Do Braces Hurt? A Closer Look at Braces Pain

braces-teethBraces pain usually doesn’t start the moment these tooth-aligning devices are first installed, and the installation process itself is not necessarily a painful process, although there are those who will tell you it can be a lengthy and somewhat uncomfortable one. However, it usually doesn’t take long for pain and discomfort to set in once those orthodontic devices are in place. The question really isn’t whether you are going to experience any pain or not; it’s really about how much does it hurt and for how long.

The fact that your teeth are being moved around somewhat against their will would certainly be a reason for some pain, but this movement is extremely slow. It isn’t as if your teeth are being yanked out of one position and into another, which certainly would be painful. It is usually other things besides the actual tooth movement that can be a cause of discomfort.

The Many Little Parts and Adjustments That Can Cause Discomfort

There once was a time when getting braces meant having your mouth filled with metal brackets, wires, and rubber bands. That meant there was any number of things in your mouth that could cause a problem. Pain could result from tension, poking, or rubbing, or some combination of the three. Today, braces are lighter in weight, often require a bit less ‘hardware’, and tend to be somewhat more mouth-friendly. However, there are still instances when the full complement of hardware has to be put up with.

Braces can be uncomfortable, and they usually are at first. Since your pearly whites are being held rather firmly in place once the orthodontic devices have been installed, it may seem a little peculiar that there is any pain involved, even if the teeth are ever-so-slowly being forced into new positions. However, as far as your mouth and your brain are concerned, you have suffered an injury. You may not think of having these aligners put in as an injury, but the tissues involved tend to think so. As a result, they can become inflamed and you will likely feel a certain amount of discomfort.

People experience braces-related pain differently, and since some are more sensitive to it than others, some will experience greater discomfort from wearing the orthodontic devices than others will. The saving grace for almost everyone is that the pain is greatest in the beginning and then begins to subside. When pain is experienced later on, it is generally because something is wrong with the dental devices or because they have just been adjusted.

Braces are in constant need of adjustment, which normally consists of tightening to increase pressure on your dentition once the teeth have moved in response to earlier pressure. These adjustments can cause pain to return, but it is usually less than before, if for no other reason than the person wearing the dental devices having become somewhat desensitized.

What Braces Consist Of and Why They Can Sometimes Hurt

thumbs-up-bracesAside from the pressure, other sources of pain can come from the myriad of parts that seem to make up a set of braces, although some configurations are much more complicated than others. Over the past 15 years or so, braces have, in general, tended to become far less complicated, requiring fewer bands, wires, and the like. Still, it can be helpful to understand what can go into constructing a set of braces to have a better knowledge of where potential sources of pain might be located.

When you first see someone who is wearing braces, the first thing you generally notice are the brackets. The brackets are small squares that are attached to the front of each tooth. They are attached either with a bonding agent or by bands. The purpose of the brackets is to hold the wire in place that is actually applying pressure to the teeth.

Bands that are at times used to hold the brackets in place instead of a bonding agent are themselves cemented to the tooth with a bonding agent. Bands wrap around the entire tooth. Not everyone wearing braces has them attached with bands. Braces and bands are generally not a direct source of pain in that they normally don’t come into contact with either soft tissue or the tooth roots. The same can be said for spacers, which are placed between the teeth prior to the insertion of bands. Pressure from spacers can at times be a cause of discomfort however, although the spacers themselves are not permanent.

Arch wires attach to the brackets and can be a prime cause of pain and discomfort since it is the arch wire that is primarily responsible for exerting pressure on your pearly whites. There are also instances when a wire can come loose and become a somewhat dangerous weapon, depending upon what the loose end may come into contact with. Arch wires are attached to the brackets with ties, which are usually either small wires or rubber rings. Wires, no matter how small, can sometimes cause problems if they manage to work loose. Small rubber bands used to attach the arch wire to the brackets are called ligatures.

Another source of pressure is a spring, which is sometimes used in conjunction with the arch wires to open or close spaces between the teeth. Some braces employ the use of springs and others don’t depending upon how individual teeth have to be repositioned.

