You had to make quite a few key decisions before getting braces. “Which type of braces will be the right fit for me?”, “How do I manage the costs involved in getting braces?” and “What’s the process of maintaining braces?”. These are some of the key questions you would have had to deal with initially, but the process of orthodontic treatment doesn’t end with getting braces. You need to take care of your oral hygiene and at periodic intervals (typically, every 4 to 8 weeks) you need to visit the orthodontist for adjustments to the braces, including tightening the braces. The frequency of the adjustments depends on the type of orthodontic issues you have and your age.
Why is Tightening Braces Important?
As you will be aware, the brackets and archwires that make up braces apply gentle but continuous pressure on the teeth in order to shift them and align them optimally. Minute shifts in the positioning of the teeth due to the pressure applied leads to reduction of tension between the braces and the teeth and results in the braces becoming less effective. Hence, the brackets and archwires need to be adjusted every few weeks to ensure that the correct amount of pressure is being applied constantly. It can take up to 24 months (and sometimes more) for teeth to be properly aligned. So, you don’t want to delay it further by not getting the braces tightened at the correct intervals.
How Are Braces Tightened?
The prospect of getting your braces tightened might seem painful, but usually you won’t feel anything more than mild discomfort for a few hours (could go up to a couple of days in some situations) after the tightening or adjustment.
This is what the orthodontist will do during a tightening or adjustment session.
- Tiny elastic or rubber bands known as ligatures connect the brackets to the wire. These are removed first
- The archwire itself is removed
- The positioning of the teeth will be examined to determine the progress. In case a new archwire needs to be fitted, the orthodontist will inform you
- The old archwire or the new one (as required) will be connected back to the brackets and tied up with new elastic bands
The first time you visit the orthodontist for an adjustment or tightening after your braces have been fitted, you will most likely feel a certain degree of discomfort at the final stage, when the archwire and new elastic bands are being refitted. The level of discomfort will dissipate with every subsequent visit. A complicated set of events are happening inside your mouth while the teeth are being aligned, which means that a little bit of pain and discomfort can’t be completely eliminated.
Besides feeling slight pain or discomfort on the teeth, the other issue some people face is the archwire poking or pinching the cheek. This is an immediate red flag. If you feel this at the time the braces are first fitted or after tightening, infor your orthodontist and she will be able to take care of it. If you feel this after you’re back home, make an appointment right away and go back to the orthodontist. It usually happens when the archwire hasn’t been clipped short enough.
How to Deal with Braces Tightening Pain or Discomfort
If you do feel pain or discomfort after the braces are tightened, you can treat it with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil (ibuprofen). You can also apply orthodontic wax on the brackets and wire to reduce soreness inside the mouth due to the braces rubbing inside the mouth. You can get it from the orthodontist or the local pharmacy and apply it with your fingers. If the discomfort increases or if you face trouble sleeping at night, you can use oral anesthetic as well. Apply it on your teeth and gum with a cotton swab. It will temporarily numb the area and allow you to drift off to sleep easily.
If applying an oral anesthetic seems too much, you can always use ice cubes. Wrap a few ice cubes in a piece of clean cloth or ziplock bag and hold it against your mouth to reduce inflammation and provide relief. Another homemade solution for dealing with soreness after tightening of the braces is rinsing your mouth with a salt water solution. Mix a small amount of salt in lukewarm water and use this to rinse your mouth multiple times through the day.
You should also have soft and liquid foods such as soups, milkshakes, mashed items, etc. for up to a week after the tightening. In fact, you need to keep a check on the types of food you eat during the entire duration of the orthodontic treatment in order to maintain oral hygiene. Eating out should be kept at a minimum and sticky foods, especially sticky desserts, should be completely avoided.
Visiting the orthodontist to get your braces tightened or adjusted is an important part of the orthodontic treatment. It allows the orthodontist to keep track of your progress and make adjustments to quicken the process of teeth alignment. Applying pressure on the teeth for a prolonged period of time and the consequent changes in the positioning of the teeth is bound to cause some pain and discomfort. However, the periodic tightening of the braces is unavoidable.
As the teeth start responding to the pressure being applied on it, the elastic bands lose tension and need to be replaced in order to maintain uniform pressure. The level of discomfort you feel after a session of tightening the braces will reduce as the treatment goes on. Towards the latter half of the treatment you will feel little to no discomfort at all as the teeth get used to it. Plus, modern pain medications can take care of any discomfort.
Getting braces is a big decision. It costs a lot of money and the treatment period can stretch to 2 years and sometime more. Hence, patience and discipline on your part is of utmost importance. If you don’t feel up for it, you can always opt for clear orthodontic aligners like Invisalign. These cost more than traditional metal braces and take longer to align teeth properly, but these are also removable and do not require adjustments.