How do you care for your dental appliance?

If so, please review these tips for keeping it clean, undamaged and bacteria-free. As someone who has spent decades making these devices, I can assure you that your appliance will last longer and serve you better if you take proper care of it.

Have you just got your appliance?

This is true whether you wear full or partial dentures for replacing teeth; clear orthodontic aligners or a retainer for orthodontic treatment, a night-guard to prevent nighttime teeth grinding,  an appliance to protect against jaw joint problems (TMD), a sleep appliance to manage snoring and/or obstructive sleep apnea or a sports mouthguard to protect you from injury during sports.

Don’t use toothpaste on your appliance

Remember teeth and oral appliances are made of different materials, so they must be cleaned differently.  Teeth are hard and appliances are softer. Toothpaste is actually an abrasive cleanser — it has grainy particles to help scrub bacterial biofilm (plaque) and food debris off the teeth and shine them up.

As the  teeth are covered by enamel, the hardest substance in the human body, they can stand up to this abrasive action. Your plastic appliance often cannot. Toothpaste creates micro scratches (abrasion) in the material, which can then attract bacteria. This may eventually cause unpleasant odours and discolouration.

Do use a liquid dish detergent or hand soap and warm water

These ordinary household soaps are much milder and do a very good job, I use a bar of soap and have done without problems for decades now. You only need to use a little bit on a soft brush. You could also use denture pastes and cleansers, which are non-abrasive, but they are more expensive than plain old liquid soap, which is just as good. After brushing your appliance, rinse it well unless you like the taste of soap!

Do get a special brush just for the appliance

As you will be putting soap on this brush,  you won’t want to use the same brush for your teeth. However, you can use a soft toothbrush for this purpose or a nailbrush.

You can also buy a brush especially made for cleaning dentures which is by far the better choice, it is just slightly bigger than a toothbrush and has two different brush heads. They are cheap, available in any drug store, and can be used to clean not just dentures but any oral appliance.

Don’t ever boil your appliance or use boiling water to clean it — or even use very hot water

While it’s true that boiling will kill bacteria. It will also destroy your appliance because heat distorts plastic. The reason your dentist took impressions or scanning of your mouth before having your device made was to ensure a precise fit.

If you loosen that fit, you lose the comfort and function your appliance offers. In the case of clear plastic aligners, which are fabricated to move your teeth little by little in a carefully controlled manner, you could even find your teeth moving out of alignment instead of into it. Since they are designed to be worn around the clock (except when eating), keeping them clean all the time is vital.

Never use bleach

Just as some are tempted to boil their appliances to freshen them up, others feel bleaching will be a good way to kill bacteria – NO. This will break down the materials of which they are made. It will also bleach dentures and make the gums white – as well as the teeth  – the areas of your appliance that are coloured to mimic real gum tissue.

Your appliance can also absorb the strong odours of bleach, which is not a substance that belongs in your mouth.

Place a towel down in the sink basin while cleaning your appliance – or at least clean your appliance over a bowel or sink full of water.

Dentures in particular have parts that can break if dropped in a porcelain sink, and that’s an expensive mishap. A towel in the sink can cushion the blow if this happens. If your hand is not quite as steady as it used to be, you can provide some insurance this way.

Hold it carefully when you’re cleaning it – don’t grip it from side to side as too much squeezing force could distort or even break it. Appliances are very strong in the mouth, less so outside the mouth.

Consider investing in an ultrasonic cleaner

Scientific studies have shown that the best way to clean an oral appliance is with an ultrasonic cleaner — a small, countertop device that costs around $60 or so and sold in many housewares stores. It cleans by emitting high frequency sound vibrations, which get into all the little crevices that a brush can’t fit into.

Remember if you use one, you must clean the appliance carefully BEFORE placing it in the bath. It works much better that way. Equally give it a brush over when you remove it for the best results.

Use appropriate oral hygiene products to freshen your breath

Keep in mind that cleaning your mouth and cleaning your appliance are two entirely different yet important tasks. If you are bothered by mouth odours, you need to consider not only the cleanliness of your appliance but also if your daily oral hygiene routine is adequate.

Even if you don’t have any natural teeth left, you may still need to brush your tongue and/or gum ridges, and you may want to use a mouthwash for fresh breath. Natural teeth and implant-supported teeth need to be brushed and flossed daily. I’ve always told my patients that you don’t have to clean all of your teeth, just the ones that you want to keep.

Don’t leave your appliance out on your nightstand or anywhere else

Pets, especially dogs find oral appliances tasty — especially those that have been worn for a time. So, when it’s not in your mouth or being cleaned, the device belongs in its case, or soaking overnight in water or a cleaning solution –  safely stored according to your dentist’s instructions.

Don’t wear dentures 24 hours a day, which is like leaving your socks on all the time.

Leave them out overnight so that the natural antibacterial elements and cleansing action of saliva can do its job. Don’t ignore any signs of infection.

If unpleasant mouth odours are a persistent problem, or you notice a white film on the appliance or on the palate (roof of the mouth) that contacts that part of your appliance, or your palate is red and looks inflamed, please consult with your dentist.

Just as anywhere in your body, any un-healing (after a few weeks) area should be checked.

Check for signs of possible oral infection, usually a consequence of prolonged denture use, which may require treatment. Again, keep in mind that your mouth and your device are two separate entities, both of which need separate and appropriate care.

 Visit your Dentist regularly.

Your oral appliance serves a very important function. It also represents a significant investment in your health, appearance and well-being. Protect that investment and get the most out of it by treating your oral appliance with care and using it as directed by your dentist.

If you have any concerns about it – ask your dentist. If you have to have a filling or a crown the dentist can usually work around an appliance – so make sure you tell your dentist that you have one – always take it along when the dentist needs it.

Keep up with your gum and tooth maintenance. Have a good Home Care program

Most appliances fit on the teeth which means you need to keep your teeth if you want the appliance to fit and be retentive.

Appliances don’t cause cavities or gum disease but they can trap bacteria that haven’t been cleaned  away adequately. Always make sure that your dentist provides you with a gum charting because then you know exactly where any problem areas are.

You will probably get fed-up of hearing this but, health loves routine. Just like healthy sleep works better on a routine so does maintaining your bum and tooth health. Just like you wash a car from top to bottom and leave the wheels till last, have a routine for your teeth so that you don’t miss areas. Never miss cleaning your teeth the bacteria start organising straight away.

Floss once a day – it takes around a minute – not too much to ask for the benefits you’ll get. Remember to floss till the surface squeaks – that way you know that you’re on the tooth and the floss is not just running over the plaque and bacteria!

And remember – you don’t have to clean all of your teeth, just the ones that you want to keep.

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