CARE & MAINTENANCE

Oral Hygiene

Oral-Hygeine

You already know that maintaining good oral hygiene is important for everyone – but when you’re having orthodontic treatment, it’s even more critical. While the braces or clear aligners you wear are very effective in correcting misaligned teeth, they can also trap food particles easily. Keeping your teeth (and your appliances) clean is a little harder – but you can do it!

The major enemy of oral health is plaque. Food that becomes trapped near tooth surfaces can lead to the formation of a thin coating of microorganisms and organic debris (biofilm) containing potentially harmful bacteria. Braces or other appliances make it harder to remove this plaque. The bacteria in plaque digest the sugars in food, producing acids that may erode teeth and irritate gums. This can cause cavities, white spots on teeth, gum disease and bad breath.

Keeping plaque under control is one of the most effective means of maintaining strong, healthy teeth and gums, through diet, daily maintenance, and regular professional care. Taken all together, they’re your teeth’s best defense.

Diet and Decay

Controlling your diet involves avoiding foods that could increase your risk of developing tooth decay. That means cutting down or eliminating foods with an excess of sugar, like soda, sweets, and ice cream. It also means avoiding foods that could easily become stuck in your braces, like toffee, gum, licorice, and caramels.

Foods that are very hard or extremely sticky can also cause physical damage to orthodontic appliances. Braces or retainers with broken wires or loose brackets aren’t working to straighten your teeth! You should avoid foods like hard candies or nuts, beef jerky, and hard pizza crust. Keep eating healthy foods like carrots and apples – but cut them into bite-sized pieces first! And don’t chew on ice, pencils, or your nails: these habits can cause damage to your appliances, and even result in chipped teeth!

Daily Maintenance

You know how important brushing and flossing are for keeping a healthy smile – especially now that you’re in orthodontic treatment. But sometimes it’s harder to clean your teeth effectively around an appliance’s brackets and wires. Either a soft-bristle or a bi-level toothbrush (one with longer bristles on the edges and shorter ones in the middle) can be effective in plaque removal – even with braces. An electric toothbrush can also be used, on a moderate setting. For hard-to-clean areas, try an interdental brush, or proxabrush. The small bristles of this special tooth-cleaning aid, which is shaped like a pipe cleaner, can get in between wires, brackets, and teeth. With gentle and persistent effort, it’s possible to reach into the smallest nooks and crannies and control plaque buildup.

You should floss at least once a day during orthodontic treatment. While it’s a little harder to do with braces, there are some special products available – including floss threaders and particular kinds of floss – that can help you get the floss between wires and gum line. Our staff will review proper brushing and flossing techniques with you when your braces are put on – but if you ever have questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

Depending on your situation, we may recommend an in-office or at-home supplemental fluoride treatment to boost your cavity resistance. An antiseptic rinse may also be recommended, to ease minor gum inflammation or irritation.

If you have a retainer, it should be brushed daily, the same way you brush your teeth. We may also recommend using a cleaning solution – but never put hot water on your retainer, because it can distort the soft plastic and make it unusable! And always keep it in a case when it’s not in your mouth.

There’s an accurate way to tell how effective your tooth-cleaning techniques really are, using special vegetable dyes called “disclosing solutions” or “disclosing tablets.” As they dissolve in the mouth, these dyes highlight plaque and food debris that brushing has missed. You can then easily remove the dyed spots – and you’ll know for sure if your oral hygiene methods need a little “brushing up.”

Routine Dental Care

Even though you’re seeing an orthodontist regularly, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to see your regular dentist – in fact, it’s just as important as ever! While we’re focused on improving your bite and alignment, your dentist will make sure your teeth stay healthy with thorough examinations, cleanings, and preventive care. Your orthodontic treatment is a team effort where everyone – our office, you, and your family dentist – has an important role to play. And the team has just one goal: giving you a winning smile.

Foods to Avoid

While you are wearing braces, please avoid eating hard foods, sticky foods, and foods high in sugar. Hard foods can break or damage the wires and brackets, and sticky foods can get caught between the wires and brackets. Sugar can cause tooth decay and other related problems.

