How to Clean Retainers

To clean your retainer, use a toothbrush and water and simply brush the retainers as you would brush your own teeth. This will be the most effective way to keep your retainers clean. You may soak the retainers in a non-alcohol-based mouthwash for about an hour a day to give it a fresh, clean taste. You can also soak your retainers in a denture cleaner, such as Efferdent or Retainer Brite, which are often available over-the-counter at local drug stores and pharmacies. Never boil your retainer. It is not heat-resistant and will melt if you try to boil it.

What Happens if I Lose or Break My Retainers? Is it a Big Deal?

Yes, it is a big deal and here is why – your teeth will shift. I wish I could tell you otherwise, I really do. But the simple truth is that your teeth will move over time. That being said, when your retainer breaks, or if you lose your retainer, the best thing you can do for yourself is to call us immediately. If you get a new retainer shortly after breaking or losing it, then you will have nothing to worry about, and your teeth will remain in their current position (hopefully the same position as when you completed orthodontic treatment). However, if you do not act quickly to address the broken or loose retainer, then you run the risk of your teeth shifting.

If you lost or broke your retainer a long time ago, there is still hope. You should call your orthodontist to find out what your options are. The orthodontist should not make you feel bad about it. Instead, he or she will evaluate your teeth and talk with you about your options. Here are the three situations you may be in when you lose or break your retainer:

  1. I broke/lost/stopped wearing my retainer a long time ago. What are my options?

    Your orthodontist will first evaluate if your teeth have shifted. This could be in the form of crowding, spacing, rotations, overlaps, or maybe your bite just feels “off.” Since it has been a long time since you have worn your retainer, the chances are high that there has been some form of relapse. If this is the case, your options will be to

    1. Have limited orthodontic treatment to fix your teeth,
    2. Create a new retainer (or repair the old one) to hold the current position of your teeth, or
    3. Do nothing, with the risk of continued shifting of your teeth.

    Regardless of what you decide, it is best to contact your orthodontist as soon as possible to discuss your options.

  2. I broke/lost/stopped wearing my retainer recently. My teeth still look fine. Do I really need to come in?

    That’s great that your teeth still look straight! However, don’t plan on it for too long because your teeth will move over time. If you want to keep your teeth in their current positions, the easiest and least expensive option is to simply call an orthodontist to have a new retainer made (or your broken retainer repaired). Taking care of it now will save you the trouble of needing treatment later on.

  3. My lower bonded (metal) retainer (bar) is broken/loose on the inside of my bottom teeth. Can I just take it out?

    You bet you can take it out! However, you will need to wear a new clear retainer that is intimately fitted to your teeth in order to prevent your lower teeth from shifting. Some people want to remove their metal bar to replace it with a removable retainer, whereas others simply want to get the metal bar re-cemented to their teeth. Regardless, it is important that you do something about your broken retainer to make sure your teeth do not continue to move over time.

Do I Need to Wear my Retainers for the Rest of My Life?

Yes, you do. But it won’t be as bad as you think, I promise (keep reading to find out why).

What is important is that you understand when to wear your retainer and when it’s okay not to wear your retainer. Here is how it works – when you get your braces off, your teeth will immediately want to go back to their original positions.

The bone surrounding your teeth is essentially what is holding them in place. That bone is soft at the end of treatment because it has been remodeled many times to allow your teeth to move to their new positions. Much like wet cement, your bone just needs time to harden around the teeth. Obviously there are many other biological processes going on that make the process much more complicated than cement drying, but the idea is very much the same.

For that reason, you MUST WEAR YOUR RETAINERS FULL TIME for the first several weeks after your braces are removed. And by “Full Time” I mean a minimum of 22-23 hours per day. The only time you should be removing your retainers is to eat/drink and to brush your teeth. That’s it.

Over time, we will gradually decrease the amount of time you’ll need to wear your retainers. After several years, it should be okay for you to wear your retainers only several nights a week. I wish I could tell you that your teeth will stay put without needing retainers, but I would just be leading you down a road of frustration and disappointment. If you currently have a retainer, then you will likely fall into one of the categories listed below. It is important for you to know what you should do when you fall into one of the following categories:

  • Retainers fitting well and not tight – You should continue to wear your retainer 2 to 4 nights per week.
  • Retainers fitting okay (i.e. they can be fully seated on your teeth), but they are very tight– You must increase the use of your retainers to every night or even every day for a period of several weeks. The retainer can be used to actively “push” your teeth back to their original positions, but only if you are able to fully seat the retainer in your mouth. Once the retainer does not feel tight anymore, then you can decrease the use to 2 to 4 nights per week.
  • Retainers do not fit at all– If you cannot fully seat your retainers, then you should call your orthodontist immediately. Your teeth have shifted BEYOND the point of using your old retainers to push them back into place. When you meet with your orthodontist, you will have three main options:
    1. Do nothing. Even though this is an option, the main risk is that your teeth will continue to shift over time.
    2. Make a new retainer. Making a new retainer will hold the CURRENT position of your teeth. It will NOT push your teeth back to where they were at the end of your orthodontic treatment (that’s what your old retainer could have done if you were able to fully seat it), but it WILL prevent your teeth from continuing to shift into worse positions.
    3. Get treatment to correct the shifted teeth. This will likely be in the form of braces or invisalign. If it’s just one tooth out of alignment, there may even be some limited treatment options with shorter treatment times. If you fall into one of the above categories, or you have specific questions regarding retainer care and maintenance, feel free to call our office at any time.

How Long do Removable Retainers Last?

On average, removable retainers should last several years. If you properly care for your retainers, many times your retainers will last much longer than expected. When your retainers begin to wear down or break, then you should call our office IMMEDIATELY to get a new set of retainers made. Do not put this off. If you do, then your teeth may shift and you may need treatment all over again.

Bonded (Metal) Retainers

One of the benefits of getting a bonded metal retainer is that it will help hold your teeth straight. However, let’s be very clear – bonded retainers do NOT serve as a substitute for clear removable retainers (no matter what your friends or some of the “old school” doctors say). Some people are lucky that their bonded retainers work well enough to keep the teeth “mostly straight.” However, bonded retainers alone will not guarantee teeth to remain straight.

For that reason, you will still be expected to wear a clear removable retainer over the top of your bonded retainer (therefore, you will still have both an upper and lower clear removable retainer). So if one of our doctors recommends a bonded retainer for you at the end of treatment, then be sure to wear your clear retainers as well. The Bottom Line: If you have a bonded (metal) lower retainer, you will STILL be expected to wear your upper and lower clear retainers to keep your teeth straight!