6 Tips for Effective Orthodontic Retainer Use

The dos and don'ts of an orthodontic retainer

Proper orthodontic retainer use ensures your child gets the most from their braces.

If your child is nearly ready to get their braces off—congratulations! This is an exciting time for your child, and we know both you and your child have worked hard throughout the course of their treatment. Now you’ll both get to see the beautifully straight smile they’ve been working so hard for while your child benefits from the oral health benefits of an aligned bite, as well as the confidence that comes with loving their smile.

Getting their braces off also starts a new chapter of your child’s orthodontic journey: wearing an orthodontic retainer. Retainers are an essential step in orthodontic treatments because they prevent your child’s teeth from shifting back into their old positions, so your child needs to commit to wearing them. 

They’re different from braces in many ways, particularly in their ability to be removed, so there’s plenty to learn about using and caring for them. We know this can feel daunting, so to make the transition and help ensure that your child gets the best long-term results from their orthodontic treatment, we’ve put together 6 tips for effective retainer use.

1. Ensure your child wears their orthodontic retainer as instructed.

Since retainers keep your child’s teeth from shifting back to their previous positions, ensuring that your child wears them as instructed is incredibly important. In general, retainers need to be worn day and night for a year after your child’s braces have been removed. 

They should only be off when your child is eating, drinking something other than water, playing a contact sport, or cleaning the retainers or their teeth. This might be frustrating for your child at first, but adjusting to this new normal is mostly about building good habits and working them into their daily routine. Besides, they only need to hang onto this new routine for that first year!

Afterward, most children switch to wearing their retainers only at night. They’ll need to wear retainers to bed every night for life to ensure their teeth stay completely straight. These are general rules, but everyone’s case is unique, so Dr. Mo might give you different instructions. If she does, make sure to follow those rules instead of the more general ones.

2. Build cleaning their orthodontic retainer into their daily oral hygiene routine.

Retainers spend all day and night in your child’s mouth, so they need to be cleaned just like their teeth do. Cleaning retainers regularly keeps them free of bacteria, which keeps your child’s breath smelling nice and protects their teeth from the bacteria. 

As a result, encourage your child to build cleaning their retainers at least once a day into their oral hygiene routine. When they brush their teeth in the morning or evening, they should also brush their retainers. It only takes an extra minute or two, but the benefits are worth it!

3. Teach your child how to clean their orthodontic retainer properly.

Retainers can be surprisingly fragile, so it’s important for your child to know how to clean them properly. Thankfully, cleaning retainers is very simple! It only requires a soft-bristled toothbrush and warm water—no toothpaste or soap required! In fact, toothpaste can damage your child’s orthodontic retainer, so make sure they know not to use it. 

Hand soap is often scented and can leave a bad taste on retainers, so it’s also best not to use it when cleaning them. Additionally, make sure your child knows not to put their retainers on without cleaning their teeth first, as doing so only makes the retainers dirty again and traps bacteria against their teeth.

It’s also a good idea to soak your child’s retainers in a retainer cleaning fluid for a few minutes once a week to get them cleaned thoroughly. The best way to do this is to pick a day of the week and make a habit of doing this to your retainer on that day.

4. Avoid exposing the retainer to heat.

Retainers are often made of plastic or acrylic materials that are quite sensitive to heat, which can cause them to warp. When this happens, the retainer can stop fitting your child’s mouth properly. This means that it can become uncomfortable and won’t do its job properly anymore. 

Thankfully, this is a pretty easy issue to prevent! All you need to do is make sure that your child knows not to leave their retainer sitting in a hot car or on a windowsill that receives direct sunlight, as well as to never boil it to clean it. Your child’s retainer should be fine in average conditions, so as long as situations like these are avoided, it should be fine!

5. Make sure the retainer is put carefully away when not being worn.

When your child isn’t wearing their orthodontic retainer—especially after that first year when they won’t be wearing it during the day—it’s a good idea to make sure the orthodontic retainer is put away in a safe place. This means not just in a case, but in a drawer or on top of a dresser where pets and small children can’t get ahold of it. We might love dogs, but a lot of them seem to be on a mission to destroy retainers, so it’s simply best to keep retainers where they can’t reach them. 

This will help keep you from needing to replace your child’s orthodontic retainer unexpectedly, saving you money and stress. As an added bonus, having a designated place for your child’s retainer also makes it easier to keep track of in your house, so you’re less likely to need to go on a scavenger hunt for it right before bed.

6. Have a designated spot for retainers on the go.

While retainers are sometimes misplaced at home, a lot of people lose their retainers when they’re out in public. One of the biggest culprits is when they’re eating, as it’s often simple and easy for your child to wrap their orthodontic retainer up in a napkin and set it next to them. 

The problem with this is that it looks like trash, so it’s easy for a server at a restaurant to swipe it up without your child noticing or even for your child to forget it’s there and throw it away with their meal. Thankfully, the solution here is very simple! The best thing to do is to teach your child not to wrap their retainer in a napkin at restaurants or school.

Instead, have a designated travel case for the orthodontic retainer that they can put it in every time they take it out of their mouth. This keeps it clean and safe while they eat and makes it much easier to remember. Also, put your child’s name and your number on the retainer case so that if it gets lost, someone will hopefully return it. This is often especially helpful if your child misplaces their orthodontic retainer at school, where a staff member is more likely to find it and return it to you or your child.

A little extra care for your retainer can make a world of difference. 

Moving from braces to retainers is a huge step for your child, but it’s also one that requires a little bit more responsibility as your child learns to clean and keep track of their orthodontic retainer. Thankfully, this isn’t a process you need to go through alone! Your kids’ dentist is a great support in learning the ins and outs of retainer use and care. If you’d like to learn more about retainers and life after braces for kids, feel free to call and schedule a consultation with Dr. Mo at any time.