Examples of Hard Foods to Avoid:
• Ice
• Nuts
• Hard taco shells
• French bread crust/rolls
• Corn on the cob
• Apples and carrots (unless cut into small pieces)
• Bagels
• Chips (especially Takis)
• Jolly Ranchers
• Pizza crust
• Popcorn

Examples of Sticky Foods to Avoid:
• Gum (sugar-free or regular)
• Licorice
• Sour Patch Kids
• Toffee
• Tootsie Rolls
• Caramels
• Starburst

Minimize Sugary Foods like:
• Cake
• Ice cream
• Cookies
• Pie
• Candy

Only Once a Day:
• Soda
• Sweetened tea
• Gatorade
• Kool-Aid
• Drinks with sugar

Click here for a printable list you can keep on your refrigerator for easy reference.

We encourage patients to quit bad habits, such as fingernail biting, pencil and pen chewing, and chewing on foreign objects. All of these activities can break or damage your braces. Be aware that eating an excessive amount of acidic foods like lemons, lemonade, or sour candy can cause damage to the tooth enamel.

It’s important to regularly check your braces for bent or loose wires and brackets. If you have a loose/broken wire or bracket, please call our office immediately to arrange a repair appointment.

Emergencies

Emergencies

At first, having orthodontic treatment may take a little getting used to. It isn’t uncommon to experience a bit of soreness when appliances are first put on, or some minor aches as teeth begin moving into new positions. Yet it’s comforting to know that genuine orthodontic emergencies are rare.

If you think you may have an emergency, however, the first step is to determine the severity of the problem: Is it an urgent situation that requires immediate attention, or a minor problem that you can take care of yourself, temporarily, until you can come in to our office?

A Major Emergency

There are only a few true orthodontic (or dental) emergencies. They include:

  • Trauma or injury to the teeth, face, or mouth
  • Infection or swelling of the gums, mouth, or face
  • Severe, unmanageable discomfort or pain in these areas

In any of these situations, you should seek help as soon as possible – go to an emergency room, if that’s your best option. Generally, however, the place to start is with your regular dentist. Remember that he or she is trained to handle a range of dental problems, and can most likely offer the necessary diagnostic tools, anesthetics, and treatments you need. If, for example, you have a fractured tooth, your dentist will treat the immediate problem and arrange for the tooth’s restoration; afterward, your orthodontic treatment plan can be adjusted as needed. Likewise, severe pain or swelling could be a sign of infection or disease, which a dentist or periodontist is best able to treat.

Some Minor Troubles

Fortunately, the vast majority of orthodontic problems are minor compared to these situations – but they may still cause discomfort or irritation. In general, it’s best to try and soothe the immediate cause of the discomfort, and then call our office to schedule an appointment; that way, we can allot sufficient time to take care of you.

Loose or broken brackets, bands, or wires

This problem is often caused by eating hard or sticky candy or food, or playing with the braces. If the band or bracket is still attached to the wire, leave it as is – but don’t connect any elastics to it! You can cover it with orthodontic wax if it’s irritating the inside of your mouth. If it has come off, save it. In either case, call our office to let us know what happened, and we will schedule a visit. Be sure to bring any loose parts with you to the appointment!

Dental-Brace

Misplaced or poking archwire, bracket, or tie

As the teeth start to move, the wire that connects them may begin poking near the back of the mouth or irritating the cheeks. You can try moving the wire into a better position with a pencil eraser or cotton swab. If the wire won’t move, you may be able to cut the end off with a nail clipper sterilized in alcohol – but before doing so, please call our office for our guidance or instructions. Often, you can also use tweezers to gently move a misplaced wire or a tie that’s causing problems. When wires or brackets cause irritation, covering the metal parts with wax will often help ease the discomfort. As with any of these types of problems, call our office and we’ll schedule a time to see you.

General tooth pain or loosening

It’s normal for teeth to become slightly loosened during orthodontic treatment – that shows they’re moving! Sometimes, this movement may be accompanied by tenderness, especially after braces are placed or adjusted. For minor soreness, you can use your regular over-the-counter pain reliever. A twice-a-day salt-water rinse may also help: Mix one teaspoon of salt in an 8-ounce glass of warm water, and rinse for 30 seconds. A warm washcloth or heating pad placed on the outside of the jaw can also offer some relief.

While actual emergencies are rare, our goal is to make orthodontic treatment as comfortable as possible. If you need additional advice, don’t hesitate to call us!
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