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The Best Way to Care For & Clean Orthodontic Retainers

By Dr. Scott Frey

Most of the retainer cleansers available on the market are based on cleansers originally developed for cleaning dentures. There are some big differences between orthodontic retainers and dentures, and traditional denture cleansers are not always the best way to clean your retainers, or your nightguards and mouthguards either. Let’s go through step by step the best way to care for your orthodontic retainers as well as mouthguards and nightguards.


First off, no matter what type of retainer you have you should always remember to clean it once a day.

Hawley Type RetainerTraditional Hawley Type Retainers
Recommended Cleanser: Any traditional persulfate cleanser used as directed (i.e. Retainer Brite, SonicBrite, Efferdent, Polident, etc.) or non-persulfate cleanser (i.e DentaSoak)

Best at Home Alternative: Mixture of 1 part Bleach : 10 parts water for 5-10 minutes

 
  • Traditional Hawley type retainers are simply acrylic and a stainless steel wire adapted to fit your teeth and hold them in place. Pretty much any typical retainer cleanser or denture cleanser used daily will keep your retainers clean and fresh. Normally you will get a packet of retainer cleanser when you first get your retainers, and you can easily order more on Amazon. 
     
  • Retainer Brite is the most popular retainer cleanser and is listed as certified Kosher. If you are wondering about the ingredients in Retainer Brite here they are:
    Potassium Persulfate Compound, Sodium Perborate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Sulfate, Citric Acid, Soda Ash Dense, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Sorbitol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, PEG 8000, Mint Flavor, Magnesium Stearate, Tetrasodium EDTA, FD & C Blue #2

     
  • If you are looking for an at home alternative that you can make yourself, filling a denture bath with some diluted bleach makes soaking your retainers easy. It is easiest to just drop your retainers in the bath while you are brushing your teeth and getting ready for bed. The bleach solution should last you a week before you’ll need to fill the denture bath with a fresh batch. Since the metal parts are made of stainless steel and not a base metal like with many dentures, there shouldn’t be much of a risk of the retainer wire corroding and turning black from the bleach, especially if the bleach is diluted and soaked for less than 10 minutes. 
     
  • You can use an ultrasonic retainer bath to better remove stuck on gunk off than effervescent cleansers alone. Since your retainers aren’t worn full time (at least not after the first few months after braces), stuck on stains and plaque are not usually a problem if they are regularly cleaned, but it is never a bad idea to get an ultrasonic bath just in case. Also make sure the retainer bath you buy is an ultrasonic cleaner and not just a sonic cleaner. Most of the cheaper models that come with your retainer cleaners are only sonic.
     
Hawley Metal Acrylic Retainers with Solder Joints
Recommended Cleanser: DentaSoak

 
  • Sometimes soldered attachments are necessary to hold your retainers and your teeth in the right place. Persulfate based cleansers are notorious for corroding solder joints on orthodontic retainers. To avoid corroding your retainer with daily cleaning it is best to use a non-persulfate retainer cleanser like DentaSoak, since it’s cleaning action is based on benzoic acid instead. Just mix up a solution of DentaSoak in a Retainer bath to last you the whole week, and follow the directions for use.
     
  • For everyone curious about the ingredients in DentaSoak here is the best information I could find (though they might have tweaked the formula a bit):
    Sodium benzoate, citric acid, disodium phospate, glycerin, water, FD and C blue No. 1, FD and C yellow No. 5, sodium saccharin, and flavoring.

Vivera RetainerEssix, Vivera, Clear Aligners, & Clear Plastic Retainers
Recommended Cleanser: Mixture of 1 part Bleach : 10 parts water for 5-10 minutes

Best Alternative: Any traditional persulfate cleanser used as directed (i.e. Retainer Brite, SonicBrite, Efferdent, Polident, etc.) or non-persulfate cleanser (i.e. DentaSoak)

 
  • The sodium hypochlorite in bleach removes stains and kills bacteria better than any of the cleansing tablets you can buy. Since there are no metal parts to worry about corroding with clear retainers like Essix and Vivera, bleach is the best way to clean these type of retainers. If you buy a denture/retainer bath, it make it easy to mix up some diluted bleach for the week and let you retainers soak each night while you are brushing your teeth and getting ready for bed.

MouthguardMouthguards & Nightguards
Recommended Cleanser: Mixture of 1 part Bleach : 10 parts water for 5-10 minutes

Best Alternative: Any traditional persulfate cleanser used as directed (i.e. Retainer Brite, SonicBrite, Efferdent, Polident, etc.) or non-persulfate cleanser (i.e. DentaSoak)


 
  • Although you can still use any of the normal retainer and denture cleansers since they are more convenient, your best option is still to use a diluted bleach solution once a day for your mouthguards and nightguards just like you would with any clear plastic retainers.

Persulfate Allergies
Persulfate is a known allergen, so if you are allergic to persulfates or have a condition like atopy you should use a non-persulfate cleanser.


Things Not to Do

There is a lot of wrong information floating around on the internet, mostly on “content farms,” so don’t be too trusting of some of the information that you might find first on the search results. Here is a list of what not to do when cleaning retainers which is ironically posted as good advice on many other sites:
  • Avoid scrubbing your retainers with toothpastes. You can easily roughen the surfaces of the acrylic or your clear retainers this way, and create more surface area for bacteria to attach and hide. Creating more irregularities and porosities on your retainers will also make it harder for cleansers to do their job.
     
  • Be careful not to over-soak metal and acrylic retainers, especially those with soldered joints. You are more likely to corrode the metal if you over-soak your retainers beyond the time needed to clean them.
     
  • Vinegar is a pretty terrible at home cleansing alternative. Retainers are not like your coffee maker. Acylic is pretty porous and the vinegar can not only  leave your retainers smelling awful, but it may increase the porosity of the acrylic and can corrode retainer wiring if used long-term.
     
  • Avoid exposing your retainers to excessive heat. That means don’t leave them on the dashboard of your car in the summer, no microwaving, no boiling them, don’t put them in the dishwasher, and definitely don’t let them find their way into the washer and dryer by not emptying your pockets.
     
  • If you are going to soak your retainers in a retainer bath, do not shake the box with your retainers inside. Shaking them in the retainer bath does nothing extra and it might damage little arms that stick out on some retainer designs.
     
  • Do not put your retainers in a place where your pets can get a hold of them.
     
  • Avoid soaking Hawley type retainers in mouthwashes containing alcohol. Alcohol will alter the physical properties of the acrylic portions of your retainers over the long term.
     
  • Last but not least, never forget to bring your retainers to retainer check appointments.

I'd like to thank Dolphin Management Software for letting me use some of their images, to show you all what different types of retainers look like.

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