Q&A With Dr Emma
Hi Dr Emma,
I got my clear plastic retainer about a year ago. When I last saw my orthodontist he didn't tell me when I would need to get a new one, or if this one lasts a lifetime... which I am sure it wont because I am only 15. When is it recommended to get a new one?
Also I have been searching for a way to clean my retainer of lots and lots of bacteria, but most sites say something different, so I am really not sure how to clean it?
Thanks so much! Olivia, QLD
First of all, congratulations on getting through your orthodontic treatment! I applaud your interest in your retainers, a lot of teenagers see that "braces off" day as the end of the road. The fact of the matter is that if you want your teeth to stay exactly where they are now, you need to have some sort of retainer forever. It doesn't necessarily have to be your clear plastic one, but it needs to be something. If you're interested in other options, talk to your orthodontist or general dentist.
How long your plastic retainer lasts will depend on a lot of things. If you wear it infrequently, you might find that after a while it no longer fits properly. If your teeth have moved far enough, you'll need to have a new retainer made to match the new position of your teeth. If you're wearing it every night, (or at least more often than not), it will continue to fit. So it's just a matter of when it "wears out". Don't worry, you'll know when that happens because it will either break or get a hole in it. This could be years down the track, or in as little as a few weeks if you have a sleepy-time tooth-grinding habit. The solution is simple enough though, just visit your dentist to get a new one made. You generally don't need to go back to your orthodontist, any general dentist can do it and it's a simple procedure.
As for keeping it clean, daily maintenance is the best way to stop it getting grungy. As soon as you take it out in the morning, give it a good scrub under cold water with a toothbrush and hand soap. DO NOT USE TOOTHPASTE! Toothpaste is for teeth. Tooth enamel is much harder than plastic, and the abrasive qualities of toothpaste will leave micro-scratches in your retainer. Once you get scratches, it's easier for the bacteria to set up camp making it difficult to ever get the retainer properly clean again. If you find there's a bit of build-up over time, invest in some denture cleaning tablets. Add one to a glass of water and pop your retainer in, just follow the directions on the package.
The best thing you can do for your lovely straight smile is keep wearing your retainers. Stick at it, even when it's tedious, and your future self will thank you.