Cleaning and Maintaining a Permanent Retainer

By Premier Dental of Ohio


Did you know that teeth are constantly on the move?  As we age, our teeth slowly shift toward the front of the mouth in a natural process.  This leads to crowding of the lower front teeth.  This natural aging process is the reason permanent retainers are a great idea!

What is a Permanent Retainer?

A permanent retainer is a small wire or bar that your dentist or orthodontist fixes or “glues” to the back of your teeth to keep them from moving.  The metal wire prevents the teeth from moving closer together and becoming crooked.

Because your dentist attaches the retainer to the backside of your teeth, it is not visible, but you can feel it with your tongue.  Different dentists attach the retainers in different ways.  Some “glue” a retainer only on the two outer teeth (like fence posts).  Others choose to cement it to each tooth, usually the front six teeth.

Why do Permanent Retainers Need Special Care?

Permanent retainers run across the back of the front teeth, basically connecting them all together.  The placement of the wire horizontally across the back of the teeth prevents normal flossing.  As you attempt to floss between teeth connected by the retainer, the floss will hit the wire before it is able to reach the gums.

This means you cannot floss normally!

It is a dangerous myth that if you cannot floss this area, you do not need to floss this area.  You MUST floss underneath a permanent retainer in order to prevent gum disease and cavities.  You have to use special tools and techniques to keep a permanent retainer and the teeth underneath clean.

Without flossing, you are at risk for heavy plaque and tartar buildup on and around the permanent retainer.  Over time, this bacterial buildup increases the likelihood of cavities and gum disease on these teeth.  One of the benefits of having straight teeth is less plaque buildup.  However, if you do not properly clean your retainer, that benefit is lost!

How Do You Clean a Permanent Retainer?

The exact steps you should take to keep your retainer and the teeth underneath it clean are difficult to describe.  The very best thing you can do is ask your dental hygienist for instructions.

The dental hygienists at Premier Dental of Ohio are experts at giving customized oral hygiene instructions for your specific needs.  There are many different tools that can help you floss under a permanent retainer.  Oral-B Super Floss and GUM Eez-Thru Floss Threaders can help you get the floss where it needs to go.  There are Youtube video tutorials showing you how to use these products, but the best help you can get will be a personalized demonstration by your dental hygienist who knows your specific needs.

How Do You Maintain a Permanent Retainer?

The most important aspect of permanent retainer maintenance is NEVER missing a single professional teeth cleaning!  Not only is this time vital for your dental hygienist to give you the proper instructions on cleaning and caring for your permanent retainer; it is also the time that he or she removes the hard bacterial buildup that has accumulated in between visits.

Staying on track with consistent professional teeth cleanings keeps the bacteria at bay.  Missing a cleaning allows the amount of buildup to increase so much that your next cleaning can be long and even a little uncomfortable.  The inflammation that builds up in response to an overgrowth of bacteria can cause the gums to be tender, which makes them sore when you floss.  Do not miss these cleanings!

Problems with Permanent Retainers

There are a few problems that can occur with permanent retainers.  Here is how they can be fixed.

  1. The retainer is loose or falls off.

Your dentist attaches a permanent retainer to the teeth the same way braces are attached.  This dental cement can “de-bond” or detach from the tooth surface.  As you are flossing your permanent retainer, it is a good idea to lightly tug on the floss to make sure the retainer is firmly attached to the teeth.

If it becomes loose or completely falls off, call your dentist as soon as possible.  Teeth can move very quickly, so it is important to reattach the retainer as soon as possible.  Your dentist will re-bond the retainer onto the teeth in a simple and quick procedure.

  1. The retainer breaks.

These wires are not indestructible.  They can break, which completely cancels out their retaining ability.  Not only are they then incapable of doing their job, they can also scrape and cut your tongue with a sharp edge.  Broken retainers cannot stay that way.  Your dentist will remove it and replace it with a new one.

  1. No matter how hard you try, you just cannot floss under that thing every night.

We understand that the extra care required by a permanent retainer is not doable for everyone.  If you try and just cannot succeed with regular flossing under this type of retainer, it is time to consider another option.

People who cannot take care of a permanent retainer should try a removable retainer.  There are several types of removable retainers that will keep your teeth in position as long as you wear them consistently.

After cleaning your teeth at night, you put in your removable retainer and wear it as you sleep.  Take it out each morning, cleaning it and storing it somewhere safe.

Do You Need Help with Your Permanent Retainer?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with our dental experts.  They can teach you how to clean your retainer, schedule you with our awesome dental hygienists for important maintenance, and repair any problems with your retainer.

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