The Invisalign® Cleaning System / Alternatives (homemade and commercial)
Your aligners require cleaning just like your own teeth do.
Once you've begun to wear your Invisalign® aligners, you'll probably notice that the same debris (dental plaque and tartar) that tends to accumulate on your own teeth will start to build up on them too.
Over time, this debris can start to show (and make your aligners more obvious) or be the source of odor. Fortunately, using just a little bit of knowledge and effort, it should be easy enough for you to keep your aligners fresh and clean. Here are some of the options that you have.
Using the Invisalign® Cleaning System (Crystals).
Align Technology, Inc. (the maker of Invisalign®) sells a product they call the "Invisalign® Cleaning System."
Prepackaged cleaning crystals.
This product contains individual packets of "crystals" which, when added to water, make a soaking solution that Align Technology says will remove dental plaque from a patient's aligners.
Is it necessary to use the Invisalign® Cleaning System?
The main drawback of using Invisalign® crystals is that they're a bit pricey. Using these packets costs on the order of a dollar a day. And in light of this, some people wonder how important it is for them to use this specific cleanser.
Potential damage from other cleansers evidently is only a cosmetic one.
Per information from Invisalign®, the answer to this question is as follows. They suggests that the use of other cleaners can cause surface damage to Invisalign® aligners that can cause them to become dull or cloudy and therefore more obvious to others when they are being worn.
Are there alternatives to using the Invisalign® Cleaning System?
Despite Align Technology, Inc.'s claims, we've seen a number of reports from Invisalign® patients describing alternative methods that they use to clean their aligners (both commercial preparations and homemade soaks).
All of these methods are similar in the fact that they have a lower cost (often significantly so) than Invisalign® crystals and have not been noted (by the people using them) to cause any readily visible change in aligner appearance. (How to test the use of a new cleaning system.)
- Using commercial soaks. (SonicBrite, Retainer Brite, denture cleansers.)
- Using homemade solutions. (Bleach, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar.)
- Why mouthwash isn't the best choice.
- Cleaning your aligners with a toothbrush.
Consider using a vibratory bath.
In all cases, the effectiveness of any soak (commercial or homemade) can be enhanced if it is used in conjunction with a vibrating bath (either a sonic, or better yet, ultrasonic cleaning unit). The agitation that these units create can help to dislodge micro-particles that often remain adherent to aligners even after a thorough brushing.
Also, remember this. Soaking solutions are intended for use with your aligners only. Any residual liquid that remains on them after cleaning should be thoroughly rinsed off before they are placed back into your mouth.
Commercial products - Cleansers and soaks.
1) SonicBrite / Retainer Brite
SonicBrite and Retainer Brite are two commercial products whose instructions specifically state that they are suitable for use with removable braces (like Invisalign®). These products can help to remove stain and kill bacteria and other microorganisms. When used, one packet of crystals is mixed with water to create a soaking solution.
Both SonicBrite and Retainer Brite sell battery-powered vibrating baths whose use can enhance the cleansing action of their product (these same baths could be used with any other type of soaking solution to enhance its cleaning effect too). For those who like the idea of buying a commercially prepared product, these cleansers offer a more cost-effective solution than the Invisalign® Cleaning System.
2) Effervescent denture cleansing products (Efferdent, Polident, Kleenite and generic equivalents).
Commercially prepared effervescent denture cleaning products (tablets, powders, crystals and foams) can be used to clean invisible braces.
These products are usually formulated with some type of oxidizing compound that is capable of killing microorganisms and removing stains. They also contain an effervescing (bubbling) agent that helps to dissolve the product and provide some minor level of cleansing action. Other ingredients typically include a tartar removing agent (chelating agent) and various detergents, enzymes, dyes, flavorings and fragrances.
Homemade cleaning solutions and soaks.
Some people like the idea of using a homemade soak to clean their Invisalign® aligners. Besides the convenience of already having the ingredients needed to make these solutions on hand, they also happen to be incredibly inexpensive.
