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Aligner Hygiene: What Happens If You Don't Clean Your Aligners

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Everyday objects need routine care to function best – think about dusting your home or oiling a bike chain. Similarly, aligners, too, require cleaning and maintenance to deliver their intended effect. But what happens if you neglect this?

Just as a dusty room can trigger allergies or a rusty bike chain can snap, dirty aligners can negatively impact your dental health and overall wellness. This article sheds light on the specific pitfalls of neglecting your aligner hygiene.

Table Of Contents

Aligner Hygiene: What Happens If You Don't Clean Your Aligners

Bacterial Buildup: Impact of Poor Aligner Hygiene

Bacterial buildup on aligners is more common than one might think. After all, our mouths naturally harbor bacteria. Every time you eat or drink, some remnants can get trapped between your aligners and teeth.

Over time, this can create a breeding ground for bacteria. This isn't just a concern for your aligners either; it can affect your oral health, too. Regular cleaning ensures that harmful bacteria don’t get a chance to grow and multiply. So, how should you go about cleaning them?

Apart from using lukewarm water and mild soap, there are specialized cleaning sprays available. One such option is Smilesaver, which eliminates 99.99% of bacteria and is free of harmful chemicals, offering peace of mind when you pop those aligners back in. Regular cleaning, aided by products like these, ensures that you’re keeping bacterial buildup at bay.

Staining and Discoloration

Let's discuss a frequent concern for aligner users: staining and discoloration. Foods and drinks with intense colors, like coffee, tea, or red wine, are the usual suspects. They can leave residues that, over time, tint the aligners. And these stains cause a lot of social embarrassment.

This change in appearance can be a real bummer for those who chose aligners for their discreet look. To maintain that near-invisible quality, regular and proper cleaning is essential. Simply rinsing after meals can make a difference. Additionally, avoiding certain beverages while wearing aligners or using a straw can help.

Reduced Effectiveness

One aspect of aligner care that might not be immediately obvious is how cleanliness relates to their effectiveness. Aligners work by applying consistent pressure to your teeth, guiding them to their desired positions.

When there's a buildup of debris or bacterial film on the aligner, it can prevent this snug fit against the teeth. It's similar to wearing shoes with pebbles inside; they just won't fit right.

So, what's the fallout? A less-than-perfect fit could mean your teeth aren't moving as intended. This can delay the progress of your treatment.

Risk of Tooth Decay

Here's a side of unclean aligners many might not consider: the increased risk of tooth decay. It's straightforward, really. When food particles get trapped between your teeth and the aligners, they can start to break down. As they do, they produce acids.

These acids can be harmful because they directly attack the enamel, the protective outer layer of our teeth. When the enamel is weakened or eroded, cavities can form, leading to tooth decay. And nobody wants that, especially when the goal is to achieve a healthier, straighter smile.

Gum Irritation

Another area of concern with unclean aligners is gum irritation. Think of it this way: just as a small stone in your shoe can cause discomfort, bacteria and debris lodged between your aligners and gums can irritate the sensitive gum tissue. Over time, this can lead to redness, swelling, and sometimes even bleeding.

Your gums play a crucial role in oral health as a barrier against potential infections. If they're constantly irritated, they become more susceptible to problems.

Keeping your aligners clean is not just about aesthetics or tooth health; it’s also about ensuring your gums remain in good condition.

Oral Infections

Let's dive into a significant concern that can arise from dirty aligners: oral infections. Your mouth is home to various bacteria, many of which are harmless.

However, when aligners aren't cleaned regularly, they can trap harmful bacteria against your teeth and gums. Over time, this can create an environment where these bacteria thrive and multiply.

The result? Painful situations like mouth sores, ulcers, or even more severe infections. These aren't just uncomfortable; they can disrupt your daily life, making eating, speaking, or even smiling a challenge.

Allergic Reactions

While many people wear aligners without issues, some may experience allergic reactions due to unclean aligners. It's not always the aligner itself causing the reaction, but often the substances or microbes accumulating on it. When bacteria and other particles build up on aligners, they can trigger sensitivity in certain individuals.

Symptoms might include itching, redness, or swelling in the mouth, making the aligner-wearing experience less than comfortable. It's like wearing a new piece of jewelry and realizing your skin doesn't agree with the material.

Altered Taste and Smell

One often overlooked effect of not cleaning aligners is the potential alteration in our sense of taste and smell. It's quite practical when you think about it. When aligners have a buildup of bacteria and food remnants, they can emit odors and influence the taste of foods and beverages.

Imagine sipping your favorite drink only to find it tastes a bit off. Or catching a whiff of an unexpected odor every time you speak or breathe. It's not the experience anyone signs up for when getting aligners. And this issue underscores the broader importance of cleanliness.

Increased Treatment Costs

When discussing aligner maintenance, one aspect many may not initially consider is the potential for increased treatment costs. Here's how it ties together: neglecting aligner cleanliness can lead to issues like bacterial buildup, tooth decay, or gum irritation.

Addressing these issues often means additional dental visits, treatments, or even replacement aligners. Simply put, these additional interventions can make your pocketbook feel the pinch. It's akin to skipping regular car maintenance only to face a hefty repair bill down the line.


Maintaining clean aligners isn't just about aesthetics; it's vital for your oral health and pocketbook. Dirty aligners can lead to bacterial buildup, oral infections, and even increased costs. Regular cleaning keeps adverse effects at bay, ensuring a comfortable and effective treatment journey. For a hassle-free path to a perfect smile, prioritize your aligner hygiene. It's a small effort with significant benefits.


Q: What is the importance of aligner hygiene?

A: Maintaining good aligner hygiene is crucial for the success of your orthodontic treatment. It helps prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria, plaque, and tartar, ensuring the health of your teeth and gums.

Q: How often should I clean my aligners?

A: It is recommended to clean your aligners at least twice a day, preferably after meals. This helps remove food particles and bacteria that can accumulate on the aligner surface.

Q: Can I use regular toothpaste to clean my aligners?

A: No, it is not recommended to use regular toothpaste as it can be abrasive and damage the aligners. Instead, use a soft-bristle toothbrush and clear, antibacterial soap or a denture cleaner specifically designed for aligners.

Q: What happens if I don't clean my aligners regularly?

A: If you neglect proper aligner hygiene, bacteria can multiply on the aligner surface, leading to bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. Additionally, the aligners may become discolored, affecting their transparency.

Q: Can I soak my aligners in mouthwash?

A: No, it is best to avoid soaking your aligners in mouthwash as it can contain ingredients that may discolor or damage the aligners. Stick to using a gentle cleanser recommended by your orthodontist.

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