What's the best way to clean a retainer without damaging it?? Like how would I get the plaque off of it??


Hello Tigest,

I cant begin to tell you the dozens and dozens of patients I have had who have come in and said..." look what happened to my retainer.."

I thought I would start off the reply by describing some of the things NOT TO DO.

First I also need to describe the two most popular types of retainers, namely the Hawley style and the clear non-metal invisible style. A Hawley retainer generally has a palatal ( in the case of an upper) portion made of acrylic or plastic, and various mental clasps to secure it to the teeth. The hall mark description includes a metal wire which runs along the outside of the upper teeth and keeps the teeth aligned and secure. There are of course many variations such as a wrap around Hawley, and others. Hawley retainers can also be made for the lower teeth.

A second style of retainer which has gained popularity in recent years because of the esthetics and lack of a metal wire is the clear " Essix" style or clear " Invisalign-style" retainer. These are all commercial trademarked names, but they essentially describe a flexible retainer made of thin clear plastic which when laced over the teeth almost acts like a "second skin". They are often far more delicate than a Hawley.

Patents have damaged these retainers in many ways. Hot water, or placing them in a dish washer, clothes washer, etc can cause either appliance to distort. These appliances should never be paced in hot boiling water. I have ahd patients come in after wearing a Hawley retainer for 12 years. It was in great shape, but the plastic literally had changed color and looked bizarre. I made her a new retainer. The point being, plastic over time can actually wear out and fatigue, and may often take on a bizarre appearance.

So Tigest, what i would recommend you do is brush it carefully with a tooth brush to get the plaque and food debris off. If tartar ( calculus) and plaque have settled on the appliance and it is difficult to remove soaking the appliances in a denture cleanser may help. Alcohol containing mouthwashes may help  lower bacteria levels on he retainer, but may cause the plastic to change color. Another option is to use a small ultrasonic bath cleaner which people use for cleaning jewelry.

Tigest, clean the retainers often and maintain them, and major cleaning challenges will not arise. In summary, a toothpaste with an abrasive like baking soda, and a tooth brush using warm water is probably the simplest, most affordable option for most people.  No exotic gestures should be needed. and finally, the Hawley style is probably more robust, but suffers in the aesthetics department due to the labial metal bow which courses across the upper and lower front teeth.  


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Paul Supan, DDS, MA, MPH


First may I say please set your questions to Public so other readers can benefit from the response. Also, if you look at my comprehensive answers, they are not short 1 or 2 paragraph quickie replies that anyone can type out in < 5 minutes. Instead I often will ask other colleagues in other specialties for their advice in order to provide you the questioner with a more interdisciplinary perspective. This all takes time. I ask for readers to therefore allow 5-7 days. You will be rewarded with a very detailed response.

Because of the nature of Orthodontic questions, any pictures of the teeth and X-ray images would be very helpful. If you write to me and explain that you have crooked overlapping front teeth can be interpreted in many many ways, and my goal is to provide a specific response that meets your needs.

I hold double specialty credentials. I am Board Certified in Orthodontics and Board Eligible in Dental Public Health. I welcome questions regarding Braces, Invisible Braces, & Invisalign, as well as issues involving combination Cosmetic Dentistry and Orthodontic treatment. Orthodontics alone sometimes is not enough to achieve that perfect smile. Gingival (gum) re-contouring, tooth reshaping, bonding and other services are sometimes needed. I also have substantial experience in the areas of Infection Control and Sterilization in the Dental Environment. My personal websites braces.com and Leesburgbraces.com are non-commercial for information purposes only and may provide you with some background to more precisely frame your question for allexperts.com.

Please allow a week for a reply. I am in full time Private Practice, lecture on occasion, and am involved in many volunteer activities. I am therefore not always able to respond to questions straight away. Your understanding is appreciated.


Board Certified Orthodontist (ABO Diplomate) with over 25 years of Private Practice experience. Second Specialty Certificate in Dental Public Health with research experience at NIH, and Epidemiology Training & Research at Harvard, NIH, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. Postgraduate Masters degree from the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as a Master of Arts Degree in Education.

American Dental Association, American Association of Orthodontists, Academy of General Dentistry, College of Diplomates of the ABO, OSAP - Office Sterilization & Asepsis Procedures Organization, Others

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BS College of William & Mary, DDS Medical College of Virginia, Masters of Public Health (MPH) Degree Harvard School of Public Health. Dental Public Health Specialty Certificate from NIH. Orthodontic Specialty Certificate from University of Rochester Eastman Dental Center. USPHS clinical research experience at NIH, and Epidemiology Training & Research at Harvard, NIH, and the Centers for Disease Control. Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry (FAGD), and Fully Board Certified Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics. Board Eligible in Dental Public Health. Visiting Adjunct Associate Professor at the Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry, Nashville, Tennessee.

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