Each of these homemade cleaners has its own particular strengths. (We've made mention of them below.) Because of this, one may stand out to you as best because it's good at addressing the type of problem that you have. For others, you might consider creating a routine that involves rotating through the use of each of them. And, just as with commercially prepared products, the use of a vibratory bath will enhance the cleaning action of each of these homemade solutions.
1) Diluted hydrogen peroxide solution.
Dilute hydrogen peroxide 50:50 with water and use it as a soaking solution. Hydrogen peroxide has antibacterial / antimicrobial properties. This type of cleanser would not be expected to be effective at removing tartar.
2) Diluted bleach solution (sodium hypochlorite).
Dilute household bleach (Clorox) at a ratio of one part bleach to ten parts tap water and use it as a soaking solution. Dental research has shown that this mixture is effective in killing microorganisms harbored on dental appliances. Bleach-based solutions are also good at removing many types of staining.
Diluted bleach solution on its own will not be effective at removing tartar. To remedy this, add to it one teaspoon of Calgon water softener (Calgon the calcium-chelating agent, not Calgon the soap or bath oil) per glassful.
3) Diluted vinegar solution (acetic acid).
Dilute ordinary white vinegar 50:50 with tap water and use it as a soaking solution. The mildly acidic nature of the vinegar makes this soak especially effective at removing accumulated tartar. It is also effective in killing microorganisms.
Why mouthwash isn't the best choice for cleaning your aligners.
You've probably noticed that several mouthwash brands make antibacterial claims in their advertising. This, plus the fact that these products usually have a pleasant flavor, makes it easy to come to the (mistaken) conclusion that a mouthwash might be a good choice for cleaning your Invisalign® aligners.
In reality, at least from information derived from denture cleaning studies, mouthwashes have not been shown to be nearly as effective as you would expect.
Compounding matters, some Invisalign® patients have reported that colored mouthwashes (especially red) have caused their aligners to discolor (or have tinted the debris that has accumulated on them).
Cleaning removable braces with a toothbrush.
One way to clean debris and dental plaque from orthodontic aligners is with a toothbrush. Any soft-bristled toothbrush should be suitable for this task. Since some portions of aligners are quite narrow, a small child's toothbrush is probably the best choice. As an alternative, some people use Q-tips.
Don't use toothpaste, use a mild detergent.
Toothpaste isn't the best choice for cleaning removable braces. Many types of toothpaste, especially "whitening" toothpaste, contain abrasives that can, over time, create enough micro-scratches on an aligner's surface that (collectively) they start to show. Instead, you should either use just plain water or else use water and a mild dishwashing detergent.
Set aside one toothbrush for just cleaning your aligners.
Even the small amount of toothpaste that remains on a brush after use might, over time, begin to dull an aligner's surface. For this reason, it is best to dedicate a brush just for use with your clear braces.
Cleaning your Invisalign® aligners isn't rocket science.
The temporary nature of each set of aligners makes the act of evaluating the suitability of any cleaning method quite easy to do, without any risk of serious consequences.
- If you have an old set of aligners, experiment with using the new cleaning method on them before you use it with your current set.
- If you find that you have been using a method that does seem to make a visible change in the appearance of your aligners, then simply don't use it any more and don't use it with any future sets either.
- If you are wary about what long-term effect a cleaning method might have on an appliance that you will wear on a long-term basis (like a retainer), start experimenting with an old set of aligners now. Each day as you clean your current set, clean your test aligners too. Determine for yourself if any visible change takes place over time.
Always avoid a heated environment when you clean your Invisalign® aligners.
It's important to understand that whatever method you choose to clean your removable braces it must never involve the use of heat or hot liquids.
Invisalign® aligners are vacuum-molded appliances that are made by softening a sheet of plastic with heat and then suctioning it down over a model. The use of a heated environment when cleaning them might cause your aligners to soften and become distorted.