What to Expect Your First Week With Braces
Whether you are a child or an adult needing braces, it is helpful to be prepared for the that first week of new sensations in your mouth. It is important also to be aware of necessary changes to your daily routine after the orthodontist puts on your braces. Although I went through 4 years of braces in my early teenage years, my dentist noticed that my jaw was misaligned and highly recommended that I go through a second round of braces as an adult to correct my bite (as opposed to jaw surgery). The first thought through my head was, 'This is going to be easy. I've done it once before. Surely the second time through will be a breeze!'
It's been a little over a week since my orthodontist put my new braces on, and I was WAY under prepared. As some of you may have noticed, I have been missing from the HubPages scene for a little over a week due to the unexpected pain and headaches I have experienced. In writing this article, I hope to prepare other unsuspecting candidates for their first week with braces so they know what to expect and don't go in blind like I did.
Before getting braces, if your teeth are too crowded in your mouth, the orthodontist may need to have a specialist pull a few of your teeth (I had 4 teeth pulled before my first round of braces). This creates room in your mouth for the other teeth to straighten into. Generally the doctor will give you some sort of laughing gas or anesthesia, pull your teeth, and send you on your way with pain killers. The healing takes a few weeks, and the orthodontist will wait until you are healed before putting braces on.
If the orthodontist does not pull any teeth, he or she may still place some spacers (they look like tiny rubber bands) between certain teeth in order to create space. This space allows the orthodontist to easily place bands around your molars when putting on your braces without having to force the band between your teeth. If the spacers fall out, you can easily use floss to put them back between your teeth yourself, as shown in the video I have included at the bottom of this article.
In other rare cases, the orthodontist may not have to do any preparation work on your teeth (Lucky you!). At most, he or she will make a mold out of your teeth so that you can see the before and after once you are done. The orthodontist should tell you in your initial consultation if any prep work has to be done.
The First Day
Generally, it will take a couple of hours for the orthodontist's team to put in your braces. After they are done, your mouth will feel extremely uncomfortable. Sharp edges will scrape against the inside of your mouth, and your teeth may be slightly sore. Be sure to tell your orthodontist immediately if you feel wires in the back poking against you. They have tools to cut the wire shorter or bend certain hooks back so they don't dig into your cheeks. Those with Invisalign may not have this problem. It is highly recommended that you only eat very soft foods this first day.
Pain, Pain, and More Pain
Your Braces Will Tear and Rub Against The Inside Of Your Mouth
Personally, I was extremely unprepared for how much agony the braces caused me my first week. The hooks, brackets, and wires in the back of your mouth may scrape the insides of your mouth and tongue and cause sores. This will occur the entire first week until your mouth toughens up and gets used to the braces. Although it will feel like the pain will never end, and you want to rip out the braces to soothe your mouth, it WILL end in about a week.
For any hooks, wires, etc. that are digging especially painfully into your mouth, your orthodontist should give you some dental wax to cover up the sharp edges. Tear off a tiny pea-sized piece of wax and roll it between your fingers. The warmth will make it malleable and sticky. Place it on the sharp edge of your braces between the metal and your mouth. This will protect your mouth from further damage and allow sores to heal. Take the wax off when eating to prevent swallowing (although it is not harmful if swallowed). Change the wax out at least once a day to prevent bacteria growth from damaging your teeth. If you run out, the wax is sold on Amazon and at your local drugstore.
Another pain reliever is to rinse your mouth with a solution of warm salt water (1/2 tsp salt per 1 cup of warm water) for about 30 seconds 5-6 times a day. This will help ease pain and allow any sores to heal faster as well.
Your Gums, Teeth, Jaw, and Head Will Be Sore
Your gums and teeth will be sore as the teeth begin to loosen and move. In some cases your jaw may be sore as well. This is due to the constant tugging of your adult teeth by the roots as they move into a position they are unfamiliar with. Some people experience headaches due to the tooth and jaw movement also.
The best remedy for this is to continue taking your favorite pain-killer (i.e. Tylenol, Advil, etc.) for about a week. Many recommend taking one tablet half an hour before each orthodontist appointment and then continuously for up to 1 week afterward per the instructions on the medication.
Your gums may be sensitive to extreme hot and cold at this time. Try to only eat, drink, and rinse with only warm foods and liquids if this is the case.
A Lament for My Friend Food: What You Can and Can't Eat
The most difficult adjustment for me was the highly restricted diet my first week with braces. I am an avid food lover, and so finding out that my mouth hurt too much to eat actually brought tears to my eyes. It was like losing a best friend I'd taken for granted until it was forced from me.
