Braces FAQ - Part 4

Day-to-day Living with Braces and Orthodontics

What is an adjustment and how is it done?

In a nutshell, the elastic ligatures are changed, and sometimes the arch wire is also changed. For a detailed description of the procedure, read About Tightening/ Adjustment.

I seem to be drooling more, now that I have braces. Why?

Excess saliva (drool) is actually very common. Apparently your mouth mistakes the feeling of the brackets on the inside of your cheeks for food, and sometimes produces extra saliva to help digest it. 

Suddenly I've developed gaps between teeth which never had gaps before. Should I be worried?

It is very common for your teeth shift and develop gaps while treatment is underway. Your bite will change many times during your treatment. Remember than any strange gaps or bite problems will be resolved by the time your treatment is finished. If you are really concerned, mention it to your orthodontist.

Do I really need to brush my teeth after every meal when I'm wearing braces? What a pain!

Yes and no. Yes, you should, because depending on what you eat, food gets stuck in and around the brackets. Besides looking gross, it causes tooth decay and bad breath. It also feels yucky. Some people can't stand the feeling of food stuck in their brackets. You wouldn't believe how much food can get stuck -- often more than you'd imagine!

However, if you let the brushing slide every so often, it's not the end of the world. Just try to be as diligent as possible on a regular basis. At the very least, swish your mouth with water and try to pick out any food that is stuck in your brackets. It's also a good idea to floss each night, or at least a few times per week. Sometimes food gets stuck between teeth and you don't realize it until you floss it out.

Some dentists also recommend a fluoride mouth rinse, such as ACT, which is available in most supermarkets and pharmacies, and comes in many flavors (including bubblegum and mint).

My teeth really hurt! What can I do to ease the pain?

In the first weeks after you get your braces on, your mouth will be sore and your teeth will hurt. Most people take ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help ease the pain. Cold drinks or cold foods (such as frozen yogurt, milkshakes, ice cream, or just plain ice water) may also help.

What can I eat? Should I really avoid the foods on my orthodontist's "don't eat" list?

It is best to eat only soft foods that are easy to chew. Do not take big mouthfuls. Chew carefully and slowly so that you don't gag or choke. Avoid stringy foods like melted cheese that forms big strings, and long stringy pasta -- they will get stuck in your brackets and may cause you to gag. Cut your food into small pieces. No biting into large sandwiches -- use a knife and fork until you get the hang of wearing braces! I ate hamburgers with a knife and fork the entire 3 years I was in braces!

Read Soft Food Suggestions to get some insight on what types of foods you can manage. This stage will probably only last for a few weeks, until you get used to your braces and your gums "toughen up."

Your orthodontist may have given you a list of foods that should be avoided. These include gummy sticky foods (like Gummy Bears), and very hard foods (like nuts or hard chips). But it can also include things like ice cream and popcorn. Why? Because many flavors of ice cream can include hard chunks. The unpopped shell of popcorn can get stuck in your brackets. Biting into any hard food might cause your brackets to break or your wires to bend, so you must be careful.

Will my brackets pop off?

Sometimes a bracket will spontaneously pop off. There are a number of reasons this can happen. Remember that your brackets are glued on, so if the glue bond is broken, the bracket will come off. If this happens to you, call your orthodontist immediately to get it re-glued. It is normal for a bracket to pop off occasionally. But if a bunch of brackets keep popping off by no fault of your own, speak to your orthodontist about it. Gluing on brackets can be tricky and it may take a few tries to get it exactly right.

I don't want to wear my headgear during the day. Why can't I wear my it only at night?

Nobody likes to wear headgear, but it serves a specific purpose in your treatment. If you don't wear it as many hours as your dentist recommends, your treatment won't progress as fast, and you might wind up wearing the headgear additional months. It's best to just go along with what your dentist recommends and get it over with sooner.  Read A Few Words About Headgear for more information.

Why do I need to wear elastics?

Elastics help fine-tune the alignment of your teeth and your bite. There are many different ways that you can wear elastics for specific reasons.  You should wear the elastics the number of hours that your dentist recommends to help your treatment progress properly. (Wearing them "double time" or "double strength" to make up for time you spent without them is NOT advisable -- that could harm your teeth). Most people take elastics out before a meal, brush, then replace them after a meal.

How can I cope with canker sores when I have braces?

