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What Is a Lip Retractor?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A lip retractor holds the lips apart to provide a clear view inside the mouth. It can be paired with a cheek retractor for added visibility. Such equipment is used by oral care providers like dentists, maxillofacial surgeons, and dental hygienists so they can clearly see what they are doing while they work on patients. It is available through medical supply catalogs, some of which sell to members of the general public who may need lip retractors for activities like home teeth whitening treatments.

This device consists of curved blades attached to a spring. The blades can be placed on the inside of the lips and positioned with the spring to gently pull the lips apart and hold them open. They come in several sizes to accommodate different mouths, although patients with small mouths may still find them uncomfortable. When the practitioner is done, the spring can be released to collapse the lip retractor for removal.

Some devices are disposable, one-use products made from medical-grade plastics. They come individually packaged and sterile and can be useful in a busy practice. Others are designed to be sterilized and re-used. More durable materials are used in their construction to ensure that they will survive the autoclave. The best choice for a practice can depend on the type of procedures performed and the volume of patients it sees.

A more advanced lip retractor is specifically designed to provide a dry field. For certain dental procedures, the patient’s mouth needs to be dry for the clinician to work; this can be an issue with procedures like installing braces, where bonding agents need time to set. This equipment tends to be larger and it covers the lips and cheeks, which can make it less comfortable for the patient. While the patient’s mouth is opened, it can be difficult to communicate, and the dental provider may make sure the patient has a signal for conveying extreme pain or discomfort.

Appropriate lip retractor selection is important. The dental practitioner needs to think about the given procedure and the size of a patient's mouth to choose the best option. Style can also be a consideration; for example, the device may need to be transparent on radiographs to allow the dentist to clearly visualize structures that might be hidden under metal blades. Likewise, transparent devices can allow the dentist to see structures under the lip retractor, which may be an issue if it covers part of the gums.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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