Then I discovered how much ice cream I could consume...
Excessive chewing that first week with braces tends to hurt because it causes the braces to rub against the sores in your mouth, and makes sore teeth feel even worse. It is highly recommended to eat only soft, liquid-like foods that require minimal chewing. Cold desserts like ice cream and frozen yogurt actually are excellent foods to eat during this time because they require minimal chewing, and the cold numbs the pain. It really feels like Heaven in your mouth.
Some soft foods that you can eat during your first week of braces include:
ice cream, frozen yogurt, applesauce, yogurt, pudding, jello, smoothies, blended soup (i.e. tomato basil, butternut squash, pea, chowder), mashed potatoes, extremely steamed vegetables, other soft foods.
After the first week, as you stop feeling strong pain in your mouth, you will be able to eat normally again with the exception of hard and sticky foods.
Oral Hygiene: Caring For Your Mouth
A mouth with braces is like Disneyland for bacteria. All those nooks, crannies, and new spaces between your teeth are perfect snagging places for food and sugars which bacteria thrive on. It is imperative that you take care of your teeth and gums. Otherwise you could end up with permanently stained teeth and gum disease.
Brush your teeth in the morning, evening, and after meals.
Most of you probably already brush your teeth when you wake up and before you go to bed. Now that you have braces, you will want to brush your teeth after meals too. This will get most of the food stuck in your braces out so that it doesn't feed bacteria and/or cause bad breath. Not to mention, it isn't a pretty sight for people to talk to you while food is hanging out all over your teeth.
Floss at least once a day.
Flossing with braces is a huge pain. You have to thread the floss under the braces wire between every single teeth. What used to take me 2 minutes now takes me between 8-10 minutes. It's very easy to decide flossing is too much trouble and give it up, but this is one of the most important things you must do to ensure you have healthy gums. Your orthodontist or local drugstore should have flossing tools to help you thread the floss under your braces. Use them! The first time I had braces, I didn't floss and ended up with all sorts of painful and expensive gum and periodontal problems afterwards. This time I'm not making the same mistake.
Use fluoride or plaque-destroying mouthwash.
Your main goal with dental hygiene is to prevent plaque build-up. Plaque will cause tooth and gum disease, and also leave white bracket-shaped marks on your teeth when you take your braces off. These marks will stay on your teeth for the rest of your life. To prevent that, in addition to all of the other steps, it may help to rinse for 30 seconds at least once a day with fluoride or mouthwash. I like doing this at least once in the evening after I floss and before I brush my teeth.
Continue regular cleaning visits with your dental hygienist.
You will never be able to clean your teeth as well as your dentist (or hygienist) can professionally. Just as you did before you had braces, continue to visit your regular dentist to get your teeth cleaned. For some of you, the dentist may recommend more frequent visits.
I know many of these steps seem excessively troublesome. Speaking from experience, I cannot emphasize enough that you should NOT take shortcuts. Your oral hygiene is of the utmost importance while you have braces because plaque buildup can cause lasting damage to your teeth that will not go away for the rest of your life. Do not take your teeth for granted. So much of life's enjoyments (eating, speaking, your appearance) are directly related to the health of your teeth and gums. Please don't ruin that for yourself.
1 Week and Beyond
Although during your first week with braces, it may seem like the pain is never-ending, there is hope. By the 6th or 7th day, your cheeks will toughen up, your sores should be completely healed, and you probably won't have to use orthodontic wax on your braces anymore. If you are still experiencing pain, call your orthodontist and see if they need to cut some wires shorter or bend some hooks back to keep them from catching on your inner cheek. Your teeth should have mostly settled by 1-2 weeks, and the pain in your jaw will subside. You will even be able to eat most foods except those that your orthodontist warns you of (hard and sticky foods generally). Life will seem tentatively joyful and bright again.
Every month or so, the orthodontist will call you back in to get your braces tightened or adjusted. You will experience extreme pain again at this time, although to a lesser degree than your first week with braces and for a shorter period of time. It is recommended that you take a Tylenol or Advil 30 minutes to an hour prior to the appointment and for at least a day afterwards to help with the pain. You may also need to revert back to soft and liquid-like foods for 2-3 days after each adjustment.
Before long, braces will seem like an extension of your body, and you won't really notice them again until they come off! Best of luck to all of you with your new braces!