As the air turns colder and the days get shorter, we prepare for winter. For many of us, that means stocking up on tissues, hand sanitizer, and getting that all-important flu shot. But for clear aligner patients, cold and flu season poses a unique set of challenges. That’s because removing Invisalign trays to eat and drink (one of the primary joys of invisible braces) increases your exposure to harmful bacteria that elevates your risk for cold and flu during the winter months.
Ever since 1847, when a Hungarian physician named Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis proved that hand washing saved lives in a Vienna maternity clinic, medical professionals have known that bacteria transmission is a leading cause of sickness. Today, doctors fully recognize the potential harm posed by the copious bacteria found on our hands. It’s why we are encouraged to sneeze into our elbows, wash our hands regularly, and be safe when handling food.
So as an orthodontist working with clear aligner patients, I constantly find myself asking, “How it is acceptable to reuse foam chewies, which are held in the patient’s hand, for seating invisible aligners?”
Be Mindful About Your Hands - Especially During Flu Season
A few years after beginning my Invisalign practice, I just couldn’t tolerate the notion of chewies anymore. I recognize their utility for use in the home (before bed or in the morning, for instance) but many of my patients are busy people who find themselves having to remove and reinsert trays in all sorts of environments and conditions. It’s why I created the Mint That Fits™, to provide my patients with a hands-free alternative to foam chewies that also freshens breath and fights dry mouth.
We took the hands-free thing even further by adding the OrthoKey to our product line, so Invisalign users everywhere could enjoy hands-free aligner removal without having to fish around in their mouths with dirty hands. And during this time of year especially, it is crucial to stay well.
While completely avoiding all germs and viruses is unrealistic, there are steps that everyone, especially people who are straightening their teeth with invisible braces, can take to reduce their exposure to germs and viruses. Here are my five best tips for clear aligner wellness during cold and flu season.
Keep Your Workplace Clean
I’d be willing to bet that patients wouldn’t touch their phone in between “chewing sessions” if they knew that microbiologists at the University of Arizona discovered cell phones to contain 10x the bacteria found on most toilet seats. Or pop trays out with their hands after working at their computer if they knew the average desk contains up to 400 times more germs than those same toilet seats.
Image showing bacteria density in a workspace courtesy of Printerland
Desks, phones and keyboards are personal spaces where people generally feel a false since of security, but they are harbingers of bacteria. This is especially in common work spaces or if you’re someone who enjoys grabbing lunch at your desk so you can cruise the internet (who doesn’t?). While you’ll never fully sanitize these areas, you can and should take the time to give them a thorough, regular cleaning. Keep some disinfecting wipes in your workspace for a quick cleaning, like these double duty options that are also safe for your electronics. For heavier cleaning, use paper towels and this Pledge Multi-Surface Cleaner which does the trick for surfaces and electronics.
And if you do lunch at your desk, just know that any surface you touch or your food touches is a transfer of bacteria, despite what the five second rule might try to tell you. Do you really need to eat that chip that fell onto the desk?
Carry Reinforcements in your Accessory Kit
In addition to all the necessary Invisalign accessories you carry with you on a daily basis, stocking up on a few winter essentials like hand sanitizer and a travel packs of sanitizing wipes can be an absolute lifesaver if you do have to use your hands for something involving your clear aligners. Those wipes we linked above can also clean off your cell phone in a pinch, or wipe down the handle of a shopping cart before pushing it across a store.
Just keep in mind that while these sanitizing options are helpful in a pinch, there’s no substitute for regular, thorough handwashing. This isn’t always the best way to treat your hands, though, so you’ll want to find a moisturizing lotion to carry with you. Check out these 11 hand lotions trusted by doctors and surgeons, who know a thing or two about how to care for their hands.
