Plaque and bacteria can build up on retainers just like they do on the surfaces of your teeth, so it's important to keep them clean. While your retainers can’t get cavities, that bacteria buildup can cause tooth decay and gum disease elsewhere in your mouth! The good news is that cleaning your retainer doesn’t add much time to your oral hygiene routine, and by doing so, you can make sure your retainer will last for years to come.
How to Clean a Hawley Retainer
Hawley retainers are made of plastic or acrylic and hold the teeth in place with a thin metal wire. These retainers are strong and durable; they're sometimes used after your braces have been removed to make refinements to your teeth.
Clean your Hawley retainer as soon as you take it out in the morning; if you wait too long, the plaque will harden, making it difficult to remove. Clean the retainer with a soft-bristled brush and lukewarm water; a mild dish soap can be used for a deeper clean, but toothpaste should be avoided because it can leave small scratches in the plastic base where bacteria can collect. Once a week, soak your Hawley retainer in a retainer cleaning solution to remove plaque and kill bacteria.
How to Clean an Essix Retainer
Essix retainers are clear plastic retainers that are molded to your teeth's shape. They have the appearance of clear aligners, but the plastic is thicker to give them more durability because, unlike aligners, Essix retainers are meant to last a few years.
Cleaning Essix retainers is similar to cleaning Hawley retainers, with the exception that extra care must be taken to ensure that every groove and ridge is fully cleaned. After removing your retainers, clean them with a soft bristled toothbrush and lukewarm water, using mild dish soap if needed. Cotton swabs can be used to clean hard-to-reach areas that a toothbrush can't clean. To sanitize your retainers and dislodge any stubborn plaque deposits, soak them in a retainer cleaning solution once a week.
How to Clean a Fixed Retainer
Fixed retainers are metal wires that are bonded to the backs of the teeth to keep them in place. You might think they'd be the easiest to clean because you brush twice a day already, but they're actually the most difficult!
To begin, clean around the wire anytime you brush, as plaque can easily accumulate there. After that, clean between each of the teeth attached to the retainer using a floss threader and dental floss. Floss all the way down to the retainer, then thread the floss underneath the wire and clean all the way down to the gum line. It's important to do this every single day to keep plaque and tartar at bay, which can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.