GRADUATING FROM BRACES to retainers is a major milestone for any orthodontic patient, but retainers still take work, because anything that spends that much time in our mouths will become smelly and covered in gunk if we don’t keep it clean. So how exactly do we do that? Well, to some extent, it depends on the type of retainer.

Hawley Retainer

A Hawley retainer is a tried and true classic more commonly known as a wire retainer, because it’s made with pieces of wire fixed to an acrylic plate specially fitted to the roof of your mouth.

The easiest and cheapest way to clean a Hawley retainer is by occasionally soaking it in water with baking soda (too often could damage any soldered metal pieces). Baking soda water is also much safer than using effervescent tablets, which contain allergens your retainer will absorb. Mouthwash is a bad idea too, because it dries your retainer out enough to damage it.

Essix Retainer

Essix retainers are clear plastic retainers, which makes them much more low-profile than Hawley retainers. They are not, however, so low profile that you can eat with them in. Make sure you take them out before you eat and brush your teeth before you put them back in. The food particles that bacteria turn into plaque and tartar on your teeth will also leave tartar deposits on your retainers.

You should also brush your retainer as often as you brush your teeth, but don’t use toothpaste. When rinsing it with water, make sure it’s not too hot, because that can warp the plastic. Soaking in baking soda water is a good way to clean Essix retainers, and there’s no metal solder to worry about. After you clean it, store your Essix retainer in a container of distilled water so that it can’t dry out.

Permanent Retainer

permanent retainer is a metal bar cemented to the backs of your teeth. These retainers can last a very long time, and they’re most often applied to the front six bottom teeth. Don’t let these retainers discourage you from flossing! Flossing is the most important part of how you keep permanent retainers clean and protect the teeth they’re attached to!

That being said, we understand that it’s harder to floss teeth around a retainer, but you can use threaders or special floss designed to be used with retainers to make it easier.

Why Are Retainers So Important?

Each type of retainer has a unique set of benefits, but they are all integral to the success your orthodontic treatment. Your teeth are held in your gums by tiny periodontal ligaments, and it takes a while for those ligaments to get used to the post-braces arrangement. If you don’t wear removable retainers as directed, the periodontal ligaments will start tugging your teeth back to how they were before you had braces, so treat those retainers right by following these care tips, and don’t forget to wear them!

Whichever Retainer You Use, Keep It Clean!

No matter what kind of retainers you have, you can bring them with you to our office or your regular dentist to be inspected and cleaned just like your teeth!

Congratulations to all our patients who’ve moved on from braces to retainers!



The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Top image by Flickr user Sara Neff used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original