Caring for teeth with braces

Braces are often placed in patients between 10 and 14 years of age to correct crooked or overcrowded teeth. “The benefits of braces are many,” says Ken Sutherland, DDS, Delta Dental senior dental consultant. “Straight teeth, an attractive smile, improved dental function and, often, improved overall health are all results of wearing braces.”

Below are some answers to questions about staying comfortable and healthy while wearing braces.

Why is good oral hygiene with braces so important? Food and plaque can get trapped in the tiny spaces between braces and wires, causing decay and enamel stains. Food can also react with the bacteria in your mouth and the metal in the braces to produce a bleaching effect, which can cause small, permanent light spots on the teeth.

How should teeth and braces be cleaned? It is best to brush after every meal and use a floss threader or special orthodontic floss (available at drug stores) at least once a day to clean between braces and under wires. Check your teeth in a mirror to make sure all food particles are gone. If you don’t have your toothbrush with you, rinse your mouth vigorously with water.

How do braces feel? The wires that are used to move teeth into position are usually tightened at each visit to the dentist or orthodontist. This causes pressure on the teeth and some discomfort. Eating soft foods and taking a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®, for instance), can help. Also, braces can rub against the inside of the lips. If this is a problem, a special wax can be placed on the wires to keep them from chafing (available from your dentist or orthodontist and at drug stores).

How long do braces have to be worn? It depends on how complicated the spacing or occlusion (bite) problem is. Most braces are worn for 18 to 30 months. After the braces are removed, the patient wears a retainer, which is used to maintain the position of the teeth while setting and aligning the tissues that surround the newly-straightened teeth.

Should any foods be avoided? Yes. Sweets, soda and other sugary and starchy foods can promote tooth decay and gum disease. Sticky and chewy foods (caramel, taffy, chewing gum, dried fruits) can stick to braces and be difficult to remove. Biting and chewing hard foods, such as some candies and nuts, ice, beef jerky and popcorn, can break wires and loosen brackets. Avoid damaging wires on the front teeth by cutting carrots, apples and other crunchy, healthy foods into bite-sized chunks before eating them.