The dazzling smile that comes from treatment with braces is a great reward for the months spent wearing them, but braces also bring a new set of oral hygiene challenges. It’s important to properly care for teeth with braces to avoid stains on teeth, gum disease, and tooth decay. Doing so will take some extra time and effort on your part.
The first step is to avoid foods that can damage braces or cause extra problems. These include sticky foods like chewing gum, caramels, taffy, and similar candies; tough foods like bagels; and hard foods like nuts, raw carrots, pretzels, popcorn, or ice. Some foods are okay if they are cut up or properly prepared; for example, corn is fine but corn on the cob is not, and apple slices are fine but biting into a whole apple (or other fruits with a similar consistency such as pears) is not.
The brackets, bands, wires, and other parts of the orthodontic appliance are a haven for food and bacteria, so “brushing your teeth” becomes brushing your teeth and braces. A proxabrush (sometimes referred to as a “Christmas tree” brush because of its shape) is the best choice for cleaning between brackets and under the arch wire. You should insert the brush between two brackets from the top, brush for several strokes, and then repeat the process inserting from the bottom. Next, brush as you normally would, reaching all the surfaces of both teeth and braces that you can with your brush. You will have to change your brushing motions slightly because of the braces; brush each tooth from the top down and then the bottom up to reach as much of the surface as possible. All brushing should be done fairly gently; even though your braces may be made mostly of metal, they can be damaged if you’re too rough with them.
Flossing also becomes something of an obstacle course with braces. Start by inserting the floss between the teeth as you normally would and go as high as the arch wire will permit. (Be sure not to put excessive pressure on the wire.) You’ll then need to thread the floss behind the arch wire in order to re-enter the space between the teeth and floss all the way to the gumline. (If this gets to be frustrating, there are dental floss threaders that will make the process much easier.)
Always check all of your braces to ensure food isn’t stuck anywhere. Even if it isn’t in contact with your teeth, the bacteria in your mouth will thrive on it. Besides, you shouldn’t have to think about it too much before you realize that old food and bacteria equals bad breath. An air or water flossing appliance can be a great help with flushing out small food particles lodged in the braces that are hard to see.
Another aspect of caring for braces is preventing damage from the outside. If you participate in any sport or other activity that includes the risk of getting hit in the mouth, you should use a mouthguard. Many sports use mouthguards for all players anyway, but if you think you’re too talented to ever get hit in the mouth with a basketball or volleyball, think again. In addition to damaging your braces, the inside of your mouth is going to suffer.
No matter how careful you are, it’s quite possible that some minor part of your braces may break. In this case, call your orthodontist for guidance on what to do. Minor issues may be able to wait until your next appointment, but the dentist will tell you what to do in the meantime.
Braces should mean a beautiful smile for life. Be sure to do your part to ensure healthy, white teeth when your braces finally come off.