A guide to broken braces

There are lots of different types of braces and they can attach to your teeth in different ways. Some attach to the front of your teeth, some attach to the back, while others are removable. They are also available in a wide variety of materials, from transparent plastic to tooth-coloured ceramic to traditional metal and elastic.

Despite the wide range of orthodontic products available, the majority of braces have something in common. They are complex devices that require a fair amount of tender loving care when you wear them. They are relatively easy to lose, damage or simply to come loose, so that they are not working as effectively as they should.

Of course, not every loose band or twisted bracket constitutes a real dental emergency. And some dentists may charge more for replacing existing brackets or for patients who make extra appointments. However, problems with braces mean that they are not moving your teeth in the way that they should. So while you may not feel the need to contact an emergency dentist immediately, you should certainly arrange to see your orthodontist in the very near future. Otherwise, you may end up wearing your braces for longer than you originally envisaged or hoped.

Why wear braces?

Orthodontic solutions – or braces as people usually call them – are becoming more and more common. In the past, they were mainly used to treat children and teenagers who needed the alignment of their teeth adjusting as they grew up. Now, however, there are many new types of products on the market which make braces far more appealing to adults too.

Once they reach adulthood, many people choose to live with their crooked teeth rather than to spend up to three years living with metal ‘train track’ braces. The advances in the materials used – you can now get far more comfortable, aesthetic and ‘invisible’ braces – means that adults feel far less self-conscious wearing braces to correct a crooked smile. And, of course, once a person feels more confident smiling and talking, it makes a world of difference.

As more and more people choose orthodontic treatment, issues with braces are becoming far more common for dentists. In this article, we will look closely at what kinds of problems arise from wearing braces. We will also consider how serious each type of problem is – and how quickly you might require dental care.

How do braces work?

It may be helpful to understand a little bit about how braces actually work, before we start talking about the problems that can go wrong with them. Braces are designed to apply pressure to your teeth and move them gradually into new positions, so that your crooked teeth become straight. While there are different types of products currently on the market, traditional braces moved teeth by exerting pressure through the combined effect of archwires, metal ties and elastic bands.

By maintaining a constant pressure on your teeth, the braces would eventually be able to transform your teeth into their perfect smile – although, in some cases, that can mean wearing them for two to three years.

What can go wrong?

There is a long list of potential problems that can occur when you wear braces. Fortunately, they are not all potential dental emergencies. Many of the problems can be fixed, at least temporarily, at home. Alternatively, if they cannot be fixed at home, you may be able to take steps to ensure that you can keep your damaged braces in good condition until you can make another appointment to see your orthodontist.

Your braces can become loose

Braces, made from metal or ceramic, are usually glued to your teeth. The archwires and elastics that provide the force are then attached to these braces. However, as you eat certain types of food or over a long period of time, the glue can weaken and the braces can become loose. Occasionally, if you eat or chew something particularly tough, your braces can snap or splinter.

If your braces do become loose, it is not necessarily always a significant problem as they do not always cause too much discomfort. Often, you will be able to wait until your next scheduled appointment with your orthodontist, at which point, they will be able to glue your braces back into place.

Sometimes, however, a broken brace can cause some discomfort as it irritates your cheeks, gums or mouth. On these occasions, your orthodontist will probably be able to schedule you in for an earlier appointment when they can adjust or refit your braces.

Your elastic bands become loose

If the elastic bands on your braces become loose, they are unlikely to cause you too much pain or discomfort. Nor will it require any emergency dental treatment. However, a loose elastic brand is also not something that you can necessarily ignore indefinitely.

If your bands become loose, you will probably need to visit your orthodontist to have them cemented back into place. The problem often is that, once the bands become loose, the pressure on the teeth relaxes and the teeth settle into different positions. Therefore, if the band stays loose for a long period of time, your orthodontist may not be able to cement the bands back into the correct position.

For this reason, you should speak to your dentist or orthodontist as soon as you notice that the bands on your braces are becoming loose. They will be able to schedule you in for an appointment within the appropriate timescales and at your convenience.

Your archwire is broken or uncomfortable

A broken archwire that sticks out at an awkward angle can be one of the more irritating problems to experience while wearing a brace. It can scratch or snag on the inside of your cheek, on your gums and on your tongue. It can also make talking, chewing and swallowing difficult.

It may sound like a slightly clumsy solution, but the first thing you should try and do is push the wire into a more comfortable position. Using a cotton wool bud or something similarly soft might be useful. If the wire has scratched a sensitive area of your mouth, use an antiseptic mouthwash to clean the wound and keep away infection.

Of course, pushing the wire into place yourself will only ever be a temporary solution. So make sure you make an appointment with your orthodontist to have your brace looked at professionally.

What else do you need to know?

It may sound as though there are one hundred and one potential pitfalls with wearing braces, but this is not necessarily the case. Certainly, many of the problems that people envisage happening rarely require the intervention of an emergency dentist. In fact, the longer you wear your braces, the more comfortable you will feel with looking after them yourself. You will soon stop feeling concerned about what could go wrong.

For many people, getting used to wearing braces really means getting through the first few months successfully. This is when your braces feel at their most alien and their most uncomfortable. You will probably feel as though different pieces of metal are sticking into your mouth at all sorts of curious angles, making simple tasks such as eating and chewing more and more difficult.

When you have your braces fitted, your orthodontist will give you some dental wax to help keep your braces comfortable until you get used to wearing them. Dental wax is a soft substance, which is often available in different flavours such as mint, which can be rubbed onto areas of your braces that are causing you discomfort. The dental wax will help to make those edges, spikes and pokes a little less abrasive.

Once you become more used to wearing your braces, you will probably find that you need to use dental wax less and less. However, it can still be useful to keep some just in case you need it. It can be particularly useful if your brace or archwire breaks. On these occasions, a little dab of dental wax can make it more comfortable so that you can wait until your next orthodontist appointment.

Finally, the most important thing to remember is just to keep calm. Wearing a brace can be a strange sensation, especially in those first few months. And if it snags on your teeth or gums, it can be alarming. However, if you reach for the phone to call your dentist every time your brace feels uncomfortable, you may end up facing increased dental costs.

Don’t forget that your orthodontic treatment will usually involve regular trips to your dentist or orthodontist to have your brace tightened. This is an essential part of the treatment, as it maintains the right tension in the brace so that your teeth move at the optimum speed and into the prime position. If your next orthodontic appointment is due soon, it could be that you do not need an extra appointment in the meantime – or perhaps a quick call to your orthodontist could bring your general check-up forward a few days.


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