Do Retainers Melt?

Do Retainers Melt
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You just got your braces off and have a smile worth showing off. But preserving your new perfectly aligned teeth depends on wearing your retainers as directed. However, as essential as retainers are, keeping track of the plastic trays can be tough. All it takes is accidentally leaving yours perched on a sunny car seat or tucked in a pocket headed for the dryer, and… could your expensive retainers melt into a molten blob? It may sound far-fetched, but retainers can deform and warp under certain conditions.

In this article, we’ll delve into the reasons behind retainer melting, offer practical advice on how to prevent it and guide you on the steps to take if your retainer does melt.

Causes of Melting

Retainers don’t actually have to reach melting temperatures to become misshapen or structurally damaged. Everyday mishaps can also deform these important dental appliances. Read on to discover some common culprits that can warp your retainers.

Hot or Boiled Water

One everyday substance that poses a sneaky threat to retainer integrity is ordinary hot water. While boil-temp water can quickly compromise dental plastics, even lower temperatures yet still quite hot tap water can subtly distort trays. It’s easy to accidentally expose retainers to hot water risks daily just while cleaning. If you briefly place your Essix or Hawley retainer in a cup of steamy tap water while brushing your teeth, for example, the heat could gradually seep into the plastic or wires. Over days and weeks, cumulative exposure to hot water may warp the shape enough to impair function without you realizing the gradual damage. For maximum retainer life, make sure to cool water to warm or room temp before soaking. And both plastic and wire retainers should be cleaned with cool, not hot, water as well.

Worth Knowing

A study featured in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics reveals that two years after receiving their retainers, 19% of patients had stopped wearing them altogether, while 81% continued to wear their retainers at least once a week.

Hot Beverages

Hot beverages like freshly brewed coffee or tea seem harmless enough when handled carefully. Yet these steamy drinks still reach temperatures beyond the heat tolerance of plastic dental appliances. It takes only a fleeting dip into a full mug or a splash from an overfilled cup for retainers to sustain structural issues. The hot liquid won’t immediately warp or melt plastic Essix trays or Hawley wires on contact. However, repeated hot beverage accidents can incrementally misshape retainers further. So while an occasionally coffee-doused retainer won’t require an immediate replacement, the safety of your straight new smile depends on keeping retainers away from hot liquids altogether.

Direct Sunlight or Heat

It’s no secret that leaving plastic items like water bottles in hot cars warps their shape. Yet many patients don’t realize the same heat risks apply to acrylic dental appliances like retainers when left in sunlight. Direct UV exposure and sweltering vehicle interiors can wreak havoc on Essix and Hawley retainers. Despite being sturdy enough for regular wear and tear in your mouth, intense ambient temperatures outside the body quickly soften appliance materials.

Brief sunlight likely won’t melt retainers immediately, but repeatedly baking them on car seats or poolside tables allows heat to subtly build and gradually distort their fit. And because warping from heat exposure is gradual, patients may not notice declining retainer effectiveness right away. But the resulting minute changes in shape or structural integrity can mean the difference between your straight smile staying intact or slowly shifting.

Cleaning in a Dishwasher

In a rush to clean all your dinner dishes and get on with your night, it can be tempting to toss your recently removed retainers into the dishwasher for a quick wash. However, while dishwashers sanitize other dinnerware, their high heat and caustic detergents wreak havoc on plastic orthodontic appliances. Exposed to scalding water and abrasive cycles, Essix and Hawley’s retainers often emerge from the dishwasher misshapen or with warped base plates unable to properly grip teeth. And with retainers containing metal wires or brackets, the combined high temperatures and chemical cleaners can corrode or even loosen embedded components.

While a single dishwasher cycle likely won’t destroy retainers outright, repeated improper washing gradually undermines structural integrity. So to avoid slowly damaging retainers meant to protect your smile, always wash them by hand with gentle soap and cool water instead.

How to Care for Your Retainer

Just as retainers look after your teeth, you’ll need to look after your retainers for them to fully protect your smile. Here are some tips on how to care for retainers:

Always Remove a Retainer when You Eat or Drink

It’s easy to get used to having retainers in your mouth and forget about them when meal or snack times hit. But leaving trays in while enjoying food and beverages poses risks to oral health and the longevity of your dental appliances. Constant exposure to sugars, acids, and starches promotes bacteria growth, leading to more plaque buildup, decay risks, and oral inflammation issues when retainers are present. And sipping hot drinks can subtly deform the shape of plastic trays over time as wear and tear accumulate. That’s why one golden rule for retainer care is always removing your trays before putting anything in your mouth beyond water.

Related post: Can You Eat with Clear Aligners?

Clean It Every Day

With retainers in constant contact with the moist environment of the mouth, food debris, plaque acids, and bacteria buildup are unavoidable issues. That’s why diligent daily cleaning is imperative for both dental health and proper retainer function. Set aside time each morning and evening to use cool water and a soft toothbrush or designated retainer brush to gently scrub away any film, tartar or residue on your Essix or Hawley tray. Be sure to also brush the embedded wires on Hawley styles. Over time, this consistent effort inhibits bacteria overgrowth and prevents stubborn stains that compromise the fit of appliances. It also washes away food bits and odor-causing debris you can’t see. Investing a couple of quick minutes in routinely cleaning retainers keeps them free of obstructions and functioning properly to support your smile.

