Keeping your teeth and gums healthy is important for everyone, but it’s even more essential if you’re undergoing orthodontic treatment.
Most people wear braces for at least several months to achieve a symmetrical smile with straight teeth. However, the outcome could be very different if you don’t support your orthodontic care with thorough oral hygiene.
Whether you’re wearing fixed braces or removable aligners, these appliances can trap food debris, which can accumulate on your teeth. This can then lead to a build-up of plaque that can harden into tartar and irritate the gums.
Staying on top of a consistent dental hygiene routine can reduce the risk of discolouration, gum disease, and cavities – so you can be happy with your new smile when it’s finally revealed at the end of your treatment plan.
Failing to do so could delay your treatment and compromise the results, which is the last thing anyone wants when investing money, time, and effort into their smile.
When you begin your treatment, your orthodontist will explain what you need to do and which tools you should use to take good care of your teeth during your treatment.
If you need more advice, here are some of our top orthodontic care tips to help you look after your teeth and gums and create a smile you can be proud of.
Brushing teeth during orthodontic treatment
As food particles can easily be trapped in the brackets and wires of braces, or between teeth and retainer surfaces, it’s crucial to brush your teeth after eating.
It’s normally advised to brush your teeth at least twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, but when you wear orthodontic appliances, you should be brushing your teeth throughout the day after each meal or snack.
You can use a manual or electric toothbrush with soft to medium bristles, but be careful with the settings of electric toothbrushes, as they can damage brackets and wires if they come into contact with the hard plastic parts of the toothbrush.
It’s also recommended to use interdental brushes to make sure you can reach between the wires and around the brackets where larger, bulkier toothbrushes can’t reach.
Try to only use fluoride toothpastes to keep your teeth strong. Avoid whitening toothpastes, as these will only whiten the exposed parts of your teeth around the brackets.
When you brush your teeth, try to time yourself to make sure you’re spending at least 2 minutes brushing. Brush every surface of each tooth using gentle circular motions, and don’t forget to brush your tongue and the roof of your mouth, as well.
Normally, toothbrushes should last around 3 months before you need to replace them, but braces can wear the bristles out faster. Be sure to swap your toothbrush for a new one as soon as the bristles start showing signs of wear.
Flossing during orthodontic treatment
When it comes to keeping your braces or leave-in retainers clean, following up with flossing can help to remove any smaller, more stubborn debris stuck in between your teeth.
Your orthodontist should give you information on the appropriate flossing technique when you have your braces fitted or collect your first retainers.
Generally, flossing involves cutting a piece of dental floss to a length that can be folded round your index finger on both hands. This then gives you a good grip to carefully thread the floss between your teeth in a loop.
Forming a ‘C’ shape around each tooth and moving the floss up and down gently yet firmly into the gum line, rather than keeping it straight between two teeth, helps to minimise damage while removing any remaining food particles.
Flossing is more challenging than brushing, but floss threaders or specialist orthodontic floss can be used to make this easier. You may also want to invest in an orthodontist-approved water flosser to help you floss and rinse.
You don’t have to floss after brushing every single time, especially if you’re out and about and don’t have time to do it thoroughly, but you should try to floss at least once a day before going to bed.
Similarly, you shouldn’t rinse with fluoride mouthwash every time you brush, as this can sometimes dry out the mouth, but you can use it in the evenings if you prefer.
Dietary restrictions during orthodontic care
At the beginning of your orthodontic care plan, your orthodontist will explain the dietary limitations of your specific treatment type. Fixed braces come with the most restrictions, as they can easily be damaged by hard foods.
For example, you’ll be instructed to avoid biting into anything hard, or chewing crunchy or sticky foods. The extra force required can break the wires or cause brackets to come loose, and anything sticky can get caught and be difficult to remove.
You may still be able to eat hard fruits, breads, meats, or other such foods if you cut them up into bite-sized pieces first so you don’t have to chew on them.
You should also cut down on snacks between meals and sugary drinks, as the risk of tooth decay is increased when wearing braces or retainers.
If you have a habit of chewing on the ends of pens or pencils or like to chew on ice cubes from drinks, you should do your best to kick this bad habit.
These mostly apply to orthodontic patients with fixed braces, as removable retainers offer more dietary freedom. For example, if you get Invisalign in London, you can eat and drink pretty much anything you want when you take the aligners out.
However, you have to remember to clean your teeth and the aligners and put them back in after eating or drinking. While your aligners are in, which they should be for at least 20–22 hours a day, you cannot drink anything but plain water.
Caring for braces and retainers
Every time you brush and floss your teeth, you should inspect them afterwards. Use a small mirror to look at your teeth and braces closely from all angles to spot any missed food or signs of damage.
If you notice a loose bracket or wire, you should contact your orthodontist quickly to have this repaired as soon as possible, before it can undo any of your progress.
Sometimes, the brackets and wires can irritate the insides of your mouth, especially after getting your braces tightened, as your mouth has to readjust to them. Your orthodontist should provide you with a small container of orthodontic wax, which you can mould over the part that’s causing the irritation to relieve it.
If you wear removable aligners or retainers, you must be careful not to use too much force when removing them from over your teeth, as this could bend or crack the material and put unnecessary pressure on your teeth.
Remember to clean them after you’ve finished cleaning your teeth before putting them back in. Use a specific soft toothbrush and a mouth-safe cleaning solution that won’t erode the material. Use lukewarm water, as too hot or too cold could warp or crack the plastic.
Alternatively, you could briefly soak your appliances in a glass of water with dissolvable orthodontic cleansing tablets.
Whenever your aligners or retainers are out and you aren’t using them or cleaning them, be sure to store them safely in a secure case. Never wrap them in a tissue and put them in your pocket!
Protecting your teeth with a mouthguard is also important if you participate in physical activities, whether as an individual athlete or a member of a sports team. It’s best to get a custom-fitted mouthguard from your orthodontist rather than trusting a boil-and-bite product.
Visiting the dentist and orthodontist
As part of your ongoing treatment plan, you should be scheduling check-up appointments with your orthodontist at regular intervals, typically every 4–6 weeks.
You shouldn’t miss any of these appointments, as they give your orthodontist the opportunity to make sure everything is in good condition, and to make any adjustments to your treatment if there is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Just because you’re seeing the orthodontist regularly doesn’t mean you can neglect your regular dentist appointments. You should continue to attend routine check-ups at least once every 6 months – hygienist appointments can also help you with your oral hygiene.
By sticking to a comprehensive dental hygiene routine, being careful with your appliances, and attending check-ups with both the orthodontist and dentist, you should complete your course of orthodontic care with your teeth in excellent condition.
As providers of orthodontics in London, we provide extensive support for our patients here at Finsbury Dental Care. Whether you’re interested in getting braces or aligners with us, or you need advice on orthodontic care, feel free to contact us for more information.