If You Still Wear Your Retainer (Same, TBH), Here's How Experts Say You Should Clean It

If you ever went through a braces phase, I feel for you. There was the rule of staying away from caramel, the riskiness of playing contact sports, and the difficulty of getting little bits of food out from between the maze of wires. Even if you've left those times in your past, you might still wear a retainer to keep your teeth straight. Not everyone falls asleep with a mouth full of plastic and metal, but those who do might wonder how to properly clean a retainer after all of these years. I'm sure my orthodontist gave me instructions back when I was 16, but all advice seems to have evaporated with time.

BTW, if you think it's downright preposterous that someone would still be wearing a retainer well into adulthood, get this: A survey published in the American Journal of Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics asked 1,200 people who'd had their retainers for at least two years whether they still used them, and according to the self-reported results, 81 percent of respondents were still wearing them — even if it was only one night a week.

So how do you go about properly cleaning your retainer if you still wear it on the reg? Well, let's just say that, if you've only been running some water over it, or giving it the occasional scrub whenever you happen to remember to do so, you could be hurting your oral health. "Retainers should be cleaned at least once a day," general and cosmetic dentist Victoria Veytsman, DDS tells Elite Daily in an email. "Think about it — you don’t want to put something in your mouth that has had the opportunity to accumulate plaque and be exposed to saliva and bacteria."

That being said, before you start setting a nightly reminder to disinfect your retainer, it's important to note that there are different types, and they should be cleaned in different ways. "If they are Invisalign retainers, those can be brushed gently with warm water and a toothbrush, and Invisalign has special cleaning crystals to soak them in," Dr. Veytsman explains.

I've personally been using hydrogen peroxide to keep my retainers germ-free, but Dr. Ana Castilla, DDS, MS, an orthodontist based in Oregon, tells Elite Daily that this actually isn't the best strategy. "My advice is to not use hydrogen peroxide because while it would wipe out most bugs in your retainer, it could also disturb your oral microbiome by killing off some of the good bacteria in your mouth," she explains. "Not all bugs in your mouth are bad; some are actually there to protect you against the bad ones that live in your plaque."

If you still want to go the natural route in terms of cleaning supplies, Dr. Castilla suggests using white vinegar instead. "In my practice, we recommend soaking your retainer in white vinegar for 15 minutes, followed by light scrubbing with a soft toothbrush to remove any remaining plaque," she tells Elite Daily. "White vinegar is a natural cleanser and will not harm you or your retainer. Additionally, it will help with any lingering bad smells on your retainer." Baking soda mixed with distilled water can also be a safe and effective natural cleaning solution, Dr. Castilla adds.

Sometimes making your own DIY retainer-cleaner is just too messy and time-consuming to add to your nightly routine, so if you're looking to streamline the process, Dr. Castilla recommends solutions from Retainer Brite and Steraligner. Just make sure you don't get too vigorous in your search for a sparkling clean mouth. "There are many options for cleaning your retainer, but be careful to not go overboard in your quest for a clean retainer and use chemicals that are too strong and may be harmful," she says.

If you aren't totally sure whether your retainer is clean enough, Dr. Veytsman suggests keeping an eye out for odor, a white buildup, or food particles. "These are all signs that your retainer might need a more thorough cleaning or that you may need a replacement," she tells Elite Daily.

Of course, it never hurts to get a professional opinion, too, Dr. Veytsman adds. "It’s a good idea to bring your retainer into your next dental appointment to have your dentist take a look."