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If you’re new to the world of removable dental appliances, like many people, you may be wondering: is there a difference between night guards, retainers and aligners?

There are important key differences. Your dental health professional will talk you through which one is right for you based on your individual treatment needs.

What is an aligner?

Aligners are part of orthodontic treatment to improve the alignment of your teeth.

How does an aligner work?

Aligners are designed to apply just the right amount of pressure in just the right places to coax your teeth into a new position during orthodontic treatment.

You’ll be given an aligner by your dentist made from a mould of your teeth. It’s important to wear these aligners as advised by your dentist. Step by step, as you progress through your treatment your teeth will be moved gradually to their final positions. Once in place, your dentist may advise that you need to wear a retainer to keep them there.

What is a retainer?

Retainers are designed to keep your teeth in position following orthodontic treatment, such as tooth realignment or straightening. Once your teeth have been moved to their final position at the end of treatment, it will take time for the surrounding gum and bone to adjust to the new position. To be effective, retainers need to be worn in accordance with your dental health professional's advice. You can learn more about the different types of retainer here.

How does a retainer work?

Retainers are precision moulded to fit the individual positions of your teeth. Like a tailor fits a suit, each retainer is made and fitted bespoke to you. They’re designed to keep your teeth from moving and hold them in place. They may feel a little strange at first, but by following your dental health professional's advice, this feeling should improve in a few weeks.

How should I take care of a retainer or an aligner?

It’s important to care for your retainer or aligner. Cracked or broken retainers or aligners may not hold your teeth in place and should be replaced by your dentist. It is also important to clean retainers and aligners regularly as bacteria can quickly build up and may lead to bad breath. Learn more about clear retainers, aligners, night guard and build up of bacteria here.

What is a night guard?

At first glance a night guard might look a lot like a retainer. Both may be made from clear plastic and fit over your upper or lower teeth.

How does a night guard work?

If you grind your teeth at night (or bruxism to give it its medical name), you may have been recommended to wear a night guard. Their main purpose is to protect your teeth by providing a barrier between your upper and lower teeth.

Why should I use a night guard?

While there are many reasons why people grind their teeth, the potential harm to your teeth is the same. You may not even be aware you’re doing it, but the constant grinding wears down your teeth, abrading the enamel, potentially exposing more vulnerable parts of your teeth and weakening them.

How should I care for a night guard?

Just like retainers, it’s important to care for your night guard on a daily basis. Regular effective cleaning will reduce bacterial build up that can cause bad breath and discolouration.

Using a suitable, specialist removable dental appliance cleanser daily, like Polident Retainer & Mouthguard Cleanser, can be a convenient and easy way to help ensure your retainer, aligner or night guard is kept clean. These dissolvable tablets are formulated to be gentle enough for daily use and specially designed with Crystal Clear technology to lift stains and help keep your removable dental appliance clean and remove* 99.9% of odour-causing bacteria in just 3 minutes.**

*When used as directed. ** In laboratory tests; Kiesow, A. et al. (2016) J. Prosthet. Dent. 115(2) 189-198. Sponsored by Haleon