Q: Can a plastic Invisalign style retainer actually harbor bacteria in the plastic itself, not just contained in calculus, tartar, or plaque on the retainer? Also I’ve been using a heavy baking soda solution to soak my retainers for the past year or so. Is this in your professional opinion the best option for soaking retainers?
Great question, Zach.
When you say Invisalign “style” retainer, you are referring to an over-the-teeth clear style device that holds your teeth in place after orthodontic movement of the teeth, either via conventional braces or via Invisalign itself.
The company Invisalign has its own proprietary material (a form of implantable-grade polyurethane). Its optical clarity and ability to stay clean are perhaps beyond reproach in the dental profession. It cleans up well since its outer surface is very non-porous.
But other Invisalign-like materials are more porous and may take up outside substances.
This means that whatever substance you use to clean these retainers may be held up against your teeth and gums, which can result in allergic reactions and other symptoms.
I do recommend using baking soda as a cleaner for dental devices or as an ingredient in mouthwash. Baking soda increases the pH of the mouth in a natural way, which can keep at bay the bacteria that cause problems in the mouth. Typically, the “bad guys” that cause trouble in the mouth like a more acidic environment, and baking soda combats this problem by making the environment more basic.
Here is how I clean my own retainers
Baking soda is also a great way to combat a smelly retainer. A lot of these dental devices start to get a rotten fruit smell after a while and baking soda is a natural and safe deodorizer.
Retainers have the capability of absorbing whatever chemicals they’re soaked in, which is why I recommend against soaking your retainer in Efferdent, Polident, or mouthwash. These solutions contain things that are bad for the mouth, like alcohol and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, and will dry out your retainer and your mouth at the same time. Stay away!
Flu-like symptoms (like sore throat, cough, nausea) have been reported by Invisalign users (although I have never experienced these symptoms nor seen them in my patients). Whether this is due cleaners like Polident or Efferdent or the actual material (or a synergy between the two) is unknown.
Here is what I recommend to clean all types of retainers (and play it safe):
Use the least porous material available.
I think it’s best to have the least porous material possible in your mouth. Make sure it’s FDA approved.
Keep them moist!
Never let the retainers dry out, as this is when the tartar and biofilm starts bonding to the reatainers: Either it’s in your mouth or in a container of distilled water.
Use castile soap.
You can use a squirt or two of Organic castile soap to the water you soak the retainer in. The main ingredients of castile soap are olive oil and coconut oil and castile soap does a wonderful job cleaning retainers while not exposing them to any harmful substances.
Do it the old-fashioned way.
Brush your retainers with a toothbrush and toothpaste.
In the mean time I’m looking for and experimenting with newer methods as this is currently a big problem that is not resolved.
Mark Burhenne DDS
What’s your favorite way to clean your retainers/dentures/Invisalign aligners?
Share your suggestions by leaving a comment below!