We may think of teens when we think of people who wear braces. Of the 4 million patients who wear braces in the U.S., three in four are under the age of 18. But that still means that many wearers of braces and aligners are adults.
When you’re wearing braces, you need to give your teeth special consideration to avoid stains, decay, and gum disease, and to prevent your braces from being damaged. Here are eight ways to take care of your mouth while wearing metal braces or clear aligners.
1. Expect Some Discomfort
With metal braces, you’ll probably experience some degree of discomfort in the first week or so. For sore jaws, apply a warm washcloth or heating pad. Consume soft foods like oatmeal, smoothies, and pasta for several days after you get your braces. Make sure your food is in small bites so that it’ll be less likely to get lodged in your braces. With clear aligners, you should remove your trays prior to eating and drinking — but you still might experience some discomfort. Know that this is a normal part of the process and take over-the-counter pain medications if necessary.
2. Know When to See Your Orthodontist
It’s an emergency if you experience a loose band, a broken wire, or severe pain with your new metal braces. Call your orthodontist’s office right away. If they can’t see you immediately, use a clean, sterilized set of fingernail clippers to cut off the loose end of the wire.
Stick with your scheduled series of checkups so that your orthodontist can adjust your metal braces as needed. Most adults wear metal braces for one to two years. Although the average treatment time for Invisalign is just one year, most patients don’t need to see their orthodontists as frequently as braces-wearers do. However, if you’re using Invisalign, be sure to contact your orthodontist if you feel the fit is off, if you experience extreme discomfort, or if you happen to misplace your aligners.
3. Brush After Eating
You’re probably used to brushing your teeth twice every day, which is the typical recommendation for patients. Since one in four patients who get braces on an annual basis are adults, it’s a good bet that these patients already know how to care for their oral health. But when you wear metal braces or clear aligners, it’s especially important to brush after each meal and snack.
Bits of food can get caught in metal braces, and if they remain there long enough, they can cause dental issues. A soft, round-bristled brush or an electric toothbrush are good options. To wash away food particles that might be trapped in or near your braces, begin with a thorough rinse, using water. When you brush, make sure to reach the gum line first, with the bristles at a 45-degree angle. Then, move your brush down on top of the brackets of your braces, and move it up from the bottom of the brackets. Be sure to do a second rinse with water when you’re done brushing.
If you wear clear aligners and you eat or drink anything besides water with the aligners off, be sure to brush your teeth before putting the aligners back in. Otherwise, food can get caught and plaque can build up between the aligners and your teeth, which can lead to cavities. You can brush and floss normally, since you don’t have to worry about brackets or wires. But like patients with metal braces, you still need to brush after every meal and snack, since you can’t reinsert the aligners until you do.
4. Explore Other Cleaning Methods
If you have metal braces, you should floss a minimum of one time each day, both between the braces and under the wires. You may find that using an orthodontic flosser, which can be found in drug stores, will help make flossing easier. Choose waxed floss, which slips in between teeth more smoothly and is less apt to catch on your braces.
An interproximal or interdental brush can be more effective than flossing if you have gaps between your teeth. You may also find that an oral irrigator is helpful, since it uses pulsating water to clean off food particles and plaque. Finally, using an antibacterial mouthwash is a good final step, as brushing and flossing can’t always eliminate all bacteria.
5. Be Careful About What You Eat
People with clear aligners can eat whatever they like (as long as they remove their trays beforehand), but patients with metal braces need to be careful. If you consume a lot of foods that are high in sugar and starch, plaque can accumulate around the brackets of your metal braces, leading to teeth stains and decay and to gum disease. In particular, stay away from foods that might stick to your braces, including chewing gum, caramel, dried fruits, and taffy.
You should also avoid hard and crunchy foods like peanuts, popcorn, and apples. These foods can damage or even break the wires on your metal braces and cause the brackets to become loose. Only consume crunchy foods if you can divide them into little, manageable bites.
6. When All Else Fails, Rinse
If you have metal braces or clear aligners, you should ideally carry a toothbrush with you at all times, since you might eat at various points in the day. If you do find yourself with no toothbrush on-hand, do a thorough rinse with water or mouthwash and brush as soon as you get home.
7. Use Wax to Prevent Chafing
The wires on your metal braces or the braces themselves can rub uncomfortably on the insides of your lips. You can use a special kind of wax to keep chafing from occurring. Ask your pharmacist, dentist, or orthodontist about wax for braces.
8. Take Out Clear Aligners For Special Occasions
Your clear aligners will be effective only if you keep them inserted for 20 to 22 hours per day. This allows you a little time to take them out for special occasions like an important meeting at work or a night out on the town. You’ll need to store them in their hard case when you’re not wearing them. You should reinsert your aligners as soon as possible, making sure to brush your teeth first.
The extra care that goes into wearing metal braces or clear aligners is well worth the effort. You’ll end up with a great smile and improved confidence. Remember, many adults wear braces or aligners, so you are not alone. These tips can make the process a whole lot easier.