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What is a Retainer? How To Clean Your Retainer?

What is a Retainer? How To Clean A Retainer?


What is a retainer?

Before learning how to clean your retainer, let’s understand what it is. A retainer is a dental device that helps shape your teeth. It fits perfectly in your mouth and aligns your teeth properly. It’s made of a rubber ring that covers the front of your teeth and fits inside your mouth.



The grip of this teeth maintenance tool is strong. Some retainers attach directly to braces, depending on your needs. Orthodontists suggest using a retainer after your braces come off.

In the U.S., over 5 million people use braces. After removing the braces, using a retainer is the final step in your treatment. It’s best to wear your retainer for several hours straight, preferably at night, to see the best results.

Different Types of Retainers

There are several types of retainers available, 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?

This is designed to support your teeth. When you have crooked teeth, you will first use braces to adjust and align your dental formula. Once your braces finish their work and are taken off, your orthodontist will suggest a retainer for your teeth. As such, retainers are used after you have removed your braces to help your teeth conform to their new position.

Typically, your teeth shift within your mouth as you speak, eat, bite, swallow, or make any other movement. Therefore, the alignment of your teeth is constantly changing over your lifetime. Nothing can stop this movement, but if worn properly this helps hold your teeth down, aiding those seeking alignment.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a retainer?

These are great for aesthetics, but there are some advantages and disadvantages to using them that may not be obvious. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons below 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?

After installation, it securely keeps your teeth in place to restrict their movement. For removable retainers, you should wear them consistently for a minimum of 12 months before discontinuing use. Daily wear can range from 12 to 23 hours, which can create an environment conducive to bacterial growth.

How to clean your retainer properly?

The first step whenever you remove your retainer is to rinse it. This helps eliminate saliva and significantly reduces bacterial buildup. Make sure to do this every day.

Additionally, practice a weekly deep cleaning routine for your retainer. You can choose a specific day for this task, but be sure to clean your retainer using dish soap, hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, or baking soda at least once a week.

Properly cleaning your retainer ensures fresh breath and helps prevent infections that could result from cuts or sores in your mouth. Here are several methods to maintain proper retainer hygiene:

  • Daily Rinsing: Rinse your retainer with lukewarm water immediately after removing it to wash away saliva and reduce bacteria.
  • Brush Gently: Use a soft toothbrush with mild soap to brush your retainer gently every day.
  • Weekly Soak: Soak your retainer in a cleaning solution such as a mixture of water and white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or baking soda once a week.
  • Avoid Heat: Never expose your retainer to hot water, which can warp its shape.
  • Store Properly: Always store your retainer in its protective case when not in use to keep it clean and prevent damage.

By following these steps, you’ll maintain good oral hygiene and ensure your retainer stays in excellent condition.

Best Way: Clean your retainer with water

The best way to clean clean your teeth protector 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 dental guard for extended periods
  • Using a coarse toothbrush or a rough cleaning material
  • Rubbing too hard when brushing your dental guard
  • Using normal soap could be highly toxic. You could use Castile soap as it is less toxic, and thus more suitable.

In-Mouth Cleaning

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?

Orthodontists suggest brushing your teeth with toothpaste and rinsing with mouthwash right before removing your dental guard. Afterward, place your dental guard on a soft cloth and gently brush it with a soft-bristled toothbrush. This step is crucial for removing food particles and plaque that may still cling to your retainer.

Dental floss is quite useful as it can go in between the grooves of your teeth protector to remove any leftover food particles. Be careful not to use dental floss on the wire framework of your teeth protector. A tongue scraper or a U-shaped metal tool will easily remove any bacteria from your tongue, both underneath and ab

Once that’s done, you will realize it becomes much easier to brush out any dirt that has built up on your dental guard. It is now time to rinse and dry out your dental guard 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 teeth protector.

We recommend cleaning your retainer every time you brush your teeth by gently 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?

Mix your solution by combining lukewarm water with baking soda, then immerse your retainer in the mixture. Allow it to soak for a minimum of 15 minutes before taking it out and using a gentle toothbrush to scrub it. Rinse it well with a saline solution to make sure all the baking soda residue is gone.

After washing, if you discover any concealed food particles, utilize saline solution to assist in their removal, leaving your dental guard clean and fresh. Any brand of saline solution is suitable for this purpose. Make sure all the baking soda is completely removed by being diligent in 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 teeth protectors. 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 dental guards have nothing to worry about, in fact, this cleaning method can be pretty sufficient. Since these dental guards 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 teeth protector using toothpaste or anything you may consider abrasive. Your teeth protector will likely come out scratched, which is not healthy for you as bacteria can easily build up and give your dental guard a cloudy appearance.

Your dental guard 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 dental guard. 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 teeth protector at least once every day. You should also do a thorough cleaning of your teeth protector 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 dental guard 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 dental guard, 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 dental guard.


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 dental guard daily, and set apart a day for a thorough cleaning every week. If you are not sleeping with your teeth protector 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 teeth protector, 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 teeth protector 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 dental guard with baking soda is advisable as it neutralizes 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 teeth protector 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 dental guard 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 requires utmost care and precision because it can be quite tricky. Make sure to use an ultra-soft toothbrush when brushing, and be extremely gentle to prevent any scratching of your dental guard.

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 teeth protector and into your mouth too. Always wash your hands clean before and after handling your teeth protector.

Q. Is there any particular storage for my retainer?

Ans: Consult with your orthodontist to help you acquire the best storage for your dental guard, especially during those night hours when you have it off. Make sure you grasp your dental guard requirements before departing your orthodontist’s office: some retainers require drying out, while others necessitate soaking when 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.



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