What makes an attractive smile? Straight, even pearly whites with symmetry and balance contribute to a person’s overall attractiveness. In fact, studies show that next to a person’s eyes, one’s smile is the second physical attribute people notice. But we aren’t all born with excellent dental genes.
If you want a gorgeous smile for yourself or your children, you aren’t alone. According to Humana, over 4 million Americans wear braces, and a quarter of those are adults. Also, some of the most famous entertainment celebrities have had orthodontic braces and regularly undergo teeth whitening.
Perhaps the most common question kids and adults ask before getting braces is: Will braces hurt? Since most people wear traditional braces for two years on average, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no, but sometimes.
Most of your time in braces, you won’t have pain, but on some occasions you may experience mild to moderate pain. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can alleviate this level of discomfort, so all pain related to having braces is manageable, and it isn’t constant.
What to Expect When Braces Are Installed
After dental x-rays and a comprehensive oral exam confirm that braces will give you straight teeth and a balanced, healthy bite, you’ll schedule an appointment to have your braces applied. At that visit, the orthodontist or dentist will place bands on your molars – your back teeth. You’ll feel some pressure and pinching, but the application of bands won’t hurt.
Glue brushed onto your teeth won’t hurt, either. The orthodontist or dentist will secure each bracket to the teeth in your treatment plan, then harden the glue with a cool blue light. This is called curing the adhesive. Wires will be threaded through the brackets, and elastic bands will hold the wire in place. You may also need springs and, at some point, rubber bands, to advance your treatment.
No part of the braces application should hurt. After a few hours, however, you will probably begin to experience mild discomfort as the wire exerts constant, gentle pressure on attached brackets. This pressure initiates and facilitates tooth movement.
Desensitizing Oral Tissues
The first week when you wear braces, you’ll probably notice some abrasions and soreness due to the inner lining of your cheeks and lips rubbing against your brackets and wires. Patients may experience:
- Sore gums
- Achy teeth
- Jaw pain
- Cuts or scrapes on gums, cheeks, lips
- Tongue abrasions
Over time, these aches and pains will subside. Your soft tissues will become desensitized, as do the fingertips of guitar players or the middle finger on the hand you write with.
Orthodontic Adjustment, or Tightening, Appointments
Every two to six weeks, depending upon your treatment plan, you’ll need to attend adjustment visits with your orthodontist or dentist. As your teeth shift toward the goal position, the wires of your braces will loosen.
Tightening and adjusting the tension on your wires are essential to keeping your teeth in motion. Also, tightening springs and bands aid in progressing treatment.
Expect to feel some soreness similar to or less than the feelings experienced after braces were initially placed. The sensitivity will be focused on teeth and gums, most likely.
Note that if you postpone or miss adjustment visits, your treatment plan completion date may be delayed.
Tips for Relieving Mild to Moderate Pain with Braces
When your mouth feels sore, these tips will help alleviate pain:
- Rinse your mouth thoroughly and regularly with salt water: 1 to 2T salt to 1 cup of water
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Advil or Motrin, per directions, before your adjustment appointments to preemptively treat pain
- Avoid hard-to-chew foods and opt for a soft diet until discomfort subsides (soup, yogurt, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, smoothies, soft fruits, oatmeal, etc.)
- Chew sugar-free gum to promote blood flow to the mouth, to reduce inflammation
- Cold beverages can relieve inflamed gums, as well
Alternatives to Traditional Braces
Everything explained in this article relates to traditional braces with brackets and wires. If you prefer an alternative, talk with your orthodontist or dentist about these options:
- Clear, removable braces like Invisalign or ClearCorrect
- Veneers or bonding, which are cosmetic rather than orthodontic procedures
Braces Don’t Have to Hurt
To manage the temporary, mild to moderate pain following the initial application of braces and adjustment visits, rinse your mouth regularly with salt water and take over-the-counter pain relievers per the label’s directions. You can also eat soft foods and drink cold beverages, chew sugar-free gum, and use orthodontic wax on brackets, wires, or springs that irritate your mouth.
If you follow our orthodontic team’s instructions and attend adjustment visits on schedule, wearing braces for a few years will give you the straight teeth you desire.