Oral Hygiene and Retainer Care
You’ve probably heard that brushing and flossing are really important even for people without braces. They are! But for people undergoing orthodontic treatment, brushing, flossing, and oral hygiene are REALLY important.
That’s because braces tend to trap food against your teeth, and that can lead to the formation of “plaque.” If plaque is not carefully removed from your teeth and braces, then you run the risk of developing permanent white spots on your teeth, in addition to gingivitis, bad breath, tooth decay and other problems.
What is plaque?
Plaque is made up of debris, food particles, and all sorts of bacteria. These bacteria feed on sugars and produce acids in your mouth that can irritate your gums, demineralize the enamel of your teeth, and contribute to bad breath.
It’s really important for you to remove this plaque as thoroughly and as often as possible during orthodontic treatment so that your teeth are healthy and strong when your braces are removed. Here are some pro-tips:
How should you brush your teeth?
First, use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Soft bristles are good because they can reach into the nooks and crannies around your braces and between your teeth, and they won’t irritate your gums. We’ll also give you a special toothbrush known as a bi-level brush on the day we start your treatment. These brushes have longer bristles on the edges and shorter bristles in the middle.
If you aren’t using one of our brushes, make sure you’re using a toothbrush that’s approved by the American Dental Association. An electric toothbrush isn’t necessary, but if you happen to have one, use it! We love electric toothbrushes. Just make sure to use the moderate setting and be careful not to hit the plastic back of your electric toothbrush head against your braces. (Otherwise you can knock your brackets loose!)
If you’re wearing braces, it’s important to brush your teeth at least three times a day—and brushing after each meal is ideal. Brush slowly and carefully, making sure to brush not only the inside and outside surfaces of your teeth, but also the braces themselves. Also pay attention to the spaces in between your braces and your gums. (This is where decalcifications, also known as “white spot lesions,” are most likely to form.) Spend around three to four minutes brushing your teeth—about the length of a song on your streaming service of choice.
How should you floss your teeth?
You should floss your teeth at least once a day during orthodontic treatment. We’ll show you how to use special “floss threaders” to run the floss beneath your orthodontic wires and in between your teeth on the day your braces are placed.
How should you use toothpaste and fluoride?
It doesn’t really matter what kind of toothpaste you use; we simply recommend using a fluoride toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association. If you want to get more fluoride than that, you can also try an over-the-counter fluoride rinse. These rinses will provide you with enough fluoride to protect and strengthen your teeth for the duration of orthodontic treatment. If you are at a high risk for tooth decay, Drs. Small and Piers may also prescribe a more highly concentrated fluoride toothpaste or rinse.
What are some of the other tools that can help you keep your teeth clean during orthodontic treatment?
- Rubber-tipped, end-tuft, or single-tuft toothbrushes are special toothbrushes that allow you to get even further into the nooks and crannies of your braces and in between your teeth. These end-tuft or single-tuft toothbrushes look similar to pipe cleaners.
- Oral irrigators are instruments that shoot thin, high-pressure streams of water between your teeth to wash away food particles and debris. Oral irrigators are fantastic additions to your oral hygiene practice during braces, but they are not replacements for either brushing or flossing. (Like electric toothbrushes, these should be used on the moderate setting!)
How should you clean your retainers?
If you are wearing retainers and want to keep them looking, smelling and tasting fresh, make sure to clean them every day with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Cleaning is particularly important for the side that is in contact with the roof of your mouth, and it’s also important for the parts that are in contact with your gums. Don’t use hot water when you clean your retainers, though—this can distort the plastic. If you’d like a hint of freshness when you put your retainers back in, you can also soak them in a cleaning solution. Just remember, there are some cleaning solutions that can corrode the metal parts of wire orthodontic retainers and other solutions that can make plastic retainers brittle. Before you start soaking your retainers, ask Drs. Small or Piers for the solution that works best for your retainer type.
How should you eat when you are undergoing orthodontic treatment?
The quick answer is that you’ll want to avoid foods that will increase your risk of getting cavities—especially foods that are high in sugar content. But it’s also important to avoid hard and sticky foods that can knock off your braces or bend your wires. Click here to learn more strategies for food and eating during orthodontic treatment.
How often should you go to your family dentist?
At least twice a year! Regular checkups with your family dentist are even more important during braces, so we recommend you go to your dentist every 6 months (unless they’ve asked you to come more often). We may also ask you to visit your dentist more frequently if any cleaning problems arise that require additional help.
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