Approximately 50 to 75 percent of people in the United States could benefit from orthodontic treatment, according to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), and around 3.9 million children are under the care of an orthodontist. So, whether you're contemplating getting braces soon or someone in your family already has them, it's always a good time to learn how to take care of braces.
This list of dos and don'ts can help you manage your braces while keeping your teeth and gums happy and healthy.
Do: Follow Your Orthodontist's Instructions
When you attend your orthodontic appointments, it's always a good idea to listen to their advice carefully and follow through with any directions they provide regarding how to take care of braces. Each person's treatment plan is unique, and orthodontists customize home care instructions for patients on an individual basis. If you have any questions between visits, don't hesitate to contact your orthodontist. They'll be happy to help.
Do: Establish a Home Care Routine
With braces, brushing and flossing are more important than ever. Brush your teeth thoroughly in the morning and before bed with a fluoride toothpaste. The AAO also suggests brushing for two minutes after each time you eat. Brush your gums and clean your braces carefully (they're delicate!), and look in a mirror after you're done to check for any food debris that you may have missed. If you can't brush after a snack or acidic drink, rinsing with water can help to clear debris and dilute acids on your teeth until you can brush.
Flossing with braces can be challenging, but your orthodontist can help. Ask them about flossing aids and request a demonstration. One study in the Journal of Periodontology says that flossing before brushing may be more advantageous in removing plaque between your teeth than flossing after brushing. This may allow more fluoride from your toothpaste to get between teeth for added protection against tooth decay.
What happens if you don't brush your teeth with braces? If you don't brush thoroughly or often enough, it can lead to a weakening of the tooth enamel, which is called decalcification. This early stage of tooth decay appears as whitish areas on your teeth. To help prevent decalcification, the Oral Health Foundation suggests using a fluoride gel or mouthwash in additional to regular brushing to strengthen your enamel.
Do: Keep Your Regular Dental Appointments
Even though you're seeing your orthodontist regularly, you still need a routine cleaning and checkup at your regular dentist's office every four to six months. This will help to keep your gums healthy and allow your dentist to take care of any small cavities or dental problems before they get worse and interfere with your orthodontic treatment.
Do: Wear Your Retainers
Not wearing your retainers and/or elastics according to your orthodontist's instructions can result in delays or setbacks in your treatment. If you run out of elastics or your dog chews up your retainer, call your orthodontist right away for replacements. (Dogs really do love retainers, so keep yours out of your pooch's reach.)
Don't: Eat Sticky Foods
Eating sticky foods that adhere to your braces can be challenging to clean off your teeth and braces, and it can loosen the brackets. Your do-not-eat list includes candies such as caramels, jelly beans, and licorice, hard candies, chewing gum, popcorn, and nuts. You can eat chocolate and other softer candies, but try to brush your teeth as soon as possible after eating these sweet treats.
You'll also want to limit sugary drinks, such as sodas, sweet tea, juices, and sports drinks. These can be high in acid content, which can demineralize tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. Water is always a great way to go when you're thirsty.
Don't: Smoke or Vape
Both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes contain nicotine. The AAO explains that this chemical causes blood vessels in the gum tissue to constrict, leading to gum inflammation and recession. Gum disease interferes with satisfactory orthodontic outcomes because your teeth won't move as fast. Your teeth may also shift back to their pre-treatment positions after you get your braces off.
Don't: Bite on Hard Objects
Refrain from chewing ice and biting your nails and the tips of pens or pencils. These habits are harmful to your teeth—even if you don't have braces.
Don't: Opt for an Oral Piercing
Piercings may damage tooth enamel and gum tissue and interfere with talking, chewing, and swallowing. The AAO recommends talking with your orthodontist about the risks and damage that certain piercings could cause to your braces.
Wearing braces is a big commitment, and it comes with responsibility. But if you think of yourself as a partner with your orthodontist and put in the extra effort, you'll be rewarded with a beautiful, healthy mouth.
Learn more about the role of fluoride in your oral care products to understand how it can help to support your routine.
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Why It's Good
Understanding how to best care for your teeth while you have braces can help to expedite your treatment and optimize your results, leaving you with beautifully aligned teeth that are free from cavities or areas of decalcification.