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5 tips to keep your retainer clean

by Dr. Nathan Coughlin

Keeping your retainer clean is not only hygienic but can ensure your teeth stay straight for years to come. As mentioned in Healthline, not take proper care of your retainer can harbor dangerous bacteria such as Streptococcus. Although those bacteria are present in the mouth, they can cause serious health concerns if they are present in excess amounts. 

Which type of retainer do you have?

There are three main types of retainers. All of them have their pros and cons, but which one do you have?
  1. Hawley retainer. These have acrylic on the inside and a metal wire on the outside. They are excellent at maintaining your bite’s proper width but may not be the most aesthetic option.
  2. Essix or Invisalign style retainers: These are the clear retainers that are fabricated at our office. We prefer these as they wrap around each tooth to keep them in place for life.
  3. Permanent retainer: Many patients get these retainers on the bottom front teeth and may also have an Essix retainer if anything happens to the permanent retainer. 

How to clean your retainer

Hawley and clear plastic retainers

You must clean Hawley and clear retainers after every use. We recommend wearing your retainer at least 14 hours a day, so when the retainers are not in your mouth, they should be kept in a secure container.
  1. Make sure to clean your retainer as soon as you remove it from your mouth. Once the material dries onto the retainer, it will be more challenging to clean.
  2. Brush the retainer with lukewarm water and a toothbrush. 
  3. Make sure to use this toothbrush for retainer cleaning only and do not use it in your mouth.
  4. A few times a week, clean your retainer with lukewarm water and antibacterial dish soap or hand soap. Cleaning this way will prevent bacteria from accumulating on your retainer. Make sure to rinse with water after using any type of soap thoroughly.
  5. DO NOT USE TOOTHPASTE to clean your retainer. Toothpaste contains a lot of abrasive material, and causes slowly degrade your retainer. 
  6. If needed once a month, use a specialized effervescent retainer cleaning solution to eliminate excess debris. 
If you have debris that will not come off or your retainer is damaged, see us take a look and possibly make you a new retainer. 

Fixed retainer

These retainers are terrific for keeping your teeth straight, but they are the most difficult to keep clean. Here’s what we recommend to keep it clean:
  1. Use floss daily. Make sure to use at least an eight-inch piece of floss to get in between your teeth.
  2. You can use a floss threader to get in between your permanent retainer and your gums. 
  3. Do not be too forceful and damage your gum tissue.
  4. Use non-alcohol-based mouthwash to clean areas that will are missed with brushing and flossing alone.
  5. Use an automatic toothbrush (thrive sonic toothbrush or Sonicare) to brush around the permanent retainer.
You must maintain your regular hygiene visits when you have a permanent retainer as plaque tends to accumulate around the wires. 

Tips for removable retainers

1. Pets love retainers.

The smell and feel of them are irresistible, so make sure they cannot access them and hide them away in a safe area. I have personally experienced this, and many of my patients have as well. Dogs tend to enjoy the feel of the retainers, so make sure you do not leave the retainers on your nightstand or somewhere easily accessible.

2. Avoid heat

If you were using Invisalign, you already know this but heat can distort your retainer and make it unusable. When cleaning your retainers, you want to use lukewarm water, but not heat that can distort your retainers. 

3. Clean your case

You can harbor just as much bacteria as your retainer can. Make sure to use similar cleaning techniques on your retainer case and use mild soap once a week to remove any bacteria. 

4. Replace when needed

Many people keep their retainers for twenty years or more, but some patients may need to replace the retainers earlier. Remember, it is less expensive to replace a retainer than not use it properly and need to do orthodontic treatment all over again. 


Proper use and cleanliness of a retainer can be the difference between having beautiful teeth and needed to do the orthodontic treatment again. Make sure to follow these guidelines to ensure your beautiful smile and if you have any issues make sure to come in and see us in Allen, Texas!
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