What is a Cheek Retractor?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cheek retractor is a medical instrument used in the practice of dentistry and oral surgery. The cheek retractor is designed to pull the cheeks away from the mouth and hold them in place to leave the mouth exposed during a procedure. These tools are available from many dental supply companies, in a variety of designs and styles to meet various needs. Dentists can also order them directly from manufacturers, which offers an opportunity for custom designs to be ordered.

A cheek retractor may be used by a dentist to keep the mouth exposed during a procedure.
A cheek retractor may be used by a dentist to keep the mouth exposed during a procedure.

Like other devices known as “retractors,” cheek retractors are used to pull tissue away to expose an area of interest and to hold the tissue in a retracted position. While an assistant can perform a similar function, using retractors which lock in place can make for a more stable holding position, and can free up space around the surgical field. If an assistant has to hold a manual retractor while the dentist works, space is needed to accommodate the assistant and it can get cramped.

Cheek retractors may be used to allow full access to the mouth during dental procedures.
Cheek retractors may be used to allow full access to the mouth during dental procedures.

In addition to basic retractors, many companies make cheek and lip retractors, which also pull the lips back. Exposing the surgical field makes it easier to work, and also easier to keep the mouth dry. Retractors are often used when placing epoxies and coatings in or on the teeth so that moisture does not interfere with the procedure, with a quick curing agent being used so that the patient does not spend too much time with a dry mouth.

Cheek retractors commonly come equipped with a tongue blade which can be used to hold the tongue in place. The tongue blade is usually adjustable and removable so that the dentist can get the right fit or remove it if it is in the way or unnecessary for a particular patient. In all cases, the device is either flexible or adjustable so that it can be fitted as comfortably as possible, although even the most carefully adjusted cheek retractor usually causes pain and discomfort.

Autoclavable versions made from steel are available, as are disposable retractors made from plastics. One advantage of a plastic retractor is that people can easily see through and around the retractor, which allows them to identify pinched skin and other signs of discomfort and improper placement. For this reason, many dentists prefer to work with plastic single use products rather than dealing with a cheek retractor that will need to be autoclaved.

Mary McMahon
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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Discussion Comments


Cheek retractors are also used by orthodontists during the procedure of putting on braces.


Cheek retractors make you look and feel so utterly ridiculous that it’s hard not to laugh. When you are being administered laughing gas, it is impossible.

The gas always made me slightly out of my head. I found it hard not to giggle at the dentist and his assistant even during a regular exam. So, when they pried and propped open my lips and cheeks, I could only hold back the laughter for a few seconds.

I remember that they had trouble working on me because of it. I seriously could not stop. They had to stop the gas and switch it to pure oxygen. They waited for me to come down off my high, and then they were able to continue. Somehow, the cheek retractor had become a lot less funny.


This article brought back memories that I had blocked out from childhood. My dentist used a cheek retractor on me during a delicate procedure. That was a weird and uncomfortable experience!

He used the disposable kind. I remember trying to resist the urge to twitch or adjust the thing with my hands to a more comfy position. I felt like a horse whose teeth were on display for a potential buyer. I really didn’t feel human. It was kind of degrading.

The procedure seemed to last a lot longer than they said it would. I’m sure that was just because time goes by slowly when your cheeks are retracted.

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