Your orthodontist may have told you that you need to have power chains on your braces. What does this mean?
Power chains are made of the same type of elastic material as the elastic ligatures (the o-shaped elastics that hold your arch wire to each bracket). In essence, power chains are like a bunch of ligatures linked together. Placed on your teeth, they form a continuous band, from one tooth to the next. Usually, you wear power chains instead of ligatures. Sometimes, your orthodontist can put both a ligature (or tie wire) and power chains on your teeth. It depends on what is attempting to be accomplished. Occasionally, some orthodontists decide to give you "power chains" made of wire (where a continuous piece of wire is twisted around each bracket).
Why would you need power chains? The most common reason is to close a gap between your teeth. Power chains apply extra force and help move your teeth faster. If your treatment includes extractions, then power chains will probably be in your future. Sometimes your orthodontist may keep the power chains on, even after the gap has closed. This is to ensure that the gap remains closed for the balance of your orthodontic treatment.
Power chains are changed just like elastic ligatures -- at each orthodontic adjustment. Like elastic ligatures, they come in a variety of colors, and yes, they DO stain from coffee, tea, red wine, and most notably, curry. From trial and error, I have found that the best colors for power chains are silver or smoke. You can also try light blue (the ones in the above photo). Light blue will stain bright green with curry, but after a few brushings, will turn a pleasant dull light teal. (Like ligatures, the "tooth-colored" chains will stain bright yellow if you eat curry; I don't recommend them unless you do not eat curry at all).
Power chains come in three different types. The best way to describe them is with a simple illustration:
Your orthodontist will determine which type of power chain best fits your needs.
Now here comes the most important question: how do they feel? Do they hurt? When you first get them put on, yes, they do make your teeth ache. You may need to go back on a soft food diet for a few days. But if you've already had braces for a few months, the pain should subside quickly -- within a week at the most.
How long does it take for the power chains and braces to close extraction gaps? Each person is different. Some people see dramatic changes in a few weeks. For others, it can take 6 months or more. Your orthodontist can measure (in millimeters) the width of your gaps at each appointment. You may be surprised to realize that the gaps are indeed closing, even if you don't see progress yourself!
Is it harder to clean your braces with power chains? Only slightly harder. You get used to it. A little more food debris gets trapped, but it's rather inconsequential.
Here's an orthodontic version of a song The Beatles did back in the 60s:
My ortho's got my teeth in these chains
And they are the kind
That you can see
Whoa oh, these chains on my teeeeeeeth
Are really killing me-e