There are several tools and techniques that are used by an orthodontist to correct the irregularities of your teeth, and jaws. Braces are extremely useful dental devices to correct the alignment of your teeth and can help you get an attractive set of teeth and a great smile. However, before the braces are fitted, the orthodontist may use orthodontic separators or spacers to make sure that the fitting of the braces is done properly.
What Are Brace Spacers?
Spacers or orthodontic separators are placed between the molars to offer additional support and allow the proper fitting of the braces. Brace spacers are small elastic rings that are around 1 centimeter in diameter and they surround the tooth completely. A spacer is inserted on either side of your teeth parallelly.
Spacers help to push the molars away from each other and are usually placed a week before the braces are fitted. The spacers are placed for around 1-2 weeks until the molars become sufficiently far apart and this lets the orthodontist place the braces, expander or molar band comfortably. The orthodontist may decide to place spaces for a short period or to leave the spacers for the entire period that the braces are needed.
Why Are Spacers Required?
Spacers have a very simple design but play a very important role. When the orthodontist fits the braces to your teeth, it is very important that the rear molars are not set very tightly against each other. Over time, the braces work towards gradually moving and aligning your teeth properly.
And, in this process, the rear molars may be forced into moving very closely against one another, which can not only become too uncomfortable, but may also cause the development of cavities and also alter your “bite” i.e. the way your top and bottom teeth meet when they are placed in a biting position. Spacers are fitted in between the last 3 teeth on either side of your mouth. The idea of this is to force some space to be created between the teeth before the braces can be fitted.
How Are Brace Spacers Fitted?
Fitting the spacers between the teeth is a very simple and quick procedure, although, you may find it rather uncomfortable. The elastic spacer is stretched until it becomes sufficiently thin to insert in between two teeth or the orthodontist may string a small length of floss through the spacer to help place the spacer in between the molars.
The band is then released by the orthodontist once he/she finds the correct position for the spacer. This is typically where the spacer’s bottom portion rests above the gum line and the top of the spacer is in line with the lowest point on the crown of the adjacent tooth. This process is called “flossing”.
Are Brace Spacers Painful?
For some people, the procedure of fitting the spacers for braces can be a completely pain-free process; however, it is not uncommon for people to feel some discomfort — there may be soreness in the jaw that occurs due to the force applied to it during the fitting. At first, you may feel as if there is something stuck between your teeth. This may cause a feeling of pressure between your teeth or gums and the sensation can vary from a mild annoying feeling to a sensation like a toothache.
The pain that you feel in the first 24-48 hours of having the spacers fitted really depends on your threshold of tolerance for pain. If your molars are set very tightly, then you may feel greater discomfort since the spacers have a lot more work to do to create sufficient space between your cramped teeth. However, after the first two days of wearing the spacers, the initial discomfort will reduce, although some people may feel the discomfort and pain for even up to a week after the spacers are fitted.
How Can You Manage the Discomfort Caused by Spacers?
You can manage the discomfort caused by brace spacers by using pain medication and also making some dietary changes. Usually, the pain caused by brace spacers can be managed using OTC analgesics such as Ibuprofen, Naproxen and Acetaminophen.
Biting down using a lot of force can add pressure to your teeth that are already under a lot of stress and worsen the discomfort. So, it is recommended that you avoid biting down. Also, the discomfort can be aggravated by chewing hard or tough foods. So, eating soft foods such as yogurt, soup, smoothies, hot cereal, mashed potatoes, etc. can minimize the irritation that can be caused because of chewing.
Do You Need to Take Special Care When Wearing Brace Spacers?
You can eat foods that you normally eat; however, it is better to avoid sticky foods such as chewing gum, candy, toffee, caramel, etc. as these foods can stick to the material of the spacer and they can get pulled out of their place. And, if your spacers come out or move prematurely, then they will have to be refitted.
If this is not done, then you may have a very uncomfortable experience when the orthodontist fits the braces and orthodontic bands, as your teeth will not have sufficient space for a comfortable fit. When you are wearing the spacers, you can brush your teeth and rinse them normally; however, avoid flossing between your teeth as the spacers can get dislodged.
Will the Spacers Be Replaced?
When the braces are being fitted, often, the spacers are replaced by the orthodontist with a metal orthodontic band. This band then takes over the job of the spacer and maintains the space between the adjoining teeth by surrounding the second-last molar.
However, orthodontic bands are becoming outdated and these days, orthodontists prefer to use the continued use of the elastic spacers since they are more comfortable. Also, elastic spacers do not need the use of dental cement and also help to reduce the risk of development of cavities as compared to metal orthodontic bands because the elastic spacers don’t surround the teeth.
How Are the Brace Spacers Removed?
The removal of the brace spacers is an easier process compared to the initial fitting and also causes less discomfort. Very often, the spacers become loose and fall out before the installation of the braces. If this happens, there is no need to get worried. This essentially means that the spacers have done what they were meant to do and the teeth have moved to the correct positions.
However, by the time of your brace installation appointment, if your spacers haven’t fallen out on their own, they can be removed easily by the orthodontist before he/she fixes the braces. If you have metal orthodontic bands, then most probably, the bands will have been fixed around the second-last molar on either side using dental cement. If the spacers have been used instead of the metal bands, then the spacers may be kept by the orthodontist as they are or he/she may re-adjust them.
Overall, while using spacers for the installation of braces can be a little daunting, nevertheless, the result that you get is well worth the minor discomfort that you may face. However, from the start when the spacers are placed till the time they come off, remember to maintain good oral care and have regular dental check ups with your orthodontist.