Caring for your teeth while under orthodontic care

by: Lauren Higgs

Your and Your Dentist

Orthodontic treatment requires that you wear various appliances on your teeth in order to fix your bite, and/or straighten your teeth. Braces are an important investment you can make for both your smile and for your health so it is essential that you take extra care in your oral hygiene regimen. It is important to know what foods to avoid and how to brush and floss properly, so the braces can provide the best results.

Your normal brushing routine is simply not the same while wearing braces. Those brackets and wires provide ideal plaque traps which can cause gum disease and tooth decay. It is not uncommon for patients to have their braces removed at the completion of treatment and they are surprised to see their teeth permanently stained from decalcification of their enamel. Another shocker is bone loss between the teeth from gum disease. Some orthodontic patients notice that their gum tissue has swelled up over their brackets and wires. This is gingivitis. Obvious signs and symptoms of gingivitis are swollen, red gum tissues that bleed when touched or during brushing or flossing. While orthodontic bands, brackets and wires make cleaning more difficult than normal, added time and effort must be spent on brushing all tooth surfaces and gum margins.


Brush gently after each meal.

Begin brushing teeth with a regular soft toothbrush. Brush down from the top and then up from the bottom on each tooth with brackets. Next, brush your teeth with a proxabrush or "Christmas tree" brush. This brush is specially designed for cleaning between two braces and in tight spots.

If you or your child is still having difficulty with regular brushing, consider a Sonicare toothbrush or a battery operated Spinbrush.

To floss teeth if you have braces, feed the short end of the floss through the space between the main arch wire and the upper portion of the tooth closest to the gum. Use a gentle shoe-shining motion to work the floss up and down each side of the two teeth. I cannot emphasize how important flossing is during orthodontic care. If you find flossing difficult or you find that you just donâ t do it often enough, a Waterpik is an excellent tool to invest in.

Foods to Avoid While Wearing Braces

While wearing braces, most foods can still be eaten if you cut them into small pieces that can be easily chewed. There are certain foods, however, that can break or loosen braces and should be avoided, such as:

• Hard or tough-to-bite foods, such as apples or bagels

• Chewy foods, such as taffy or caramels

• Corn on the cob

• Hard pretzels, popcorn, nuts, and carrots

• In addition to foods, do not chew ice or bubble gum.

Tips for patients with Removable Retainers

• Wear your retainers full time, until your Orthodontist instructs otherwise.

• Take out your retainers when eating...and always put retainers in their case! (most appliances are lost in school lunch rooms or in restaurants.)

• Clean retainers thoroughly once a day with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Use warm but not hot water. Brushing retainers removes the plaque, and eliminates odors.

• When retainers are not in your mouth they should ALWAYS be in a retainer case. Pets love to chew on them!

• If your retainers need adjusting, bring them to your orthodontic appointment. Do not try to adjust them yourself.

• Remove retainers when swimming.

• Keep retainers away from hot water, hot car dashboards, pockets, the washing machine and napkins.

• Retainer replacement is expensive... with proper care they will last for years!

Caring for Permanent Retainers

Many patients have wires glued on the backs of teeth as permanent retainers. The bottom front teeth are generally an area where a lot of tartar accumulates. Flossing under these wires is very important, but as you can imagine, not an easy task. Purchase a pack of floss threaders at your local pharmacy. This handy little plastic loop is perfect for getting floss up under the wires.

What to do if a bracket or wire breaks

Don't be alarmed if a wire or band comes loose. This happens occasionally. If wire protrudes and is irritating, use a blunt instrument (back of spoon or the eraser end of a pencil) and carefully, gently push the irritating wire under the archwire. Simply get it out of the way.

If irritation to the lips or mouth continues, place wax or wet cotton on the wire to reduce the annoyance. Do not attempt to cut the wire because you might accidentally swallow it or inhale it. If a mouth sore develops from the wire poking the inside the mouth, rinse your mouth with warm salt water or an antiseptic rinse. An over-the-counter dental anesthetic can also be applied to numb the area. Set up an appointment with your orthodontist as soon as possible.

Because braces and retainers brush up against the inside surface of the mouth, you may be more prone to developing canker sores. If a canker sore develops, your orthodontist or dentist may prescribe a corticosteroid ointment or a prescription or nonprescription solution to reduce the pain and irritation and help heal the sore.

You as patient can work with your orthodontist to successfully complete your orthodontic care by taking care to keep your teeth in tip top shape while in braces.

• Lauren Higgs is graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene in 1992 from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, She currently practices dental hygiene at Easy Dental Care. If you have any questions, you can contact her at 352-7844.

Published Tuesday, February 18, 2014

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