a person cleans a retainer

How Do You Clean a Retainer?

Team Retainer

Plaque and bacteria accumulate on retainers the same way they do on the surfaces of your teeth, so it's important to keep them clean. While retainers themselves can't get cavities, the bacteria they harbor 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 daily oral hygiene routine, and it will ensure that your retainer lasts for many years.

How to Clean a Hawley Retainer

Hawley retainers are constructed of plastic or acrylic and use a thin metal wire to hold the teeth in place. These retainers are durable and long-lasting, and they're sometimes also used to make minor adjustments to your teeth after your braces have been removed.

If you wait too long to clean your Hawley retainer after you take it out in the morning, the plaque will harden and become difficult to remove. Use a soft-bristled brush and lukewarm water to clean the retainer; a light 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. To dissolve plaque and kill bacteria, soak your Hawley retainer in a specialized retainer cleaning solution once a week.

How to Clean an Essix Retainer

Essix retainers are clear plastic retainers that are molded to the contours of your teeth. They have the appearance of clear aligners, but the plastic is stronger for more durability since Essix retainers are meant to last for a few years, while aligners are designed to be discarded after a few weeks.

Cleaning Essix retainers is similar to cleaning Hawley retainers, with the primary difference being that there are more grooves and ridges to be cleaned. Brush your retainers with a soft bristled toothbrush and warm water after removing them, using mild dish soap to break down plaque deposits, if necessary. Cotton swabs can be used to clean areas that are difficult to reach with a toothbrush. Soak your retainers in a retainer cleaning solution once a week to disinfect them and loosen plaque buildup.

How to Clean a Fixed Retainer

Fixed retainers are metal wires that are permanently bonded to the backs of the teeth to keep them in place. Because you brush twice a day anyway, you may assume fixed retainers are the easiest to clean, but they're actually the hardest!

Brush around the wire whenever possible—after every meal is best—because food debris and bacteria can easily accumulate there throughout the day. Using a floss threader and dental floss, clean between each of the teeth attached to the retainer. Floss all the way down to the retainer wire, then clean to the gum line by threading the floss underneath the wire. This should be done every day to prevent plaque and tartar from accumulating, which can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

Learn More About Retainer Care

Do you have questions about how to care for your retainer? Contact us today to learn more or schedule an appointment.