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Tooth Braces and Pain

By Katie Regan ; Updated August 14, 2017

Braces are a fact of life for many people—according to a study done by Orthodontics.org, approximately 4 million people in the United States are under orthodontic care at any given time, and 80 percent of teenagers will wear braces. Braces can cause tooth pain, though it’s typically not severe and doesn’t last for very long.

What Are Braces For?

Braces help straighten crooked teeth, close gaps and spaces, and correct over- and under-bites. They’re typically worn by younger teenagers, but can be put on at any age. Depending on the severity of the correction, braces come in several different styles, including metal, clear, behind-the-teeth and “invisible.”

How Do Braces Work?

According to KidsHealth.org, standard braces straighten teeth with a combination of metal brackets, wires and rubber bands. Metal brackets are glued to the front of the teeth and then connected with a wire that helps move teeth side to side. Colored rings called litigating modules go around the brackets to hold the wires in place, and can be changed frequently to match outfits or for holidays. Rubber bands are used to move teeth forward and backward and can be stretched from front teeth back to molars, or from top teeth to bottom teeth.

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Pain Due to Movement

Wearing braces does cause some discomfort, but it’s not severe and isn’t constant. According to BracesInfo.com, people usually experience pain for a week or so after getting braces put on for the first time, and for a few days each time they get tightened. Braces typically need to be tightened every four to six weeks. They cause pain because of the pressure applied and the movement of the teeth, which can inflame the gums and tissues around the teeth. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as Ibuprofen can help, especially if you take it right before you get your braces tightened.

Bracket and Wire Pain

A more common source of braces pain comes from the metal pieces that can poke gums and rub against the inside of your mouth. According to KidsHealth.org, wires and brackets can sometimes come lose and sit uncomfortably in your mouth; not only is this painful, but it affects the course of braces treatment. Go to your orthodontist to have this problem fixed. The wires can also sometimes be too long at the back of your mouth and poke your gums painfully. If this happens, go to the orthodontist and have them trim the wire, see if you can bend it slightly yourself, or put dental wax over the tip to smooth out the sharp end. Brackets, rubber band hooks and wires can also just rub against your mouth uncomfortably and cause sores. If this happens, cover the offending bracket with dental wax, or put a topical pain reliever such as Anbesol over the sore.

Retainers and Pain

Once braces are finally off your teeth—usually after one to three years, according to Orthodontics.org—you’ll have to wear a retainer to make sure the teeth stay in their new spots. Some people need to wear retainers only for a few months at night, while others need to wear them all day for years; it just depends on your teeth. Retainers shouldn’t cause any pain unless you don’t wear them as instructed. If you go too long without a retainer, teeth can actually start moving back to their old positions again, which can cause some discomfort. Putting a retainer over teeth that have moved can cause as much pressure and pain as getting braces on for the first time.

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