Frequently Asked Questions about Braces

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Do braces hurt?
The advent of specialized wires and smaller-sized brackets has led to greater patient comfort and shorter treatment times. However, although many design improvements have been made to minimize a patient's discomfort, most will still experience soreness during the first few days after braces are placed, or for a few days after adjustment appointments. Wax can be placed over edges that feel sharp, or mild pain medication can also provide some relief. There is some "comfort" in knowing that everyone who has had braces has gone through it too.

How long will I have to wear braces?
Depending on the case, it may be anywhere from 6 months to 3 years.

How often will I have to come in for an appointment?
After the initial consultation and placement of the braces, and the treatment is under way, appointments are usually every 4 to 6 weeks.

Can I wear a retainer instead of getting braces?
As the name implies, a retainer works great at "retaining" teeth, i.e., holding them in their place. Although some minor tooth movements can be accomplished with a retainer-type appliance, movement of teeth with braces is more efficient and predictable.

How long do I have to wear my retainer?
Teeth are set in bone (a living tissue) and not in stone. Retainers are an essential part of the overall treatment. After your braces come off, expect a period of full-time retainer wear followed by nighttime wear. Retainers maintain the teeth in their newly established positions and allow the muscles and tissues to adapt and hold the teeth in this new relationship. As during active treatment, cooperation is essential for maintaining the result. However, even with retainer wear, some changes may occur as the teeth adapt to be able to function in their best position. Often, retainers may need to be worn indefinitely, at least at night. Your orthodontist can advise you best as to how long you need to keep wearing your retainers.

How often do I have to brush my teeth?
The recommendation is to brush and floss after every meal and before going to bed. How well you brush and the amount of time spent brushing is very important. Brushing and flossing are especially important when you have braces because food can get caught in the braces and cause cavities. It is also recommended to brush with a fluoride gel in an attempt to avoid cavities, or use a fluoride rinse after brushing. Fluoride gel products are now available from your pharmacist without a prescription.

Are there other foods I should avoid?
The general recommendation is to avoid hard, sticky, sugary or crunchy foods. Caramel and taffy can stick to braces and promote cavities. Crunchy foods like carrots and apples can knock brackets off teeth or bend wires, which can start to move teeth in an unfavorable direction.