Q. I have heard that taking good care of teeth while in braces requires special attention. If so, what can someone do to ensure proper care of their teeth for the year or two they are in braces?
A. Braces are the tool that an orthodontist uses to control each tooth as it is moved into proper alignment and bite. There are many varieties of braces that attach to the teeth, but they all create areas that can block the toothbrush bristles from reaching the teeth surfaces so meticulous attention is required for proper oral hygiene.
Special brushing techniques are required to angle the toothbrush so the bristles will penetrate to those hard to reach areas around the braces and under the wires. One trick, when learning the proper cleaning technique with braces, is to try brushing without toothpaste. This way you can watch the teeth and toothbrush bristles and learn which toothbrush angles and motions will allow the bristles to reach into those difficult areas. A small headed toothbrush is better than a regular toothbrush because it makes you concentrate on each individual tooth. There is also an additional type of toothbrush called a “proxybrush” that is small and conical shaped. The proxybrush is excellent for getting under the wires and into the smaller hard to reach areas. Some patients do better with an electric toothbrush rather than a manual toothbrush. You should avoid electric toothbrushes on which the entire head rotates and utilize ones that either the bristles vibrate (Sonicare, etc.) or the individual tufts of bristles rotate (Interplak, etc.). Once you have mastered the proper brushing technique, be sure to use a fluoride toothpaste to help strengthen the teeth. Any fluoride toothpaste with the ADA seal has passed rigorous testing requirements to ensure maximum benefit.
Flossing is also critical for proper dental health during braces, and unfortunately, there is no fast or easy technique. The floss must be fed under the arch wire. Then the area must be cleaned and the floss carefully removed. This process is repeated until the areas between all the teeth have been flossed. Floss threaders or Superfloss have stiff tips to aid in feeding the floss under the archwire. A water pik can aid both brushing and flossing by flushing debris away with a stream of water, but it is not a substitute for proper brushing and flossing.
It is important to continue regular dental care and cleanings at your family dentist while in braces. Checkups every six months, and sometimes every three months are recommended. Your dentist or orthodontist may also prescribe certain fluoride rinses, fluoride gels, or even antibacterial rinses in high risk or problem cases.
The bottom line is that proper oral hygiene is extremely important in achieving a successful orthodontic result. Dedicating the time and attention needed to keep teeth clean while in braces will pay great dividends toward achieving that beautiful smile.
Tom Flanagan, D.D.S.
Specialist in Orthodontics
4703 Hixson Pike, Hixson TN
72 Stuart Road, Ft Oglethorpe, GA