Braces 101 - Part 4

Living With Orthodontic Braces

Hey there, my fellow metal mouth! Here are some tips to help you survive the next months (or years) in  braces.

Make or Buy a Dental Kit

Make yourself a dental kit to carry in your purse, car, or briefcase. Keep extra supplies in your car, just in case, particularly a container of water for swishing in your mouth, if necessary. Your portable dental kit can contain:

  • A travel or full-size toothbrush

  • A small tube of toothpaste

  • A folding cup

  • Dental floss and floss threaders (or the special floss with the hard ends -- Glide make one type)

  • A little spiral dental brush

  • Interdental picks that you can find in any drug store

  • Dental wax

  • A small mirror

  • A packet of tissues

  • Breath drops or spray, if you like those products

You can keep your portable dental supplies in a zipper plastic bag, or find a small cosmetics bag at a drug store or variety store like Target, Wal-Mart or K-Mart.

Men: they do come in black, and you can find ones without handles, so don't worry about it looking too much like a purse! Those little "perk" bags you get on airlines work well, too.

Another alternative is to buy this stuff already pre-packaged and save yourself the trouble of searching for it all.  Several months after getting my braces, I created DentaKit Braces Survival Kit, a portable orthodontic travel kit. (I expected to find a portable dental kit for sale on the Web or elsewhere, but was amazed that none existed. So, I created one!)  This kit contains a braces toothbrush, toothpaste, spiral brushes, Pick-a-Dent, a folding mirror, a pop-up folding cup, Glide Threader Floss, and dental wax. Personally, I think that it is better than cosmetic bags, especially for men (it looks like an upscale PDA case). And, because it opens flat like a book, you're never "digging" for those little items that fall to the bottom of an amenities bag. 

I'm proud to say that I've sold thousands of DentaKit Braces Survival Kits to people all over the world, and have received many wonderful kudos about the product from both orthodontic patients and orthodontists!

Brushing in a Public Restroom

Face it, sooner or later you'll eat out and have food stuck in your braces. Sometimes, a discreet quick swish or two of water dislodges it. Most times, it does not, and you must excuse yourself and head for the restroom with your dental kit, or risk grossing everyone out. (Hint: don't smile widely with food in your braces and (probably) nobody will notice it).

Brushing your teeth in public restrooms (or even at the office) can be embarrassing and even downright gross (dirty sinks, bad smells, etc). Personally, if I must brush away from home, I try to pick more "private" public restrooms (the ones with one stall and one sink, and a door that locks). The cleaner the restaurant, chances are, the cleaner the restroom. Or at least you hope so. If the sink is wet or dirty, lay down a few pieces of clean paper to give yourself a clean surface.

Inevitably, you will need to brush in a completely public restroom with a bunch of sinks, where others come and go. Just go about your business quickly and nonchalantly. Lots of people have braces, lots of people have kids with braces, and lots of people had braces when they were kids. Believe me, people are basically sympathetic. Be as discreet as possible and nobody will care.

How often will you need to brush in a public restroom? If you eat out regularly, the answer is: a lot. If you know that you're going back to the office (or back home) after eating, you could wait until then. But letting food stay stuck in your braces for hours isn't a good idea, and it certainly isn't good for your breath, either.

I once worked with a woman who had terrible acne. She excused herself to the restroom twice a day to wash her face and re-apply her special creams and makeup. Now think about that -- no woman wants her coworkers to see her without makeup! If she could take off her makeup every day in front of her other female coworkers, you can brush your teeth in front of  yours! Just keep repeating to yourself, "It's No Big Deal!!"

Brushing: The Usual Routine

Everyone cleans their teeth slightly differently, but here's the routine I use:

  • Rinse and spit at least 3 or 4 times, or until most food particles are out of my mouth

  • Use a dental pick to dislodge food from under the hooks and between brackets

  • Rinse and spit 1 or 2 more times

  • Dislodge any stubborn food that is wrapped around the hooks or under the brackets

  • Rinse and spit again

  • Brush my teeth

  • Rinse and spit again

  • Examine my teeth to ensure that I got all the food off my braces.

  • If it's the end of  the day, I floss my teeth

Dealing with Pain and Discomfort

After about a month, you will begin to feel more comfortable with your braces. However, there will still be times when, seemingly out of the blue, your teeth hurt or your gums get sore. Also, after your monthly adjustments, your teeth might hurt for a few days, or up to a week. Keep some pain killer in your purse, briefcase, or car for these times. You also may often bite the insides of your cheeks when you're getting used to your braces. Fortunately, this heals quickly (in about a week) and builds up some scar tissue, which is less sensitive.

After you have had braces for more than 6 months, your teeth get used to the extra pressure. At this point, an adjustment might not hurt at all, but usually your teeth feel sore for about a week afterwards. For some people, the teeth don't feel sore again until the next adjustment. But for others, the pain dissipates for a week or two and then a week before the next adjustment, your teeth may be sore again Why is this?