It’s not just your hands that will get dry; winter wreaks havoc on our lips. That combination of cold winds, hot, dry indoor air, and hard plastic retainers will do harsh things to your mouth. I’ve heard plenty of patients tell me that lightweight chapsticks don’t work well because they transfer onto the clear braces, creating a greasy mess. O’Keeffe’s Unflavored Lip Balm features a durable formula thick enough to protect lips without leaving residue on your trays. If you’re looking for flavor variety, check out this holiday-themed 2 pack from eos Organic Lip Balm.
Drink Lots of Water
Water has amazing health and wellness benefits, especially during cold season. If you’re already on your smile journey, you’ve probably noticed your water consumption has increased - not only because it’s the only fluid you should be drinking with your aligners in, but dry mouth is a common affliction for invisible braces patients. The cold dry air of winter means our mouths and glands will dry out even faster, so keep those water bottles filled and empty them often!
Especially when you’re sick. For instance, when your nose is stuffed up, you’ll cope by breathing through your mouth, which will accelerate dryness by decreasing the amount of saliva you produce. This is a double whammy, because saliva is our mouth’s natural cleansing agent, responsible for washing harmful bacteria off our teeth where they can cause bad breath and cavities.
To give your hydration a boost (and break up the monotony of drinking water all day), try a xylitol mint like Movemints. Xylitol is proven to fight dry mouth by stimulating salivary flow. And since Movemints are sugar free, you can eat them with your clear aligners in. Your mouth will appreciate you!
Keep Things Clean
It’s always important to clean and sanitize your clear aligners and accessories, but this chore takes on additional importance during the flu season. The last thing you want is dirty trays and accessory surfaces inviting additional bacteria into your mouth. Put a bottle of EverSmile WhiteFoam in your purse or bag so you can sanitize your trays when you’re on the go. Just a pump in each tray will disinfect them while also whitening your teeth!
It’s also a good idea to have a couple extra retainer cases handy so you can run used ones through the dishwasher. All the moisture and saliva that mixes into the cases creates a veritable petri dish environment, perfect for growing bacteria. Rinsing them out won’t do the trick, so if you have extras you won’t think twice about regularly switching them out.
It’s also a best practice to change your toothbrush more frequently during cold and flu season. At minimum, you should change your brush after anytime you get sick. But for people who use more expensive electronic toothbrushes, this isn’t always a great option. If you feel a cold coming on, you can always switch over to a manual toothbrush that won’t cost you an arm and a leg when you have to replace it a week later. We are in love with these all natural toothbrushes from Boka; their attractive, functional design features high quality bristles made with Binchotan activated charcoal that naturally reduces odor-causing bacteria while providing a soft, gentle cleaning.
Stay Hands Free
The best way to keep germs out of your mouth while wearing clear aligners is to go hands-free during your treatment. Like we mentioned, Movemints are an ideal way for patients to seat their trays without having to hold onto foam chewies (themselves great places for growing germs and bacteria if they aren’t cleaned and properly stored after each use). I designed the grooves myself, specifically to fit between your top and bottom trays so you won’t risk it sliding back into your throat or flying out of your mouth! We also worked through several iterations of the formula to achieve a mint that is hard enough to withstand the gentle pressure required to seat trays, but with a smooth satin finish that won’t leave a residue in your mouth.
Not only are Movemints hands free, they’re also sugar free. That’s important to me as an orthodontist, because my patients are able to fight dry mouth and freshen their breath all while promoting good oral health. In fact, these convenient mints are the only thing I’ll encourage my patients to eat with their trays in. I have even found them to help certain patient’s excessive gum chewing habits, which of course don’t mix well with wearing aligners the suggested 22 hours a day.
OrthoKey is our preferred hands-free removal tool. We love it’s ergonomic design, which is compact enough to fit right in your aligner case. Some removal tools just don’t work that well, or feature a larger design that makes using it on the go a bit awkward. Check out our On the Go Journey Pack, which contains seven bags of Movemints and three OrthoKey so you can live the hands-free life all winter!
Do you have any tips for surviving winter while wearing Invisalign? Share them with us in the comments!