life with braces

Life with braces is very similar to life without braces. When your child has braces, there will be periodic visits to the orthodontist, some minor changes in diet for the duration of treatment, and more frequent toothbrushing along with daily flossing. All things considered, the small accommodations made while your child has orthodontic treatment pay big dividends when braces come off: a healthy, beautiful smile for life.

Braces diagram

This diagram below illustrates and names the parts of a typical set of braces.

detailed braces diagramA. Ligature
The archwire is held to each bracket with a ligature, which can be either a tiny rubber band or a twisted wire.

B. Archwire
The archwire is fastened to all of the brackets and creates force to move teeth into proper alignment.

C. Brackets
Brackets are bonded directly onto each tooth.The archwire is held in place by a series of brackets.

D. Molar Bands
A metal band with a bracket attached is wrapped around select molars for additional anchorage.

E. Bracket with Hook and Ball Hook
Hooks and ball hooks, each attached to a bracket, are used for the attachment of rubber bands (elastics), which help move teeth toward their final position.

F. Rubber Bands
Rubber bands (elastics) are used to temporarily connect brackets between the upper and lower jaw to add force for additional tooth movement.

How often will we see the orthodontist?

Visits to the orthodontist to adjust your child’s braces, evaluate the progress of treatment and assess the health of the teeth and gums will be scheduled about every 6 to 10 weeks.

How long will treatment last?

The length of treatment depends upon important variables. The first is the severity of the problem that needs correction – something that is beyond your control.

Variables you cannot control, but you can influence, are how well your child follows the orthodontist’s instructions on wearing items such as rubber bands, headgear, etc. that may be prescribed. In addition, it is important for your child to keep his/her teeth, gums and braces clean because teeth move faster through clean, healthy tissue. Help your child to be an active participant in his/her care! Remember to encourage them to wear auxiliary appliances as instructed, and stay on top of oral hygiene. Successful treatment is a team effort.

Comprehensive treatment typically lasts up to 22 months. Simple cases may take less time, and complex cases could take longer. Your AAO orthodontist will give you an estimated length of treatment. But remember that an estimate is not a guarantee – an estimate is an estimate.  Patient participation with consistent rubber band wear is a huge determining factor in the length of treatment. The better a patient wears elastics as prescribed, the faster their treatment time.

One other piece of advice – if a bracket comes loose or a wire breaks, the braces cannot deliver the right forces to move your child’s teeth, and that could prolong treatment. If you become aware of a dislodged bracket or wire, make your orthodontist aware as soon as possible.

We have a special event coming up – can my child’s braces be removed?

Discuss this with your child’s orthodontist. But be aware that premature removal of braces may not be in your child’s best interests for a stable, functional result from orthodontic treatment.

Your orthodontist is working toward creating your child’s proper, precise occlusion or bite, meaning the way upper and lower teeth meet and function. While you may see the major changes in the appearance and positions of your child’s teeth, the orthodontist sees the fine details that are critical to creating a bite that works for your child, and looks great, too.

We won’t need to see the dentist during orthodontic treatment, right?

It’s critical that your child continues to see your family dentist during orthodontic treatment. Your dentist will provide professional cleanings and check-ups, and like your orthodontist, will keep an eye on oral health.

Take your child to the dentist at least every six months during orthodontic treatment, or more often, if recommended.

Do braces cause discomfort?

There can be some initial discomfort when braces are placed, or for a short time after braces are adjusted, but this is temporary.

If your child experiences discomfort, and depending on the symptom, your child can take an over-the-counter pain reliever, or rinse with warm salt water (1 tsp. salt to 8 oz. warm water).

If a part of your child’s braces is rubbing inside the mouth, or if a wire has come loose, cover the bracket or wire with orthodontic wax.

Overall, orthodontic discomfort is short-lived and easily managed. Once patients become accustomed to their braces, they may even forget they have them on.

How much school will my child miss?

Your child will probably miss school on occasion. The longest appointments will be to place and remove your child’s braces, and unless school is out, will likely be scheduled during the school day.

Adjustment appointments, scheduled every 6 to 10 weeks, are usually short. Depending on your orthodontist, you may be able to schedule some appointments before or after school. In some cases, though, it will be necessary to schedule appointments during the school day.

Can we schedule all appointments after school?


How often should my child brush his/her teeth?

Your orthodontist will give specific instructions, but in general, patients should brush for two minutes after every meal or snack, and before bed.

Avoid the “I can’t brush because I don’t have a toothbrush” excuse and send a travel toothbrush to school with your child.

If your child is unable to brush after lunch at school, he/she should at least rinse thoroughly with water and brush thoroughly when they get home.

What kind of toothpaste should my child use?

Fluoride toothpaste is recommended, approved by the American Dental Association, preferably without any whitening.

How often should my child floss?

