Help them keep that beautiful smile they worked so hard to achieve!
This one’s for all the parents out there! Have you been told that your son or daughter has to wear their retainer all. day. long? Maybe you yourself just got your braces off? Or finished treatment with clear aligners? Retainers are super important for everyone because they literally retain those results you worked so hard for!
It’s an amazing feeling for patients to get the “finish line” with their orthodontic treatment. As exciting as this can be, the work isn’t over yet! In fact, for patients who have worn fixed appliances (a.k.a. traditional braces), it can be a rude awakening to have to be responsible for a removable retainer all day, everyday for months and months.
What type of retainer is the best choice for me or my teen? How can I keep it clean? How can I keep it safe? How can I ensure that it continues to fit properly? How can I keep it in my kid’s mouth? What are some other general tips for retainer use? These are all questions I hear on a daily basis.
Let’s start with some general retainer information (and it's good to know your options for your kid's treatment). Your retainer may be either removable or fixed, meaning that it’s cemented to the backs of your teeth. If your retainer is fixed, you usually don’t have to worry about most of the problems mentioned here. Removable retainers can either be acrylic, which is the most common type, or clear. Acrylic retainers are often brightly colored and include flexible wires, while clear retainers are exactly what they sound like — clear plastic that fits right onto your teeth! Because they’re more difficult to see, they’re a popular choice for adults.
It can be difficult to get used to a retainer at first, as they tend to impede speech and increase saliva production, but these problems should decrease as you get used to your retainer. Plus, with the tips below, you, or your kid, will be an expert in no time!
Cleaning A Retainer
Photo courtesy of Delta Dental of Arkansas
Cleaning a retainer with an inexpensive toothbrush and a tiny bit of dish soap is both easy and effective!
Though it can seem complicated at first, keeping a retainer clean is actually very easy — it’s much like keeping the rest of your mouth clean. Though your retainer should be cleaned every day, perhaps even several times a day, there are also warning signs that let you know when it is absolutely imperative to clean it. These signs include bad tastes or smells, a cloudy appearance, or white spots on the retainer. Remember: never go more than a week without cleaning your retainer, and even a week is stretching it!
The most important thing to remember is to rinse the saliva off of a retainer before it gets put away in its dark, damp, unsanitary case. Know where bacteria thrives the most? Yea… right there. What should you do? Try one of these new retainer case options from OPRO (available on Amazon) which have built in antimicrobial properties! If the retainer gets a good rinse every time it is removed, it won’t build up the same plaque and tartar that builds up on our teeth.
Another great strategy is to dedicate an inexpensive toothbrush — ask your dentist for advice to find the best bang for your buck — to be used only for cleaning your retainers! Use a tiny (tiny!) amount of dish soap to scrub them instead of toothpaste, and rinse them thoroughly with a steady stream of cool water. Try to think of retainers just like anything else you would put in your mouth (silverware) or put your food on (plates)!
Soaking a Retainer
If scrubbing your retainer regularly just isn’t doing enough for you, another option is to soak it to get it super squeaky clean! You can buy products labeled for exactly this purpose, or you could make your own mixture out of 1 part sodium hypochlorite bleach with 10 parts water. This should easily eliminate any stubborn bacteria that could be making a home on your retainer. Just be sure to measure correctly and rinse thoroughly!
Keeping a Retainer Safe
Cases are crucial to keeping your retainer safe — make sure yours is with you at all times!
What’s the best way to keep a retainer safe? If it’s not in your mouth, it should be in your case — plain and simple! Or is it? There is an extensive list of ways a retainer can meet its demise… pets, lunch trays, restaurant napkins, washing machines, etc… Dogs love retainers. They love retainers because they love their humans, and retainers smell like their humans. If a retainer is shoved away into some corner of a backpack or purse, it can get bent out of shape, or crushed completely. Avoid storing your retainer anywhere without its case!
Cramped quarters aren’t the only way a retainer can get distorted — they may be damaged by the very thing they are meant to be protecting! When putting your retainer in your mouth, push it in with your fingers instead of biting down on it. Retainers are only plastic or acrylic and wire after all, and human jaws can crack them with surprisingly little effort!
Since retainers are clear, they are hard for others to see and this makes it so easy for them to get thrown away. Be especially careful in restaurants — if you wrap your retainer up in a napkin intending to keep it safe, it can more easily get thrown away by a waiter or waitress. I’d prefer my patients keep their retainers in the case (Ex: after lunch at school) even if meant that they weren’t going to be worn for an hour or two. Safe is better than sorry!
Even with all these precautions, accidents happen: retainers get left behind after practice, or in a friend’s bathroom after a sleepover. Just in case, write your child’s name and your phone number on their retainer case. That way, as long as their retainer is in their case when it’s not in their mouth, it can be returned to its rightful owner easily!
Keep It Away From Heat
This should be somewhat of an obvious tip, as retainers are after all made of plastic, but when dealing with kids, any manner of mischief is possible. Just remind your kids that plastic and heat don’t make a good combination — an example would be on a car dashboard on a hot summer day — and that forgetting can be an expensive mistake to make! Also, don’t forget that putting your retainer in boiling water is not an advised way to clean it — it’ll just melt!
Keeping a Proper Fit
Will retainers always fit? The quick answer is — if they’ve been worn as instructed, then yes! But life comes at us fast, and sometimes we go on vacation or to a sleepover and forget the retainer. Or maybe you live in the Northeast during the winter, and, like everyone else, you get plagued with a stomach bug or the flu and have to miss a few days and nights. The best thing you can do is be sure to try your retainer on as soon as possible and do some chewing exercises to regain the perfect fit that it once had. Aligner chewies can be used for this purpose and Movemints are the best tool for use on-the-go. Be sure to ask your Orthodontist for Movemints or chewies if you or your kids are prone to missing a day or night here and there. Anytime a clear plastic retainer doesn’t fit quite right, it instantly turns into an aligner — just like Invisalign — which means that it can likely be used to shift your teeth back into the perfect position they were in when the retainer was made.
Keeping It In Your Kid’s Mouth
Image courtesy of Movemints
Movemints can easily re-adjust the fit of your retainer, and can be a great incentive for kids to keep their retainers in their mouths.
What’s the best way to keep retainers in your or your kid’s mouth? A proper fit is critical to keeping the retainer comfortable and unnoticeable, and fresh breath provides the confidence your kid needs to go about the day with retainers in. Parents, do your kids — or yourself! — a favor and get Movemints, the Mint That Fits retainers. Orthodontist-approved and formulated to promote oral health, Movemints are the only edible accessory that can help patients wear their retainers without feeling self-conscious about bad retainer breath.
Especially when you’ve just finished your orthodontic treatment, wearing a retainer can feel like a chore, but it’s just a fact of life after braces. Plus, there are some ways to make it more fun — like Movemints! Remember, if you face any serious problems with your retainer, like breakage or major distortion, it’s time to pay your orthodontist a visit! Even if you follow all of these tips perfectly, retainers do wear out over time, so don’t expect one to do you for life. But, following this advice should ensure that the retainer you have now lasts as long as possible!