Why You Really Need to Clean Your Retainers

Insufficient cleaning could allow build-up of microbes on orthodontic retainers, researchers at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute have found. Dr. Jonathan Pratten and colleagues looked at the types of microbes which live on retainers, taking samples from the mouths of people without retainers and those wearing either of the two most widely used types. As retainers are frequently removed and then replaced in the mouth, the potential for transmission of microbes is high.

Our mouths are full of different types of microbes, some of which promote oral health and some of which promote disease. For the current study, published in Letters in Applied Microbiology, though, the researchers were looking for microbes not normally found in the oral cavity – particularly Candida (a type of yeast) and Staphylococcus, including MRSA.

And they found them: Candida on 66.7% of retainers and Staph on 50%.These microbes were also present on the interior cheeks and tongue of retainer wearers, living in biofilms – communities of bacteria living together covered in a layer of slime. Once these biofilms form, they are very hard to remove and often have high levels of resistance to antimicrobials.

Suffice it to say, hygiene is key. If you wear a retainer or other oral appliance, always wash your hands before and after handling it, and be sure to clean the appliance regularly. Many different cleaning solutions are available, such as Retainer Brite and denture cleaning tablets, but plain soap and water will also do. (If you scrub rather than soak your appliance, however, be careful that you don’t bend any wires.) If you can’t fully remove any build-up yourself, take the appliance to your dentist and ask to have it cleaned in the ultrasonic machine.

Of course, you can also reduce build-up by taking good care of your teeth – at minimum, brushing and flossing regularly. Herbal antimicrobial toothpastes, rinses and other products may also help.

Last, consider your diet. Foods containing white flour and added sugars tend to feed things like “bad” microbes and Candida better than they feed us. (High stress and overuse of antibiotics can also spur Candida growth.) Reducing your intake of those while eating more fresh vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods can be a big help in keeping biofilms in check.


Image by cheerytomato, via Flickr

This post uses material from a UCL Eastman Dental Institute media release

Published by The Verigin Dental Health Team

A humanistic, holistic dental practice in Northern California, providing integrative, biological, mercury-free dentistry

One reply on “Why You Really Need to Clean Your Retainers”

  1. When I was a kid I hated cleaning my braces and retainers. As an adult, I now know that dangerous bacteria can build up on dental hardware that can enter the blood stream through bleeding gums or lesions, and can lead to other serious health conditions, such as heart disease or sepsis. So, brush, brush, brush.

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