Always Keep It in a Case

Vulnerable plastic and wire appliances are easily lost or damaged without proper storage habits. When not being worn, the best practice is always to place your Essix or Hawley retainer into a sturdy, sealable orthodontic case. Carrying cases protect against warping from heat exposure, prevent accidental drops into the trash or toilet, and discourage pets from mistaking retainers for chew toys. Cases also eliminate the gross possibility of trays gathering bacteria, dust, or debris in drawers when loose. Portable and discreet enough for school, work, or travel, the durability of cases ensures you never misplace retainers by having a constant safe haven for valuable dental appliances.

Remove Carefully

Constantly placing and removing the retainers can unintentionally shift their fit or damage the plastic and wires. That’s why developing careful retainer removal habits is an essential care tip. Always grasp Essix or Hawley retainers by their edges to avoid warping the delicate plastic or embedded metal parts required for proper function. Take extra precaution when removing Hawley styles to not bend or alter the wire framework stabilizing realigned teeth. Rushing the removal process often leads to accidentally dropped retainers which can detach wires or fracture beyond repair. Take your time and remove retainers correctly – preserving their original adjusted shape means your straightened smile stays securely in place as well.

Don’t Experiment

After finally achieving a perfect smile through orthodontic treatment, it’s tempting to have some fun with your retainers now that braces are gone. Yet playing homemade science experiments or pulling pranks that test how much heat or pressure retainers can take before misshaping often ends poorly.

Subjecting Essix or Hawley trays to extreme thermal conditions like ovens, boiling water, or open flames rarely reveals any surprising truths – only melted plastic or warped wires useless for holding teeth in corrected alignment. And impressing friends by seeing if retainers can withstand being baked, microwaved, or pressure-crushed between books just means a greater likelihood of expensive replacement costs and teeth drifting from hard-won positions. Instead of careless curiosity, treat retainers with cautious care and mature respect. Don’t push boundaries just because retainers seem indestructible while securely fastened in your mouth.

Worth Knowing

To take proper care of retainers and protect your smile investment, establish consistent cleaning routines to remove debris, always store in cases when not worn to prevent damage, remove carefully for eating/drinking, and don’t experiment with extreme conditions.

Be Careful – Do not Leave it in a Hot Car or Direct Sunlight

After years in braces, you undoubtedly count down the days until sparkling retainers can free you from metal wires. Yet with freedom comes the responsibility to protect your new appliances nearly as diligently as you did braces themselves. That means remaining vigilant about temperature extremes that can subtly warp plastic trays and metal components while out of your mouth. Never leave retainers baking unattended in parked cars, especially during summer as intense heat rapidly softens acrylic. And don’t lounge poolside without realizing UV rays also gradually distort unprotected appliances.

Train yourself to treat retainers as carefully as you do your phone or other valuables before leaving cars or enjoying outdoor activities. With simple planning like stashing retainers away into insulated cases or bags, you shield hard-earned orthodontic investments against sneaky daylight or sweltering vehicle conditions waiting to compromise their shape and function.

What to Do if the Retainer Melts

Despite your best efforts, accidents sometimes happen that expose retainers to high heat causing them to deform or warp. First, safely retrieve the melted appliance if possible, and bring it to your orthodontist. Don’t continue wearing a melted retainer hoping to get extra use. Even with subtle distortions, compromised fit means your teeth may shift and undo progress. For minor warping, your dentist may attempt to adjust and repair damaged retainers. However significant melting often requires complete replacement. In the meantime, revert to wearing your previous set of retainers if an older intact pair exists from earlier in treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Retainers Melt in Hot Water?

Yes, retainers can melt or warp if exposed to hot water. Most retainers are made from thermoplastic materials that are molded to fit your teeth precisely. When these materials are subjected to high temperatures, such as hot water, they can soften and lose their shape. This deformation can lead to a poor fit, reducing the effectiveness of the retainer in maintaining the alignment of your teeth after orthodontic treatment. To avoid damaging your retainers, always use lukewarm or cool water for cleaning, and never use hot water or expose them to high-temperature environments like a dishwasher or a car dashboard on a sunny day.

Can Retainers be Fixed if They Melt?

Retainers that become mildly warped from brief heat exposure can often be adjusted by orthodontists and salvaged for continued use. However, significantly melted or misshapen retainers typically require completely remaking new appliances.

Sources:

Lyros, I., Tsolakis, I. A., Maroulakos, M. P., Fora, E., Lykogeorgos, T., Dalampira, M., Tsolakis, A. I., Orthodontic Retainers—A Critical Review. Children (Basel) 2023. DOI: 10.3390/children10020230. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9954726/

Wible, E., Agarwal, M., Altun, S., Ramir, T., Viana, G., Evans, C., Lukic, H., Atsawasuwan, P., Long-term effects of various cleaning methods on polypropylene/ethylene copolymer retainer material. Angle Orthod (2019). DOI: 10.2319/060818-429.1. Available online at: https://meridian.allenpress.com/angle-orthodontist/article/89/3/432/9977/

Raja, T. A., Littlewood, S. J., Munyombwe, T., Bubb, N. L., Wear resistance of four types of vacuum-formed retainer materials: A laboratory study. Angle Orthod (2014). DOI: 10.2319/061313-448.1. Available online at: https://meridian.allenpress.com/angle-orthodontist/article/84/4/656/57964/

Kacer, K. A., Valiathan, M., Narendran, S., Hans, M. G., Retainer wear and compliance in the first 2 years after active orthodontic treatment. Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop, 2010. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajodo.2008.12.027. Available online at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21055599/

Iza Wojnarowski

Content contributor

Iza is a dedicated content contributor for Toothific. Having worn braces twice and currently using Invisalign to correct a mild overbite, Iza brings a unique perspective to her writing. She spends her time staying updated on the latest dental trends and treatments, ensuring her readers have the most current information for their dental care needs.

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