all. As such, the position of your teeth is never stagnant throughout your life. Nothing can stop this movement, but if worn properly retainers help hold your teeth down, which is quite useful for anyone trying to align their teeth.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a retainer?
Retainers are quite good for aesthetics, but there are some advantages and disadvantages to using them that may not be obvious. Let’s look at below pros and cons before buying retainers:
Advantages of Retainers
- It aligns our teeth to give us a beautiful smile
- It strongly holds down our teeth to prevent movement and help keep the teeth in their new position
Disadvantages of Retainers
- They are quite fragile, which means you must handle them with care otherwise you will likely damage them
- They require regular maintenance, failure to which they will become damaged and most likely affect the overall health of your mouth
- It requires a lot of discipline due to the precise cleaning guidelines and the fact that if you stop wearing it, your teeth will naturally fall back to their original state.
How long do you have to wear a retainer?
Once installed, the retainer holds your teeth firmly in place to prevent or limit their movement. If you are using removable retainers, you may have to wear them for at least 12 months before you can be cleared to remove them. Daily, you can wear your retainer for 12-23 hours depending, which makes it pretty easy for bacterial build-up.
How to clean your retainer properly?
The first step to take whenever you take off your retainer is to rinse it. Rinsing helps get rid of all the saliva and reduces bacteria build-up to a minimum. You should do this daily.
Practice a weekly deep cleaning procedure for your retainer. You can pick a day for this, but always ensure to wash your retainer using dish soap, hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, or baking soda every once a week.
Properly cleaning your retainer ensures that you always maintain a fresh breath and avoid infections that could result from getting a cut or sore in your mouth. There are quite a few ways to maintain proper retainer hygiene, and they are listed below.
Best Way: Clean your retainer with water
The best way to clean your retainer is definitely by using water. Once you remove it, soak it in warm water. Always be very accurate about the water temperature since you don’t want to soak it in hot water as it may become distorted. Leave it in the water for a few minutes before introducing it to a toothbrush with soft bristles.
Once you remove it from the warm water, brush its surface gently with your soft-bristled brush. Your brush should not have any fragrance, coloration, or flavor. Your retainer is made from acrylic material, which is quite fragile when introduced to harsh conditions. As such, it is important to avoid:
- Using hot water
- Soaking your retainer for extended periods
- Using a coarse toothbrush or a rough cleaning material
- Rubbing too hard when brushing your retainer
- Using normal soap could be highly toxic. You could use Castile soap as it is less toxic, and thus more suitable.
If you don’t want to remove your retainer, you can still clean it while it’s still in your mouth. Take a sizable sip of lukewarm water, and let it sit in your mouth for a few minutes before swirling and spitting it out.
Filling up a syringe with some clean, warm water, squirting it out, and then using air pressure to blow it out is quite effective in eliminating food particles and avoiding build-up between the wires. After cleaning your retainer, you can then remove it and allow it to dry naturally, or use a clean piece of cloth to pat it dry.
How to clean your retainer with Toothpaste, Mouthwash, and Dental Floss?
According to orthodontists, it is recommended to brush your teeth using toothpaste and rinse off your mouth with mouthwash just before taking out your retainer. Go ahead and place your retainer on a soft piece of cloth and brush it gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Doing this is necessary to remove food particles and plaque that may still be clinging to your retainer.
Dental floss is quite useful as it can go in between the grooves of your retainer to remove any leftover food particles. Be careful not to use dental floss on the wire framework of your retainer. A tongue scraper or a u-shaped metal tool are both better suited for the task as they will easily remove any bacteria from your tongue, both underneath and above it.
Once that’s done, you will realize it becomes much easier to brush out any dirt that has built up on your retainer. It is now time to rinse and dry out your retainer before placing it back into your mouth. Ensure you have completely rinsed out all the toothpaste and mouthwash, before using a soft towel to dry your retainer.
It is recommended to clean your retainer every time you brush your teeth by softly brushing it with a soft toothbrush. Make sure you thoroughly clean it at least once every week.
How to clean your retainer with baking soda?
Pre-mix your solution by adding some lukewarm water into baking soda and then dip your retainer in there. Leave it soaked for at least 15 minutes before removing it and using a soft toothbrush to clean it. Rinse thoroughly with a saline solution to ensure you have gotten rid of all the baking soda grit.
