So you’re way beyond your middle school years... and yet: You’ve found yourself in a new set of braces. While this might not be how you pictured your adulthood unfolding, you’re now officially mature enough to realize that braces don’t take the place of basic oral hygiene. That said, the orthodontic contraption introduces some tricky challenges that make taking care of your teeth extra important.
Sure, cavities are always a risk. But many-a-metal-mouth has worried about white spots showing up under or around brace brackets. These marks occur when the acid in your mouth messes with the calcium and other minerals in the enamel of your teeth. And yep, they’re a sign that your oral hygiene efforts have fallen short. The thing is, white marks are entirely preventable — and the same goes for cavities, gum inflammation, and other periodontal problems. You just have to familiarize yourself with proper braces care so your choppers stay in tip-top shape.
While they may seem like an obstacle to your regular dental care routine, braces don’t actually put your teeth at a greater risk of these periodontal issues, says Dr. Joana Forsea, DDS, assistant professor and clinical director of the Department of Orthodontics at New York University College of Dentistry. “You’re at a greater risk because of your behavior while wearing braces,” she tells Bustle. “Periodontal problems and poor hygiene go hand-in-hand.”
Read on for everything you need to know about keeping your teeth healthy, from how to brush your teeth with braces to the best floss experts recommend stocking up on.
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Braces Care Basics
Because braces are a system of wires, bands, and brackets that are affixed to the teeth, they’re also a minefield for residual food and bacteria — and it’s just your luck that they’re especially hard to clean around. So while orthodontists might tell you to avoid certain foods (see gum, hard candy, carrot sticks, and whole apples) that could bust your brackets before your braces can do their thing, the truth is that your number one job as a brace-bearing patient is to keep. your. teeth. clean.
First up, you should brush your teeth after every meal or snack — not just in the morning and in the evening; floss at least once a day before your bedtime brush; avoid sugary foods that are known to mess with dental health (looking at you, Sour Patch Kids); and schedule dental cleanings every three to six months.
Best Toothbrush For Braces
Forget about picking your favorite color. You’ll want to begin using a toothbrush that has extra soft bristles that won’t harm your braces. You’ll also want to look out for one with an orthodontic head; unlike brushes with bristles that are all the same length to create a flat surface, orthodontic toothbrush heads contain a nook in the bristle surface so you can get around your brackets and actually reach your teeth.
If you’ve got the bones to seriously invest in your teeth, Dr. Ken Dillehay, DDS, the president of the American Association of Orthodontists, recommends Oral-B iO Series 9 Rechargeable Toothbrush, which has a dentist-inspired brush head that vibrates to remove way more plaque than an old-school manual toothbrush.
Best Toothpaste For Braces
Whether you typically swear by toothpaste that tastes like cinnamon or classic peppermint, Dillehay recommends using fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens your tooth enamel so it’s more resistant to decay, he explains. His pick? Crest Gum Detoxify, which uses an “activated foam” formula to remove plaque bacteria in hard-to-reach places and reverse gingivitis and early signs of decay.
How To Brush With Braces
Angles are key when brushing teeth with braces: When moving the bristles back and forth, you’ll want to hold the brush at a 45-degree angle to get above and below the wires and the gums themselves, says Forsea. “The angle will help you flesh out all the remaining food that may be trapped under the appliance and gingival tissue,” she tells Bustle.
Once you’ve got the technique down pat, be sure to brush for two full minutes after every meal or snack — you’re done when you’ve cleaned the fronts, backs, and sides of teeth plus your gums. And if you can't brush right after eating, because #life, Dillehay recommends rinsing your mouth with water to get out any lingering debris.
Best Floss For Braces
Many orthodontists recommend reusable floss threaders to help you get the string beneath your wires. But Dillehay’s favorite flossing tools for people with braces are interdental brushes, which look like mini bottle cleaners or furry toothpicks depending on who you ask. No matter what you call them, they’re great at dislodging plaque and food particles trapped between teeth and clearing out debris that catches on brackets and wires, he says. Another option is water irrigators like the Oral-B Water Flosser Advanced, which flushes out food particles quickly with a gentle stream of water, says Dillehay.
How To Floss With Braces
Experts agree that flossing before brushing is the most efficient way to remove dental plaque, in part because it can help increase the amount of fluoride you sop up from your toothpaste, strengthening your teeth and amping up their resistance to decay, Dillehay says. You’ll want to floss at least once a day to remove plaque and debris that brushing alone can leave behind.
Flossing is extra important when you have braces since it’s easy for food to lodge itself in the tiniest nooks and crannies. That said, you’ll have to floss a little differently to get behind your wires and between your teeth.
When using a flossing needle, thread the floss, then use one hand to thread it between the teeth, going above the wire on top teeth and below it on the bottom. Exercise caution to avoid poking yourself in the gums and go slowly, flossing up and down each tooth. If you retain just one takeaway, remember to move the floss from between your teeth by pulling one end — do not pop it out, which could pop your wire or break a bracket, Forsea warns.
If this sounds like it requires more coordination (or patience) than you’ve got, consider an oral irrigator: Aim the tip at the gum line and move from the back of your mouth to the front, pausing between teeth to clean both fronts and backs of teeth. “Whatever works for the individual’s dexterity and compliance will clean teeth better, and that’s what I recommend,” says Forsea.
Best Mouthwash For Braces
When browsing the mouthwash aisle, Dillehay says to keep your eyes peeled for fluoride mouth rinse, which strengthens tooth enamel and helps prevent white marks on the teeth. It should also contain the germ-killer Cetylpyridinium Chloride (CPC), he adds, as it aids in protecting your mouth from plaque and gingivitis. He recommends swishing with the alcohol-free Crest Pro-Health Multi-Protection Mouthwash for the job.
How To Use Mouthwash With Braces
OK, so you know how to swish and spit. But when you have braces, you can benefit from dipping an interdental cleaner in a capful of fluoride rinse before sticking it between the teeth to make sure you get fluoride protection in every nook and cranny, says Dillehay. Another option he suggests? Try using fluoride rinse instead of water in your irrigator for an extra fresh mouth.
Food & Drinks To Avoid When You Have Braces
As mentioned before, a high-sugar diet is ill-advised while wearing braces. Other items to cross off your grocery list while seeing an orthodontist: soda, carbonated water, sweetened teas, and sports drinks. If you can’t help but imbibe from time to time, reduce insult to injury by sipping through a straw, swishing with water after sips, and flossing and brushing afterwards, according to the experts. TBH, your best bet is to stick with water. Staying hydrated helps produce saliva that nourishes teeth enamel and cleans the mouth, Dillehay says.
The Bottom Line
Aligning your teeth isn’t an alternative to caring for them — especially since braces introduce a host of factors that could make cleaning harder. Follow the proper dental care routine and your time wearing adult braces can go by much more swimmingly.
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Dr. Joana Forsea, DDS, assistant professor and clinical director of the Department of Orthodontics at New York University College of Dentistry
Dr. Ken Dillehay, DDS, the president of the American Association of Orthodontists