When it comes to straightening teeth that are misaligned, braces can certainly work wonders. But getting the best results from orthodontics takes some teamwork between you and your orthodontist. While you’re wearing braces, one of your most important tasks is to keep your teeth really clean by brushing and flossing regularly—yet all the bands and wires can make that a bit harder to do. Here are some tips and techniques that can help you keep your teeth clean and decay-free and your gums healthy, while your braces are gradually moving you toward a great-looking smile.
With or without braces, you should use a soft-bristled toothbrush with a head that’s small enough to reach all areas in your mouth, and a dab of fluoride toothpaste. You should thoroughly brush all tooth surfaces—that means the outside, inside, and chewing surfaces of the teeth—for at least two minutes, at least twice per day. Braces-wearers must carefully clean around the brackets and in the spaces between wires and teeth, where food particles can become trapped and lead to decay; the same goes for the areas between brackets and gums.
For the most effective brushing, try placing the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gums and gently moving the bristles in a back-and-forth pattern. Clean just a small area at a time; when you’re done, move on to the next area, working your way all around the mouth (and brush your tongue, too). If you like listening to music, try brushing for the length of one song: about two or three minutes.
Some special tools are available to help clean those challenging areas near brackets and wires. The interdental toothbrush (or proxabrush) looks like a small pipe cleaner, with bristles all around and a grip on the end. It’s small enough to get in between teeth and wires, and can reach into places your standard toothbrush won’t go and keep those slender spaces clear of food and debris.
Oral irrigators or “water picks”—devices that squirt out a pressurized stream of water—can also be used to remove debris around wires and bands. They aren’t a substitute for brushing and flossing, but they can help keep even the narrowest spaces clean.
In addition to brushing, you need to floss at least once a day to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Plaque bacteria that aren’t removed from the teeth can result in tooth decay and gum disease—and when you’re wearing braces, they may also cause white spots on teeth or unsightly gum overgrowth. Brushing alone can’t remove all of these bacteria; that’s a job for dental floss.
To floss effectively, you normally hold the strand of floss snug against the tooth surface and work it up and down gently, from chewing surface to gums. Keep moving around the teeth, using a clean section of floss when it becomes soiled.
Wondering how to get floss around those wires? Try using a simple tool called a floss threader. Something like a sewing needle, this device lets you pull a piece of floss through its “eye,” and then push it under the wire. Then, you simply grab the free end of the floss and use it as you normally would.
Good brushing and flossing are essential to your oral health—especially when you’re wearing braces. But it’s not always easy to tell if your technique is as effective as it should be. If you want to know for sure, try using a “disclosing solution” or tablet. Made with harmless vegetable dyes, these over-the-counter oral hygiene aids will highlight the places your brush and floss have missed. Orthodontic work may require a good deal of time and effort—but it’s an investment that will pay off every time you smile!