In case there are any hidden food particles after the wash, the saline solution should help draw them out to leave you with a clean and fresh retainer. Feel free to use any brand of saline solution available to you. The most important part is ensuring that you have removed all the baking soda, so be thorough with the rinsing process.
If you are using Hawley retainers, baking soda could easily destroy the welded metal parts. Be careful with this cleaning procedure if you have either fixed, bonded, or lingual wire retainers. You can still use the baking soda method, but you must be extremely cautious by reducing the amount of baking soda in the solution and the frequency you use this particular cleaning method.
Those using polyurethane and plastic retainers have nothing to worry about, in fact, this cleaning method can be pretty sufficient. Since these retainers are not made with solder metal, they will not react to the baking soda solution.
Things to avoid when cleaning your retainer
Never clean your retainer using toothpaste or anything you may consider abrasive. Your retainer will likely come out scratched, which is not healthy for you as bacteria can easily build up and give your retainer a cloudy appearance.
Your retainer is quite fragile, as such, it is not advisable to run it through hot water or even through a dishwasher. It could easily melt or become distorted
Avoid using mouthwash, alcohol, or even bleach on your retainer. The chemicals contained in these substances could easily cause your retainer to distort.
Why do we need to maintain our retainer regularly?
Regularly maintaining our retainers is not only good for ensuring a long lifespan for these devices, but also for maintaining the overall health of our mouths. It is recommended to clean your retainer at least once every day. You should also do a thorough cleaning of your retainer weekly; it is best to set a day for it.
Regular maintenance of our retainers helps us curb bacterial growth and imminent infections in case of a cut or any injury within the mouth. Besides, poor care can lead to:
- Bad breath/smell
- Tiny white spots
- Foul taste
- Cloudy appearance
- Layer of film
Besides, if you fail to clean your retainer regularly, it becomes even more difficult to clean due to the piled-up plaque that has probably already hardened. Also as food and bacteria accumulate in the grooves of your retainer, it will likely start irritating your gums, cutting them, and even causing them to recede, which is never a good thing. You want to maintain a healthy mouth; so maintain a clean retainer.
It is important to keep your retainer clean and without any odor at all times. However, most cleaning methods out there will leave your retainer scratched, creating room for bacteria to grow and hide.
Mildly clean your retainer daily, and set apart a day for a thorough cleaning every week. If you are not sleeping with your retainer in your mouth, always ensure to soak it in clean, distilled water to keep it fresh and moist. You don’t want any food particles to dry on your retainer, which is what will happen if you leave it open and dry.
If you are not sure about how to go about the cleaning process, you can choose to take it to your dentist, who will likely do a great job cleaning it for you. If you choose to do it yourself, avoid using harmful chemicals or even hot water.
Properly caring for your retainer should ensure that it serves you effectively and for a long time. Your mouth will also be grateful for the proper care and it will remain healthy throughout your retainer-use duration.
Q. Why do we need retainers?
Ans: We need to start wearing retainers after removing braces so that they can hold the teeth in their new place.
Q. Is baking soda good for protecting your retainer from bacteria?
Ans: Yes. Cleaning your retainer with baking soda is advisable as it neutralized the pH of your mouth to make it unconducive to bacteria.
Q. Does it help to keep your retainer moist whenever it is not in your mouth?
Ans: Definitely. Allowing your retainer to dry out creates room for tartar to bind to it.
Q. Which is the most natural way to clean my retainer?
Ans: You can never go wrong with white vinegar. Soak your retainer in a white vinegar solution for no less than 15 minutes before cleaning it and thoroughly rinsing it.
Q. Is it safe to brush my retainer?
Ans: Brushing can be quite tricky, and thus must be approached with utmost care and precision. Ensure to use a very soft toothbrush if you must brush it, and be very gentle with the brushing to avoid scratching your retainer.
Q. Is my hand hygiene important when handling my retainer?
Ans: Yes. If your hands are not clean, you can easily transfer germs to your retainer and into your mouth too. Always wash your hands clean before and after handling your retainer.
Q. Is there any particular storage for my retainer?
Ans: Consult with your orthodontist to help you acquire the best storage for your retainer especially during those night hours when you have it off. Ensure you understand your retainer needs before leaving your orthodontist’s office: some retainers need to be dried out while others need to be soaked when they are not in your mouth.
Q. Is it a hazard to have pets around my retainer?
Ans: Well, if you have a dog, it might easily chew and destroy your retainer. As such, it is advisable to store it away from your pets.