Clear Aligner Storage Dos and Don’ts
Since clear aligners are removable, you may assume that removability means less maintenance than fixed appliances. After all, you aren’t constantly picking out food debris from any wires or brackets, so that means easier, more effortless care, right?
Clear aligner care demands a responsible, highly-disciplined care regimen that you shouldn’t neglect. Conversely, it’s equally (if not more) important to care for them out of your mouth as it is to care for them within your mouth.
Aligner damage and losses can sometimes be an unavoidable occurrence, but the risk of this happening can usually be mitigated by following necessary storage precautions and avoiding simple mistakes.
Even the most trivial slip-ups in a two-hour timeframe could set your treatment back several more hours. Here are some dos and don’ts behind proper aligner storage and removal care.
Do: Store Them High
If you live with any furry friends at home, then you’re probably familiar with their desire to chew everything in front of them. Puppies in particular engage in intense teething, and they engage in this habit:
- To ease pain, boredom, and stress
- To learn more about the world around them
- As a natural part of baby (and subsequently, adult) teeth development
This isn’t vastly unlike the rationale of human babies who teeth, but a human baby won’t have the agility and dexterity needed to possibly reach the edge of a table. It’s good to aid your animal’s oral health, but don’t let that come at the expense of your own.
Unless you’re keeping them in a pocket, always store your aligners at an elevated, heightened position, out of a pet’s reach, and have your fuzzy pals stick to real chew toys.
If your aligner tray drops on the floor, don’t take any chances, and don’t hesitate to clean it ASAP.
Do: Clean and Dry Before Storing
Researchers have identified over 700 different species of bacteria that live inside the human mouth. Most of these species are harmless, but saliva can sometimes transmit numerous infectious diseases, including:
- Strep bacteria
You don’t want your aligner appliances to become a Petri-dish for these germs, nor for plaque. That’s why it’s so crucial to follow a three step process every time you remove your clear aligners:
- Rinsing the saliva, plaque, and additional contaminants out with warm water
- Gently brushing the aligners using a non-toxic, non-abrasive cleaner for good measure
- Rinsing and drying, to prevent moisture buildup
It’s not good to let moisture stay on the appliance, as bacteria thrives in moist environments. To prevent this, it’s a good practice to let the aligner tray air-dry before storage. Additionally, stick to using aligner containers with small vent holes, as those can also help facilitate air drying before storage.
Do: Stay Prepared
If you don’t have a case on hand to remove your aligners, that’s obviously a problem. For the best results when out and about, it’s always good to keep your aligners stored in a pouch or go-bag with:
- A spare container
- Lip balm
- Travel cleaning supplies
- Pain relief wax
- A clear aligner removal tool
Your aligners can be tight and strenuous to remove at times, especially within the first few days after wearing a new tray. An aligner tool can make the process of removal for storage considerably easier, using a small hook or level to gently, delicately jostle the aligner out.
For additional good measure, color code your container cases; this can be a useful way to discern containers for home use and containers for travel. If you struggle to remember packing your container in a school, work, or travel bag, store that spare case in that bag and nowhere else. Just be sure to put it back when you get home.
Don’t: Leave Them Out in the Open
This is fairly common-sense but one that can easily be taken for granted. Leaving aligners out in the open flippantly leaves them exposed to be lost, stolen, stepped on, misplaced, contaminated, or damaged. You might be think you're immune to mistakes like this but there are a myriad of scenarios where clear aligners could be left out in the open and misplaced:
- Sports: If you play high-contact sports, you should swap out your clear aligner for a robust, durable mouthguard. Be careful not to misplace one for the other though; both mouthguards and aligners serve their respective roles well, but not interchangeably. Don’t make that mistake, and don’t leave them behind in the locker room.
- Restaurants: If you’re out grabbing a meal and realize you left your aligner case at home, you might be tempted to wrap the aligner tray in a napkin, paper towel, or cloth tissue. Wrapping aligners like this is never an advisable idea. With the appliance out of sight, it’s far too easy for you or your server to leave it out of mind and accidentally throw it out with the tissue.
- Regions: Areas near high heat, humidity, and again, a pet’s reach, are NOT ideal storage locations for removable clear aligners. Humidity can warp the plastic of the aligners and containers, as can a dog’s powerful bite. Always do your due diligence to minimize the appliance’s proximity to these potential hazards.
- Loose pockets: If your case is stored in a loose pocket, then it’s possible that the container could tumbler from your pocket on public transit, or anywhere outside unbeknownst to you. Since you’re hustling to get from point A to B, it’s surprisingly easy to lose your aligners in the shuffle, which is why investing a little extra money and effort in a go-bag is so important. Even when not going anywhere, be mindful about not having your aligners fall out on a couch or chair, where they’re free to be unsuspectingly sat on.
Don’t: Store Them in Humid or High Heat Areas
If you’re a new clear aligner patient, your first instinct might be to store your aligner trays in the bathroom; after all, that’s where most of your toiletries and cleaning gear are likely stored, so it would make logical sense to store the clear aligner nearby, right?
Not necessarily. High heat and humidity can damage and deform the clear aligner material, as well as the container. If it’s a bathroom where hot showers and baths often happen, then that would NOT be an ideal place for aligner storage. Likewise, storing your appliance in a hot car during summer months could also lead to problematic plastic warping.
This is the same reason why placing aligners and/or containers in a dishwasher machine is a bad idea. General Electric lists the optimal dishwasher water temperature range as 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit; those heat levels won’t give your products a deep clean, and will only serve to irreparably misshape them.
Excess moisture will let bacteria fester, and excess humidity will let damage fester.
Don’t: Leave Them Out for Over Two Hours
This standard is common sense, but still remarkably easy to overlook and unconsciously ignore. After all, most people probably don’t monitor their precise aligner removal over a stop watch. But if you’re a frequent snacker, smoker, or non-water drinker who would constantly remove trays to do so, then you could overstep that two-hour removal time limit without realizing it.
Storing them out of your mouth any longer than that will impede treatment compliance and can set progress considerably far back. Additionally, if you are a frequent snacker or smoker, then the orthodontist may conclude that you aren’t an ideal clear aligner candidate to begin with. It’s advisable to work on curtailing those habits before seeking clear aligner treatment, if possible.
What If All Else Fails?
If your clear aligners get lost or broken, don’t stress! It’s not the end of the world, nor is it the end of your treatment success. Depending on case and context, you may move to the next set in the aligner sequence, or use the previous set of aligners for the time being. If the next set of aligners are not available and you do not have the last set of aligners, you need to let your orthodontist know ASAP. Ordering new sets may cost you somewhat extra, but if you hesitate, the teeth will shift and the gain in alignment will be lost.
In any case, it’s always good to hold on to your last set of removable clear aligners as a precautionary backup just in case, stored in a spare container. Aligner loss isn’t a grievous-enough mistake to throw off your treatment entirely, though it can be a highly annoying and pricey nuisance. It’s best to avoid this nuisance entirely by cleaning diligently and storing conscientiously.