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, vitamin C and flu shots. But for clear aligner patients, cold and flu season poses a unique set of challenges. That’s because removing your trays increases your exposure to harmful bacteria, elevating your risk for cold and flu during the long winter’s night.
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.
- Be mindful about your hands
- Keep your workplaces and personal spaces clean
- Carry the right accessories
- Drink lots of water
- Keep your equipment pristine and sanitized
Be Mindful About Your Hands
This is obvious advice, but we’re leading with it because it can’t be emphasized enough. Wash your hands often, especially before you do anything with your trays. Cold and flu germs have an easy enough time getting to us when we aren’t handling mini petri dishes whenever we want to snack or eat a meal.
Now it’s not always practical or even possible to wash your hands each time you remove your trays. In these trying times, consider using OrthoKey, our favorite aligner removal tool. It will keep you from going finger fishing into the back of your mouth to snap them out, and the compact design is small enough to fit right in your retainer case so it’s always handy. Another way to keep your hands out of your mouth is to chew on Movemints anytime you reinsert your trays. The patented groove fits comfortably between the top and bottom aligners, and the minty taste is an awesome cure for bad breath and dry mouth. Plus, you don’t have to hold them with your fingers like you do with chewies.
Keep Your Workplaces and Personal Spaces Clean
This is an important tip for anyone who works at a desk, on a computer, or handles equipment throughout the day. Desks, computers and electronics are personal spaces where people generally feel a false sense of security - they’re just “your germs” after all. But did you know that microbiologists at the University of Arizona discovered cell phones to contain 10x the bacteria found on most toilet seats? Or that the average desk contains up to 400 times more germs than those same toilet seats?
During cold and flu season, when you throw those extra germs and viruses into the mix, you really need to pay attention to your surroundings. Do you really think your desk or notebook is an appropriate place to lay your clear aligners when you’re grabbing a snack? Give your desk and spaces an extra cleaning during the winter, but more importantly, invest in a few extra retainer cases and leave one in every place where you find yourself needing to remove your trays. Not only will this protect them from germs, you’ll be less likely to lose them or accidentally toss them in the rubbish bin.
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 sanitizing wipes can be an absolute lifesaver. Add some lotion, because if you are vigilant about washing your hands, they’re liable to get drier than you may expect.
And it’s not just your hands that will get dry; winter wreaks havoc on our lips. The combination of cold winds, hot forced 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. My staff recommends O’Keeffe’s Unflavored Lip Balm with its durable formula thick enough to protect lips without leaving residue on your trays.
Another good accessory to have in your pack during the winter are floss picks. You know how important it is to floss every day while wearing Invisalign, and it doesn’t stop being important just because it’s cold outside. We love these biodegradable floss picks with grapfruit-seed extract infused into the floss. They’re the perfect, guilt-free option for a quick flossing that will limit the amount of contact between your fingers and your mouth. We love them so much, we include 30 of them in our Ultimate Clear Aligner Accessories Kit!
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), we put a therapeutic dose of xylitol into our Movemints, which 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. We recommend Soluria SmileSaver spray, which disinfects your aligners with a great tasting, peroxide-free formula. Just a pump or two per tray, sit for 60 seconds, and your aligners will be clean, sanitized, and fresh when you reinsert. It’s also an effective agent to clean your OrthoKey in a pinch.
You should also run your retainer cases through the dishwasher on a fairly regular basis (or at least give them a good hand washing). All the moisture and saliva that mixes into the cases creates a veritable petri dish, perfect for hosting germs and 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. But if you were just looking for a reason to buy some extra tooth brushes, may we recommend this bamboo-handled, charcoal infused dandy from Knotty Floss and available on Amazon? It’s so lightweight and environmentally friendly. We love it!
Stay Hands Free & Germ Free All Winter Long
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 wear their aligners confidently while fighting dry mouth, and OrthoKey is the best hands-free way to remove your trays. Wash your hands often, keep your desk and your appliances clean, and store your aligners safely in a clean retainer case. And hydrate early and often!
Follow these tips and you’ll be ready to take the winter on in stride, without interfering with your treatment journey. Do you have any tips for surviving winter while wearing Invisalign? Share them with us in the comments!