by Carol Muse Evans
Many of us have worn braces, and adults, teens and children alike are wearing them now. Sure, a lot has changed in the last 20 years in braces, and luckily, most of the changes are improvements.
The old myths about braces are still around, but what do local orthodontists have to say about caring for your braces? What advice can they give us on getting the maximum benefit for the beautiful smile of tomorrow?
MYTH or TRUTH: Braces are clunky and unattractive.
While many braces options are visible when you smile, it is a dated myth that they are clunky or unaesthetically pleasing, says Dr. David Hufham DMD, PC, in Birmingham. “Options range from clear, invisible aligners that are discreet and can be removed during meals or while brushing, to ceramic clear braces when more force is needed to correct the bite,” he says. “Braces are most definitely not just for teenagers any more, as these advances have opened doors for many adults to enjoy an enhanced smile.”
There are more options than ever before in braces, so orthodontists recommend exploring your options and what your dental/orthodontic insurance may cover, as well.
MYTH OR TRUTH: You should watch what you eat when you have braces.
“I am not nearly as concerned about what you eat, but how you eat,” says Dr. Brandon Boggan of Ortho South in Pelham and Calera. “If you are careful, you can eat almost anything without a bracket coming loose. But in general, you want to avoid foods that are really hard or really chewy and drinks that are acidic and/or sugary.”
Dr. Ronald Philipp of Vital Smiles in Center Point and Midfield, says the biggest things to avoid are hard and sticky foods, such as ice, raw carrots, whole apples and hard or sticky candies. Rather, chew sugar-free gum that does not stick to dental appliances or is not harmful to braces, he says.
“Patients with braces should also avoid chewing on foreign objects such as pens and plastic bottle caps, which may cause braces to come loose,” Philipp says.
Dr. Stephanie Whitehead of Whitehead Orthodontics in Hoover, advises braces wearers to drink through a straw. “A straw prevents the drink from bathing the teeth with sugar and acid when drinking juice or any sugary drink,” she says.
MYTH OR TRUTH: Braces require a lot of care.
“Taking care of your braces is really pretty simple,” says Dr. Erin Bilbo of PT Orthodontics in Hoover, Mountain Brook/Homewood, Vestavia Hills/Cahaba Heights, Greystone, Leeds, Pell City, Hueytown, Gardendale, Jasper and Tuscaloosa.
“You just need to brush around each bracket and floss between your teeth. Also make sure to wear your rubber bands as instructed to help treatment go quickly.” Bilbo adds.
“Brush often with braces, preferably after every meal or snack, and floss a least once a day,” advises Olga Sanchez-Hernandez, DMD, MS, MS, of McCalla Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry in Bessemer. While you must have regular check-ins and adjustments with your orthodontist as well as cleanings every three to six months with your dentist, most parents and children do not consider the extra attention exhaustive.
“Braces do have a lot of hiding places,” Whitehead says, “So it is important to brush after each time you eat and to floss before you go to bed. Brush in small, circular motions around the braces to ensure the removal of all the plaque and food left behind and to massage the gingival tissues.”
Doctors often hear, “I’ll have to miss a lot of work or school [to go to appointments].” However, Drs. Danielle Gilbert and Glen Brawley of Brawley and Gilbert Orthodontics in Birmingham say this is a myth as well. “We offer early morning and late afternoon appointments so that time away from school and work is minimized,” they say.
Gilbert and Brawley add that some products can make brushing with braces easier and more effective, such as a small brush for cleaning under the wires, and special floss (such as Plackers) can aid in flossing.
“Brushing in a vertical up-and-down position to get up under the braces is important,” Philipp adds. “Interproximal brushes are great for removing food particles missed by brushing and flossing.” And when you cannot brush, rinsing can help, Philipp adds.
A water flosser such as Waterpik® and an electric toothbrush can be really helpful tools for keeping braces clean, says Bilbo. Fluoride-containing mouthwash is also beneficial, and dentists can prescribe toothpastes with a higher content of fluoride for patients who need it, adds Sanchez-Hernandez.
“The most common orthodontic problem IS dental hygiene,” Boggan says. “Our newest and favorite product I recommend to our patients is Plaque HD® toothpaste. It identifies plaque and helps the patient see any places that they may have missed after brushing.”
MYTH OR TRUTH: You can double your rubber bands and wear them half the time, and your teeth will move the same.
Myth, says Sanchez-Hernandez. Rubber bands must be on for a certain number of hours before they even start to move the teeth. Doubling the bands will not make the teeth move any faster.
MYTH OR TRUTH: Braces are painful.
“While minimal discomfort is normal, at Ortho South we provide every patient with a therabite, a bite wafer that our patients report significantly reduces discomfort,” Boggan says.
“Due to advances in technology, we are able to use more gentle forces than in the past,” says Gilbert and Brawley. This means only mild soreness in many cases.
“Your braces are not ever ‘tightened,’” says Bilbo. “We just progress through a series of wires that makes your teeth feel a little sore, but no tightening is actually ever done.”
MYTH OR TRUTH: Braces are expensive.
Braces are not as inexpensive as a new toothbrush or even a water flosser, but almost every orthodontic office will offer payment plans to make paying for a permanently beautiful smile possible. Be sure to ask what your options are when choosing an orthodontist and pick the right doctor and payment plan for you.
“Orthodontics is an investment in your or your child’s future,” says Hufham. “The possible benefits are increased self-esteem, more efficient chewing and improved tooth/jaw function, and a gift that can last a lifetime!”
“A smile can change a life,” adds Bilbo. And all the orthodontists agree that if patients do their part to take care of their braces while wearing them, they will get the best result possible – a beautiful smile to last a lifetime.
Carol Muse Evans is publisher of Birmingham Parent.