Your child should floss a minimum of once a day.

Why is all this brushing and flossing necessary?

Brushing and flossing keep braces, teeth and gums clean by removing plaque and food debris. When plaque and trapped food are left on the teeth and around braces, that can lead to cavities, swollen gums, bad breath and permanent white marks on the teeth. Good oral hygiene helps to minimize the time your child‘s time in treatment braces, and contributes to a healthy result.

Should my child use a manual toothbrush or a power toothbrush?

Your child should use whatever toothbrush works best for him/her.

Change the toothbrush or power toothbrush head at the first sign of wear, or at least every three months.

Are there other tools we can use to help with oral hygiene?

Tiny interproximal brushes can help dislodge plaque and food particles trapped between teeth and around brackets.

Water irrigators can flush out food particles.

Your orthodontist may recommend daily rinsing with an over-the-counter or prescription-strength fluoride mouth rinse.

Your orthodontist may suggest dipping an interproximal brush in a fluoride rinse to deliver fluoride protection between the teeth or using a fluoride rinse instead of water in an irrigator.

What can my child eat with braces?

A healthy diet supports the body as it undergoes the biological changes that occur during orthodontic treatment. Your child should enjoy a variety of healthful, easy-to-chew foods during orthodontic treatment.

Soups, stews, casseroles, pasta, scrambled eggs and smoothies can be good choices.

Your child can enjoy fresh fruits like apples and pears, but they should be sliced rather than bitten into.

Similarly, sandwiches and pizza are OK, but they should be cut into bite-sized pieces. Cut corn off the cob before serving.

What can’t my child eat with braces?

Your child should stay away from foods that are hard, sticky, crunchy or chewy for the duration of treatment. Sugary and starchy foods should be avoided, too.

Ban foods from your child’s diet such as hard pretzels, hard pizza crust, crusty bread, taco chips, caramels, popcorn, licorice, taffy, suckers, hard candies or mints and nuts.

What can my child drink with braces?

Water and milk are your child’s best choices for drinks while braces are on.

What drinks should my child avoid with braces?

It is best for your child to avoid regular and diet soft drinks when he/she has braces. These drinks include soda pop, sports drinks/energy drinks, flavored bubbly waters and fruit drinks (juices, punch).

Soft drinks contain acids that dissolve tooth enamel. Regular soft drinks also contain sugar. Sugar combines with plaque to create an acid that can lead to cavities.

If a soft drink is taken, drink through a straw, have the soft drink with a meal, and drink it quickly (each sip renews the 20-minute acid attack on teeth). Be sure your child brushes right away after drinking a soft drink. If brushing is not possible, have your child rinse with water.

Some important advice about life with braces?

Your child should avoid chewing on pencils, pens, fingernails or anything hard while wearing braces. Chewing the wrong thing can pop off a bracket or bend a wire, and lead to an unscheduled visit to the orthodontist.

And braces or not, no one should ever chew ice! It’s much too hard on your teeth.

Are there orthodontic emergencies?

Occasionally things happen that affect a child’s braces. They do not constitute the kind of “emergency” that is life-threatening. More often, they will require a call or an unforeseen visit to the orthodontist – what your orthodontist will consider an “emergency visit.”

Will we have to see the orthodontist?

Whether your child will need to be seen by the orthodontist will depend on what has happened to your child or his/her braces. Contact your orthodontist’s office to explain the problem to determine if your child will need to be seen.

When does the orthodontist need to know something has happened?

If you notice a bracket is loose or if a wire has worked itself out of place, or if your child experiences unusual discomfort, notify your orthodontist.

Are there things I can do at home to make my child comfortable?

Keep supplies on hand to help rectify problems your child may experience. Suggested supplies include orthodontic wax to cover brackets or wires, dental floss, tweezers, interproximal brushes, and a topical anesthetic (such as Orabase or Ora-Gel). If your child is experiencing temporary discomfort after braces are adjusted, you can offer an over-the-counter pain reliever such as the type commonly taken for a headache. A warm salt water rinse can be soothing, as well (1 tsp. salt to 8 oz. warm water).

Can my child play sports when wearing braces?

Yes. Your child can play sports while he or she has braces. But wearing a protective mouth guard is advised while riding a bike, skating, or playing any contact sports, whether organized sports or a neighborhood game. Mouth guards are among the least expensive and most essential pieces of equipment available. Your orthodontist can recommend a specific mouth guard while your child has braces, and afterwards.

Can my child play a wind instrument while wearing braces?

Yes. With a little practice and time to adjust, braces typically do not interfere with playing wind or brass instruments.

Talk to your child’s orthodontist if your child is having difficulty. He or she may be able to provide covers for the braces that will help your child play more naturally.

Will my child’s braces set off the metal detector at the airport?

You are cleared for take-off – the lightweight materials used in braces will not set off metal detectors.