Orthodontic patients have plenty of questions. Many of them center around pain from braces.
- How bad do braces hurt?
- How long do braces hurt?
- How can I make braces hurt less?
This is only natural. Many people have an irrational fear of dentists that centers around pain. Orthodontists and other dental professionals get the same reputation.
This isn’t surprising. The fact is, many dental procedures have pain associated with them. This can be during the procedure or after.
Braces are no exception.
Do Braces Hurt When They Are First Put On?
The initial placement of braces does not hurt. However, mild soreness often begins a few hours after application and may last up to a week. Most patients describe the feeling as “uncomfortable” or “annoying”.
The placement process itself generally lasts one or two hours.
Your orthodontist will apply brackets to your teeth using dental cement. This cement is almost always cured using a light wand. Next, the archwire is fed through each of the brackets and cut at the ends. It is held fast using elastic ligatures—the part that gives your braces color.
No part in this process hurts, but there are sources of discomfort.
First, the dental cement is foul tasting and may cause some gum sensitivity. Second, your orthodontist will use a odd-looking dental device to gain access to your teeth.
This device looks so odd that it has been turned into a game:
While there is no real pain involved, holding your mouth open for up to two hours straight can begin to wear out your jaw.
The First Few Days After Braces
Most patients experience mild soreness for four to seven days after their braces are applied. Rarely, pain may reach the “moderate” level.
You may notice several things:
- Tooth and gum soreness, especially when chewing.
- Discomfort along the inside of your cheeks from the archwire and brackets.
- Tongue soreness as you run it over your new braces repeatedly.
Learning how to speak and chew with braces is usually a bigger issue than these small sources of pain.
That’s why it’s important to figure out a reliable soft-foods diet. More on that later. For now, let’s discuss what you should expect when you get your braces tightened.
Do Braces Hurt When They Are Tightened?
Getting your braces tightened is almost always the most painful part of braces treatment. Most braces patients report the couple of days after tightening as the worst of the entire process.
Very little in the way of realignment is done when braces are first placed.
For your braces to do their job, the archwire must be pulled tighter over time. This requires several appointments throughout the year. The first few are likely to cause the most soreness but don’t be surprised if later visits create just as much pain.
The amount of pain you experience each time your braces are tightened is based on the treatment schedule established by your orthodontist.
Why Do Braces Hurt?
This question may seem like it has an obvious answer.
Braces hurt because they shift the position of your teeth. However, tooth realignment with braces actually has other types of pain associated with it as well.
In addition to the soreness caused by shifts in tooth position:
- Many braces patients struggle with dental hygiene. Taking care of your teeth become a little bit harder with braces. Poor dental hygiene contributes to reports of gum soreness and tooth decay among braces wearers.
- Brackets from braces can create small cuts along the inside of your cheeks. Ceramic brackets are especially notorious for this. The end of the archwire can also poke into your cheek if the end is not cut short enough.
- Patients who need jaw realignment often require rubber bands be attached from top brackets to bottom brackets. This treatment is used to help correct overbite or underbite. It can be extremely tiring on jaw muscles.
Knowing this, you might be able to figure out some of the options you have for relief.
However, there may be some options you aren’t considering.
How Can I Reduce the Pain of Braces Treatment?
Unfortunately, it is difficult to completely eliminate the pain of braces. However, there are multiple strategies you can implement to help keep the discomfort at a minimum.
Use over-the-counter pain relief. Acetaminophen, naproxen sodium, and ibuprofen are all acceptable medicines to help manage the pain of braces.
Choose metal over ceramic. Ceramic braces offer a more discreet option than metal but can be more damaging to your mouth’s soft tissues.
Take care of your teeth. As mentioned before, tooth decay can be a major source of pain for braces patients. Don’t let cavities form while you have braces!
Take care of your braces. The longer treatment takes, the more total discomfort braces will cause you. Stay away from foods that can damage your braces.
Schedule follow ups when necessary. If a bracket becomes dislodged, don’t hesitate to get it repaired. Fix brackets quickly to prevent teeth from moving back.
Use your retainer. Once your teeth have been realigned, you’ll probably be assigned a retainer to keep them in place. Use it or you may need to get braces all over again.
Braces are uncomfortable. It is an unfortunate truth.
But the more diligent you are about taking care of them, the less discomfort you will experience in the long term.
The only other thing you need is an easy-to-eat diet plan for those painful days just after having your braces adjusted.
No-chew foods are one of the best ways to reduce your overall discomfort from braces treatment.
Just be sure that you aren’t choosing foods that promote tooth decay.
Some easy-to-eat, braces-friendly food ideas:
- Sugar-free jello or pudding
- Mashed potatoes & french fries
- Peanut & almond butter
- Hummus & salsa
- Breakfast shakes & smoothies
- Soft fruit like berries & bananas
- Steamed, soft vegetables
- Grits & oatmeal
You can also find recipe ideas in The Braces Cookbook.
Between tightenings, you shouldn’t have much trouble with pain while eating. Your orthodontist will provide you with a list of foods that may damage your braces, but you will be able to enjoy most of your family foods throughout treatment.
Overall, braces is one of the least painful dental procedures out there.
That doesn’t mean it is painless. But the fear is often much worse than the reality. As long as you follow your orthodontist’s recommendations, you can keep the discomfort at a minimum.
Remember, the best way to decrease the total pain of treatment is to take care of your braces and the teeth they are realigning.