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21 June 2023

Oral Hygiene for Braces: Keeping Your Smile Healthy While Straightening Teeth

It is estimated that up to 70 percent of all children will require some type of orthodontic treatment before they reach adulthood. While the ultimate results are quite impressive to behold, practising the proper oral hygiene techniques while wearing braces is just as important. 

We will begin by examining why braces may make it more likely to develop issues such as cavities and gum disease. We can then follow up with some practical tips before highlighting when you should consult with your dentist or orthodontist. 

Why Might Braces be Necessary?

Very few individuals are born with perfectly straight teeth. This is why conditions such as crowing, overbites and underbites are relatively common. Correcting the positions of your teeth is therefore important from both a practical and an aesthetic point of view.

In terms of appearances, a straight set of teeth will display an equally attractive smile. This can lead to higher levels of self-esteem and a more personable attitude. 

Mechanics are nonetheless just as relevant here. An improperly aligned bite can cause the surfaces of some teeth to wear down more quickly than others. 

In the event that a significant amount of enamel is lost, the chances of developing cavities will increase. Other side effects of an uneven bite include chronic conditions such as temporomandibular join disorder (TMJ).

Do Braces Cause Cavities?

It is first a good idea to dispel a relatively common myth. Some individuals have been led to believe that these types of oral appliances directly cause tooth decay. This is absolutely false. 

The presence of brackets and wires do not negatively impact the surface enamel or the integrity of a tooth. Having said this, developing tooth decay can still become more likely. 

The problem here is that metallic brackets tend to attract bacteria. If this bacteria is not quickly removed, it will transform into plaque. Another concern is that plaque can also increase the chances of developing gum disease. This is why practicing the proper dental hygiene techniques is extremely important. 

Adopting the Appropriate Dental Hygiene Habits

Oral hygiene is critical for everyone; particularly for those who are undergoing some type of orthodontic treatment. So, what steps can you take if you wish to prevent oral hygiene problems?

First and foremost, brush immediately after every meal (even if this is only a snack). Brushing will remove the majority of particulate matter that might otherwise become lodged around the brackets and wires. 

Pay particular attention to the gumline by brushing at a 45-degree angle. Perform this same technique around each bracket. 

What about flossing? Experts recommend flossing once each day; preferably in the evening after you have finished your last meal. The only possible problem here is that it can be tricky to floss around brackets and wires. 

One possible solution involves the use of a floss pick or a mechanical device such as a water flosser. These will eliminate any additional food particles that may have been missed by brushing alone. 

It is likewise a good idea to get into the habit of using mouthwash. Mouthwash will prevent the accumulation of bacteria due to its anti-microbial properties. It also provides your mouth with a fresh feeling and helps to eliminate instances of bad breath (slightly more common during typical orthodontic treatments). 

Should You Avoid Any Specific Foods?

Dietary habits represent yet another piece of the proverbial puzzle. Orthodontists recommend staying away from specific items that might jeopardise your oral health or increase the chances of developing tooth decay. Here are some well-known examples:

  • Sticky foods such as caramel, taffy and jelly beans.
  • Popcorn (the kernels can become lodged between your teeth).
  • Hard candies that might cause physical damage such as chips or cracks in tooth enamel. These may even cause a bracket to become dislodged from its proper position.
  • Soft drinks containing high levels of sugar.
  • Ice (chewing on ice can also lead to a surprising amount of mechanical damage).

For further advice, feel free to speak with your dentist or orthodontist.

Oral Hygiene when Starting an Orthodontic Treatment

Some individuals will experience little to no discomfort once orthodontic appliances are applied. Others may instead endure a moderate amount of pain. This varies from person to person. 

Unfortunately, pain can cause some to deviate from their oral care routines. This ultimately results in more harm than good and can lead to serious issues in the future. The good news is that any discomfort caused by braces is generally transient in nature and will quickly improve. 

There are nonetheless some techniques to consider if you are concerned about pain when brushing or flossing. 

Choose a toothbrush with softer bristles, as this design will cause less irritation. Water flossers can also be a wise option in the event that it is painful to use traditional floss. If the inside of your cheeks become irritated due to the presence of brackets, a dentist may prescribe wax that can be used to cover their surfaces. 

A final option involves using cutting-edge orthodontic treatments such as the patented Invisalign system. These clear plastic trays will be moulded around your teeth and they are slightly modified over time; enabling each tooth to shift back into its proper position. However, not everyone will qualify for this procedure and it is a good idea to speak with your orthodontist to learn more. 

A Bit of Discipline Goes a Long Way

Although it can be slightly challenging to adapt to the dental hygiene practices highlighted above, the benefits will certainly last a lifetime. After all, there is nothing better than displaying a gleaming white smile once the treatment is finally completed!

Sources:

  1. https://stanfordpress.typepad.com/blog/2018/05/why-cavemen-needed-no-braces.html 
  2. https://www.colgate.com/en-sg/oral-health/early-orthodontics/preventing-tooth-decay-with-braces
  3. https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/kids-oral-care/how-to-practice-oral-hygiene-with-braces#
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