Retainers exist for a number of different reasons, whether it’s keeping your teeth in place after braces or slowly creating your new smile with Invisalign.

Since they play such a large role in shaping and maintaining your new smile, it is very important to take proper care of them (and your teeth!) to make sure you get your money’s worth.  

With the average time your retainer should be worn after having braces clocking in at 22 hrs a day, it’s inevitable to want to enjoy a coffee or other beverage while wearing one.

While it is good practice to always remove your retainer before eating and drinking anything besides plain water, sometimes that’s just not an option! 

So, today we are delving into retainer basics, how to properly clean and maintain one so you can have good oral hygiene , and answering one of the most common questions….

Can you drink coffee with a retainer in? 

women at dentist appointment, retainer

Table Of Contents (Just click on the section you want to read!)

Diving into retainer basics

Potential impacts of coffee on your retainer

The staining potential of coffee

The impact of a hot coffee 

The impact of high acidity and sugar

Reducing the impact coffee has on your retainer

So, you drank coffee with your retainer in… now what?

Conclusion: Can you drink coffee with your retainer in?


Let’s Dive into Retainer Basics

Firstly, lets learn a bit more about retainer basics, such as what they’re made of and so on. 

There are three main types of retainers on the market right now:

#1 The Hawley Retainer

green Hawley permanent retainer

The Hawley Retainer is going to be your go-to classic removeable retainer.

Made out of acrylic and metal and perfectly molded to your fit your post braces teeth, this is one of the most common retainers out there.

One of the benefits of this retainer is you can choose what color you want it to be, or even put a pattern on it.

I even had mine customized with the logo of my high school!

#2: Clear Retainers / Clear Braces

Clear retainers have quickly become one of the most common removable retainers out there. these ones act both as a retainer but also can an alignment tool.

While you probably most likely know this type of retainer as part of the Invisalign treatment program but there are actually two types of retainers that fall into this this category. 

Both Essix retainers and Vivera (Invisalign) retainers are made out of clear, durable, thermoplastic that has been named “Smart Track”.

They are molded to the user’s teeth perfectly and when maintained well, are almost invisible.

The main difference between the two is the thickness of the retainer.

Essix retainers are actually 30% thinner than Vivera retainers, leading to them warping and distorting much easier than the Invisalign trays. 

#3 Permanent or fixed retainers

The last common type of retainer on the market is a permanent or fixed retainer.

These are made of metal and some type of bonding material that fits the metal wire to the teeth.

You’ll typically find these behind attached to the back of your bottom teeth or behind your top teeth. 

While you most likely still need to wear a removable retainer after having braces, having a permanent retainer substantially minimizes the amount of tooth movement over time.

The only major downside to these permanent retainers is that they can be very difficult to keep clean.

Food particles commonly get stuck in between the teeth under the wire and are difficult to properly get out.

Potential Impacts Coffee May Have on Retainers 

While you can drink water and other drinks while having your retainer in, drinking coffee, especially hot coffee, poses a few different risks for your retainer.

1. The Staining Potential of Coffee

One of the biggest concerns with drinking coffee while having a retainer in is the staining potential.

Similar to red wine, coffee has the ability to stain a variety of materials such as linens, plastics and even our teeth.

This staining property comes from the tannins found in coffee.

When these are present, the color compounds in coffee (aka the brown color) has the ability to stick to things, leading to stained teeth and potentially a stained retainer.

While we have some ways to get stains out of our teeth such as teeth whitening, it can be a bit more difficult to get the coffee stains out of plastic materials. 

Plastic materials tend to be much more porous and thus really absorb that lovely brown coffee color.

While it may not be a huge deal that your colored removable retainer picks up a bit of coffee stain, it may be a bit more noticeable for those using Invisalign retainers as they’re completely clear.

With the whole point being that the retainer is “invisible”, you don’t want to turn them yellow!


2. The Impact of a Hot Coffee

The second main concern when drinking coffee with a retainer in is how the heat from the coffee might affect the materials the retainer is made of.

Experts state an ideal cup of hot coffee will be served at a temperature between 180 and 185 F.

From my barista experience, we steamed milk to around 140 F, so we will say the average coffee temperature ranges from 140-180 F. 

When it comes to both Hawley retainers and clear (Essix & Vivera) aligners, the melting point for the plastics used sits around 300-320 degrees Fahrenheit.

Again, for average cup of coffee, you’ll be hitting around 140-180 degrees Fahrenheit, so around halfway to the plastics’ melting point.

Although the heat from your coffee will not melt the material, it can definitely weaken the plastic material leading to deformation, which would unfortunately defeat the point of your retainer! 

Also remember the Essix retainers are much thinner than the similar Invisalign aligners, so having hot drinks with this retainer may cause deformation quicker than the alternatives.


3. The Impact of High Acidity & Sugar

The last factor to take into consideration is the high acidity and potentially high sugar content of your morning coffee.

While we talked about how tannins can cause staining on your teeth and retainer, we haven’t talked about how the sugar/acid combination can affect your retainer and oral health.

Coffee is considered a pretty acidic drink, sitting at about a 4.85-5.1 on the pH scale.

This isn’t surprising as coffee beans actually contain nine different acids.

Chlorogenic acid is the most prevalent followed by quinic, citric, acetic, lactic, malic, phosphoric, linoleic, and palmitic acids.

These acids tend to come out more in the flavor profiles of lighter roast coffees as the beans aren’t in the roaster long enough to burn off these acids.