There are many ways to cope with canker sores. If the sore is near a bracket, you  can put some dental wax or dental silicone on the bracket to create a barrier, then apply some canker sore medication to the sore area. For more detailed information, read Ouch! I Have a Canker Sore!

Do ceramic (non-metal) braces stain?

The brackets themselves usually do not stain. It's the elastic ligatures that hold the arch wire to the bracket that stains. These are changed at each adjustment, when you get fresh clean ones. So, if your ligatures or power chains stain, you'll only have to live with it for a short time.

What foods stain the ligatures of your braces the worst?

Foods like curry, mustard, black coffee, and red wine create the worst stains. For more details, read Help! Did I Stain My Braces?

What colors of ligatures or power chains resist stains the best?

Clear or white ligatures show yellow stains the worst. The best colors, according to ArchWired readers (and my own personal experience) are: smoke, pearlescent, glow-in-the-dark, and any dark vibrant colors. I have also worn light blue, which turn a pleasant teal color when stained by curry (i.e., blue ligatures plus yellow curry make greenish blue ligatures).

Can I change my elastic ligatures ("o rings") myself at home?

Unless your orthodontist has given you the go-ahead to do this, it is NOT recommended! Yes, there are places on the web where you can buy elastic ligatures and power chains, but even THEY do not recommend that you change them yourself at home. The reason is: putting extra pressure on your teeth at inappropriate intervals can interfere with your treatment. Read Changing Your Own Ligatures for more information on why it is a bad idea to change your own ligatures.

Can I smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes with braces on my teeth?

Yes, you can smoke or chew tobacco, but both of these habits will stain your ligatures and may possibly stain ceramic brackets.

Is it OK to have braces if you are pregnant, or plan to become pregnant?

Yes, many pregnant women have had orthodontic treatment. Your teeth may be a bit looser than average because of the hormonal changes and the effect on your periodontal ligaments. But as long as you maintain good periodontal health, it shouldn't be a problem to wear braces if you're pregnant. For a reader's perspective on the subject, read Braces and Pregnancy.

Can you wear braces if you snorkel or scuba dive?

Yes, you can. It's probably best to have the braces on for a few months before snorkeling or scuba diving, so you can get used to the extra hardware in your mouth. For a reader's perspective on the subject, read Braces and Snorkeling/Scuba.

Can you wear braces if you play a wind instrument?

Yes, you can. Several companies make mouth guards and lip protectors specifically for this purpose. Ask your orthodontist for one that he/she recommends. Some orthodontists can make a custom lip guard for you.

How can I keep my braces clean after eating at a restaurant or traveling?

Most people who have braces carry a little dental kit to help them in such situations. A dental kit should contain a dental pick, some floss and floss threaders, a toothbrush, and some toothpaste. A travel cup is also a good idea. All these items are compactly offered in a product called DentaKit Braces Survival Kit.

A wire at the end of my braces is poking my cheek. What should I do?

This is always an annoying and tricky situation. If possible, gob a bunch of dental wax at the end of the wire to stop it from poking you. You can also try a bit of cotton. Call your dentist or orthodontist and ask to come in ASAP so they can clip the wire. Please don't suffer needlessly with a poking wire. After a day or two it can really painfully tear up the inside of your cheek, so don't wait to get it clipped! Some orthodontists let you come in "as needed" for a clipping without an appointment.

By the way, the wire pokes you because your teeth have moved, displacing the end of the arch wire. Although this is annoying, it's a good sign that your treatment is progressing!

What about braces and sports?

Depending on the sport, it is probably a good idea to wear some sort of lip protector or mouth guard so the braces don't cut up the insides of your mouth (and also to protect your teeth and braces). Light contact sports will be made safer with a simple lip protector. Many heavy contact sports require a larger mouth guard. If you are not sure what is appropriate for you, ask your orthodontist. Sometimes, orthodontists make custom-fitted mouth guards and lip protectors.

How often should I get my teeth cleaned when I have braces?

Most dentists recommend that people get their teeth cleaned twice per year. For people with braces, this is especially important. Even if you brush and floss very well, a professional cleaning will ensure that you don't develop decay. When you have braces, you should consider getting one or two extra cleanings per year. They do not take off your arch wires or brackets to do a cleaning. They usually work around your braces, or use a device called a Cavitron, which is like a high-powered Waterpik.

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