The cell regeneration process occurs after an adjustment. Your teeth are under force and move and causes some cells (bone, tissue) to break down and new cells to regenerate. After the regeneration happens the teeth and supporting structures begin giving and moving again and the cycle continues. This is why most orthodontists see patients every 4-5 weeks. The cell regeneration process typically takes about 3 weeks and that gives patients enough time after an adjustment to be ready for another one.

Because today's wires move teeth slowly over a long period of time, the whole cell regeneration doesn't stop/go/stop/go as it used to with older style wires, now it just moves your teeth continually. Movement continues until the wire is fully back to the original size and shape, at which time you are ready for a stiffer and larger arch wire. (Thanks to reader Mary from Oregon for this helpful piece of information, which she got from her orthodontist!)

Canker sores are particularly nasty when you have braces. If you get a canker sore near the metal hooks, it really hurts.  Get something like Anbesol (a dental anesthetic) from the drug store and apply it at the offending site several times a day until the canker sore heals. Another couple of products I've found very helpful are Zilactin-B and Colgate Ora-Base. Both of these products form a protective skin over the sore and help it to heal. See our page Ouch! I have a Canker Sore! for complete information about helpful products and remedies.

A Toothbrush for Braces

You  can use a regular toothbrush with braces. Personally, I really like my Sonicare toothbrush,  but most electric toothbrushes, such as the Braun Oral-b do a a good job. I think the electric toothbrushes make cleaning easier and leave your braces and teeth cleaner than manual toothbrushes. If you haven't used an electric toothbrush before this, you may want to consider getting one. You will need to buy new brush heads more often than normal, but it's worth it.

If you use a manual braces toothbrush, search for one that is "orthodontic cut" otherwise known as "v-cut." The bristles are tapered inward to form a V. The indentation in the middle of the bristles helps clean your brackets and teeth more effectively than a regular toothbrush.

If you can't find an orthodontic toothbrush in your local store, ask your orthodontist. Or, you can buy a toothbrush for braces online at or other places online.


In plain English, flossing is a big pain in the rear with braces! You must get the floss under the wire to do each individual tooth. This is easier if you use a floss threader (a large plastic needle) and waxed floss, or Glide (mylar) floss. Glide, Thornton, SturdyFloss, and Oral-B also make strands of floss that are "hard" on one end, so you don't need a plastic threader.  Try a few types and see which one works for you. sells these special packages of floss for braces, if you have a hard time finding them in your local drugstore. An enterprising orthodontic patient also invented the the FlossFish tool, which you can use with any type of floss.

Flossing can be downright impossible on those back molars, so take it slowly. After a while you'll figure out a technique or two, and it will go faster. (For example, using your finger to guide the floss threader so it doesn't get stuck under your lips). Ask you orthodontist how often you should floss. Maybe you'll only have to do it a couple of times a week! And by the way, if you have any small gaps between your molars (or if you develop any gaps in the course of your treatment), be especially diligent about flossing those areas. Food (especially shreds of meat) get stuck in small gaps very easily, and often aren't revealed until you floss!

Monthly Adjustments

You will need to have your braces "adjusted" every 4 to 6 weeks. This takes only about 20 minutes. Contrary to what you might think, this does not involve "tightening" anything!  When you arrive at your orthodontist's office, the dental assistant will take off the old little rubber bands (ligating modules), then may also take off the wire. You now have the opportunity to brush and floss almost sans-braces. If you have an electric toothbrush, bring it to your adjustment appointment to get your teeth really clean while the wires and ligating modules are off!

Then, a new wire will be put on, and new ligating modules will  be applied. This can hurt a little, more from the pressure on your teeth than anything. Personally, I've found that it's worse on the top front teeth. But the pain doesn't last long, only a few minutes, then you get used to it. If you're sensitive to pain, take some Ibuprofen or pain reliever before your adjustment visit. 

After an adjustment, your teeth can hurt  for several hours to several days afterwards. This can range from that "hit in the teeth with a baseball" feeling to just a dull feeling of pressure. During these times, revert to your "soft food" diet and be good to yourself. By the time you're ready for your next adjustment, your teeth won't hurt at all.

The "H" Word: Headgear

Yes, some adults have headgear as part of their treatment. There are many types of headgear, and your orthodontist will choose the right one for you, if you need it. Of course, you don't WANT to wear headgear, but you might NEED to for a while to help your bite. 

Don't freak out too much about this. While less adults wear headgear than just braces, it isn't as rare as you think! Here's a link from the M's Mouthwear website, in which a 31-year-old man talks about his experience with headgear. In addition, here is an article from our site about adults and headgear.

Next....Impact On Your Self-Esteem

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