While the acidic nature of the delicious drink may not have an immediate effect on your retainer, overtime without proper cleaning, the exposure to the high acids can eat away at the plastic and acrylic materials. 

The impact of sugar on the other hand, mainly poses a problem for your pearly whites.

Sugary drinks are known to cause tooth decay if the teeth are not properly taken care of.

This risk is only increased when wearing a retainer that traps the sugary drink right next to your teeth for a long period of time. 

Additionally, when your retainer is also exposed to sugar, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria. 

This can not only make the retainer harder to clean and maintain, but also can lead to bad breath and overall bad dental health.


How to Reduce the Potential Problems from Drinking Coffee with a Retainer In

Now, if you absolutely need to have a coffee with your retainer in, don’t worry!

There are a few fixes to help minimize the risks of damaging or discoloring your retainer. 

1. Choose a darker roast coffee

We briefly talked about this earlier, but light roast coffee tends to carry a much stronger acidic profile than dark roast coffee.

For a reference, a lighter roast coffee may have a pH closer to 4.85 while a darker roast will be around 5.1 on the pH scale.

This is due to the amount of time they’re roasted for but also the temperature that the beans are roasted at. 

Since dark roast coffee is roasted for a longer period of time at a higher temperature, a lot of the acids in the coffee beans are broken down. 

2. Drink a cold brew coffee instead of a hot coffee

This quick swap has 2x the benefits.

Not only does switching to cold coffee help prevent warping and distortion of the retainer itself, but cold brew coffee is actually 66% less acidic than a normal hot coffee. 

3. Use a plastic or metal straw to drink from

When you use a straw, the majority of the liquid you’re drinking bypasses your teeth and thus your retainer.

This can help prevent any liquid from getting trapped between your teeth and retainers. 


So you drank coffee with your retainer in…now what?

Drinking something you’re not supposed to while having a retainer in isn’t a good idea, but it’s definitely not the end of the world!

Since the main concern when it comes to drinking coffee with a retainer in is staining, the next steps are to give it (and your teeth) a nice deep clean.

Cleaning Clear Retainers

Surprisingly, using toothpaste is actually not recommended for cleaning your clear retainers due to 

abrasive material in the toothpaste can leave microabrasions on your retainers and give them a cloudy appearance

Instead, soaking them in cold water (do not use hot water!! this can deform them quickly) with a cleaning tablet specifically for retainers or dentures.

If you want to be extra careful, you can use an approved cleaner, like WhiteFoam. This is a cleaner that was made for clear retainers specifically.   

It is also recommended against using mouthwash or any colored cleaners on these as keeping the clear look is the most important thing. 

Cleaning Hawley Retainers

Thankfully, it is a bit easier to keep your Hawley retainers clean.

Since these removable retainers are made of hard plastic and wire, all you really need to do is soak them in cold water and give them a good brush to keep clean.

Similar to clear retainers, you can add in a retainer cleaning tablet to the water to give them an even deeper clean. 

Note: It is recommended to not soak them for more than 15 minutes. 

Cleaning Your Permanent Retainer

Since your permanent retainer is well… permanent, you’re going to drink coffee with it in at some point (unless you decide to quit completely).

Thankfully since it’s hidden behind your teeth, appearance doesn’t matter at all.

But it is still important to keep up your dental hygiene especially with this type of retainer.

It can be very difficult to floss between your teeth since the wire is in the way, which can lead to bad oral hygiene as food particles and sugars are much more likely to stay trapped between your teeth.

Using a flossing needle is the way to go as it provides an easy way to get floss in between your teeth to keep your smile gorgeous!


Conclusion: Can You Drink Coffee With Your Retainer in?

Especially in the winter, it may be tempting to enjoy a hot coffee, or even a hot chocolate while you have your retainer in.

However, it is definitely recommended to not have any hot liquids or any coffee while your retainer is in. 

There are three main reasons for the concern of drinking coffee with a retainer in:

1. Staining / Discoloration of the retainer

2. Warping / Deformation 

3. Damage to the retainer from acids / sugars in your favorite beverage

Staining & discoloration is by far the biggest concern when it comes to drinking coffee.

This is mainly because coffee contains tannins, which cause the brown coffee color to stain and hang onto a lot of different materials (including teeth!).

As clear plastic retainers have become increasingly popular in the last few years, having a stained or cloudy retainer would defeat the purpose of them completely.

The best way to combat potential retainer staining and general wear is by getting into a good cleaning routine. 

While it is easy to clean a Hawley (hard removable retainer) by soaking it in cold water and giving it a gentle brush, Invisalign wearers have it a bit harder.

The process of cleaning Invisalign retainers or an Essix retainer proves a bit more complicated as you are unable to brush them.

It is recommended to use a retainer cleaning tablet when soaking them in water and to avoid using a colored cleaners (such as mouthwash) or even toothpaste as it could create tiny scratches on the plastic leading to a cloudier look. 

If you absolutely need to have a coffee and can’t take your retainer out, try an opt for an iced coffee!

This way you are eliminating the risk of melting or deforming your retainer.

Additionally, you can swap your normal coffee for a cold brew or a darker roast to help bring that pesky acidity level down.

Since braces are definitely considered an expensive orthodontic treatment, it’s important to keep your teeth set in their new positions!

Wearing and taking care of your retainer helps this process along and ultimately, you’ll save money if you take care of your retainer and new teeth from the beginning!