Why Cleaning & Caring for a Retainer Is Important

Orthodontic treatment is a lifelong commitment: true or false? You might be tempted to answer “false,” but this statement is absolutely true! Although you won’t wear braces or clear aligners for the rest of your life, the Tilghman Orthodontics team recommends wearing your retainer around the clock for the first year and then at nighttime for a lifetime to keep your smile straight, happy, and healthy – and that’s why cleaning and caring for your retainer is so important! Keep reading to learn why you need a retainer, what happens if you neglect it, and how to take care of it, so it lasts as long as possible. 

Why Do I Need a Retainer?

No orthodontic treatment plan is complete without a retainer. This is why. 

Many patients believe treatment ends on debonding day, but wearing your retainer is one of the most important aspects of your comprehensive treatment plan at Tilghman Orthodontics. That’s because straightening your smile requires two key phases: active treatment and retention. 

Active treatment includes the time spent wearing your braces or clear aligner trays when your orthodontist is still working to shift your teeth in line. Once your smile is straight, however, treatment is only halfway over. In fact, the retention phase is meant to last the rest of your life and requires the consistent use of a retainer to keep your teeth straight for years to come. 

After we remove your braces, we recommend wearing your retainer 23 hours per day for twelve months post-debond. Your teeth are the most susceptible to shifting during this time, and wearing your retainer for this extended period will allow your jaw bones to more permanently settle into their new positions. 

However, orthodontic treatment isn’t a permanent solution, and you’ll always need to wear a retainer if you want to keep your smile results. Our orthodontists suggest wearing them every night for life after the initial twelve-month period, so you can keep smiling with confidence. 

The Importance of Caring for Your Retainer

Without a retainer, your teeth could shift back into their old positions. Keeping your retainer safe is your first line of defense against orthodontic relapse. 

The overarching reason for taking care of your retainer is that doing so will extend the appliance’s life, saving you money, time, and energy. However, there are a few specific reasons to keep up with your retainer maintenance routine. 

Retainers Can Become Misshapen

Wearing your retainer doesn’t just keep your smile straight – it also keeps your appliance useful. If they aren’t worn properly for the recommended number of hours per day, your teeth could shift. When your teeth shift, your retainer won’t match your smile, and you might require a replacement to bring them back into alignment. 

Try This: Wear Your Retainer to Keep Its Shape

This is the simplest way to maintain your appliance’s effectiveness – just wear your retainer. Doing so will ensure that your retainer lasts longer and holds your teeth in line, leaving you with a smile you’ll love for a lifetime. 

Why Cleaning & Caring for a Retainer Is Important

Retainers Dry Out

Retainers thrive in a moist environment, which is why keeping them in your mouth as often as directed protects the appliance as much as it protects your straight smile. After the twelve-month period following debonding, you’ll only wear your retainer at night, meaning the appliance is at risk of drying out. 

Dry retainers attract bacteria that can cause bad breath or introduce cavities to your mouth. They can also become brittle, leaving them at risk of breaking, which would require getting a replacement retainer. 

Try This: Soak Your Retainer to Prevent Dryness
Keeping your retainer inside its retainer case when it isn’t in your mouth certainly helps prevent dryness, but it isn’t enough. Even in its case, your retainer could be exposed to dry air that could harm it. Your best bet is to try this simple, orthodontist-approved solution: baking soda and water. By soaking your appliance in this solution once per week, you’ll ensure that it doesn’t dry out and crack. 

Dirty Retainers Age Faster & Harm Your Smile

Keeping your retainer clean is essential to protecting its longevity and use value. Just like your teeth, dirty retainers attract bad bacteria and plaque that could break down the appliance’s material and cause bad breath. 

Try This: Clean Your Retainer Regularly with the Right Solution

First thing’s first: don’t brush your teeth with your retainer on! While this statement may seem counterintuitive, the toothpaste you’ve got on your toothbrush will erode some of the material that makes up your retainer. When you clean with toothpaste, little deposits can form on your device, leaving room for bacteria to grow. 

Instead, your doctors at Tilghman Orthodontics recommend that you opt for a white vinegar solution. By cleaning your retainer at least once per week with a mixture of white vinegar and distilled water, not only will you keep your device from drying out, but the vinegar will also kill the bacteria that can age the retainer or cause bad breath. You may want to set a reminder for one day each week to help yourself remember to soak your retainer. Remembering to do so will definitely pay off in the long run. 

Why Cleaning & Caring for a Retainer Is Important

Improve Your Smile, Change Your Life

It’s true that active treatment won’t last forever, but the retention phase will. Wearing a retainer as directed is the best way to avoid the need for retreatment in the future, and your smile will thank you. Be sure to follow these tips and take extra good care of your retainer, and don’t forget to call us if you have any questions!