In some places, headgear needs to be worn, especially when the biting surfaces between upper and lower teeth require adjustment. Headgear can be uncomfortable to wear, but generally are not a major source of pain.

Mini-Braces Can Be a Better Solution

What has been described above are the components that make up the types of braces than can result in the wearer being referred to as ‘metal mouth.’ There are newer types of devices, called mini-braces, which act more like the retainers that people normally have to wear for some time once their braces have been removed. Mini-braces are in a category that fits somewhere in between full metal braces and plastic retainers. They are much smaller than their conventional counterparts. Arch wires and brackets are still used, but mini-braces are about 30 percent smaller and are constructed of a much stronger grade of stainless steel. Insofar as braces pain is concerned, these “mini” versions usually cause much less of it, primarily due to their smaller size. They are also less noticeable and easier to keep clean.

Removable Braces – Yet Another Option

clear-removable-bracesYet another option is removable braces. Instead of arch wire and brackets, the removable type uses a system of clear removable aligners. Since these aligners place pressure on your pearly whites, which is what they are supposed to do, they will likely give some discomfort, but generally far less than is the case with conventional aligners, and possibly less than is the case with mini-braces. Removable braces normally have smooth edges, so they will not irritate the cheeks or gums. A removable brace is worn on the average of between 20 and 22 hours per day for about two weeks. After that time, a new removable brace must take its place. It may take a series of 20 different braces to move the teeth to their final destination. Removable braces are only an option for those requiring a lesser degree of dental correction.

Porcelain Braces – For Preventing Emotional Braces Pain

Another option is to go with porcelain braces. These braces are chosen as much for aesthetic reasons as for any other, although they still feature an arch wire and ligatures. On the down side, they are larger than their metal counterparts, even though they are not as noticeable and they also need to be worn for a longer time. Insofar as pain is concerned, their advantage is that they likely cause less emotional pain than their metal equivalents will, especially initially. There is still the arch wire to contend with, but not as many other metal parts that can be sources of problems.

Retainers – The Pain is Yet to Disappear Entirely

retainersRetainers come into play once your braces have been permanently removed. The purpose of a retainer is to keep the teeth from drifting back towards their original position, undoing everything the braces had previously accomplished. Retainers usually have to be worn for about a year following the removal of braces, but sometimes they need to be worn longer. In a few cases, a retainer could become a person’s lifelong companion. Retainers come in two types, removable and fixed, the latter type being cemented into the wearer’s mouth. Since retainers place a certain amount of pressure on each tooth, they will sometimes be a source of pain or discomfort, just as any orthodontic device can be. Discomfort is more likely to occur when a removable retainer is being worn, especially when the retainer is being taken in or out, and especially if it is being put back in after being out for an extended period of time. A retainer can also be uncomfortable to wear just after it has been adjusted by an orthodontist. As is the case with braces, retainers have to be adjusted from time to time. When a retainer is worn regularly, it is much less likely to be a source of discomfort.

Braces Pain Relief

advilIt isn’t just the hardware components of the braces that are causing discomfort although they can certainly be a contributing factor. One theory is that it is the pressure on the jawbones that cause most of the problem. Another theory already touched upon is that your body interprets the presence of these orthodontic devices as an injury, resulting in inflammation in the gums and around the teeth and the bones the teeth are embedded in. A third and possibly related theory is that braces can possibly cause an alteration in blood flow, which is also treated by the body as an injury. Getting poked by an errant wire can be another cause, but that is a fact, and not a theory.

In most cases, relief can be attained by taking medications such as Motrin or Advil. There are also topical medications that can be used to relieve the pain. The most effective pain relief tend to be prescription medications which your dentist or orthodontist would probably be happy to prescribe. There are also toothpastes and mouthwashes that are designed for sensitive teeth and gum that could provide a measure of relief.

One good piece of advice, especially when braces have first been installed, is to eat soft foods for at least the first few weeks or months. Using a soft bristle toothbrush can help as well.

The good news is that, while orthodontic treatment can at times cause pain or discomfort, and don’t make you look any more attractive while wearing them, the rewards tend to make it all worth it. You will look better, feel better, and probably enjoy better health once you have a mouthful of well-adjusted, pearly-white teeth.