How Do I Swallow With My Retainer?

Dental responsibilities remain even after braces come off.
Dental responsibilities remain even after braces come off. (Image: Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Even after braces have been removed, dental responsibilities remain. The last phase of orthodontic treatment requires wearing a retainer to hold teeth in their appropriate position. When retainers are worn, salivation often increases and can cause swallowing problems in patients. Through regular practice, swallowing exercises can help correct these problems and allow for more natural swallowing while a retainer is in place.

Determine which type of retainer you have. Removable retainers are taken out during eating and brushing your teeth: Hawley removable retainers have a plastic base connected to a metal wire that wraps around your teeth, while Essix retainers are made entirely of clear plastic. Fixed retainers, on the other hand, are cemented to your teeth and can be removed only with the help of a dentist.

Clean your retainer nightly. Brush Hawley retainers in warm water with a toothbrush; soak Essix retainers in dentures or retainer cleaner.

Practice a simple swallowing exercise: Try clicking your tongue against the back of your front upper teeth 10 times with your mouth open, mouth closed, and teeth closed. A correct swallow makes the tongue move up and back.

Elaborate on the simple swallowing exercise: Smile wide with your teeth showing but closed, place your tongue up and behind the front upper teeth, push your tongue up and pull it back to swallow. Next, smile wide again with your teeth showing but closed and your tongue placed behind your front teeth. Make a slurping noise and swallow, without closing your lips.

Tips & Warnings

  • Ideally, retainers should be worn the dentist-recommended amount of hours per day.
  • To freshen the taste of your retainer, rinse with mouthwash diluted with water.
  • Do not wash your retainer in hot water or place it near a heat source, as this will cause warping.
  • In order to limit breakage of permanent retainers, do not eat anything sticky or hard.

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