Braces are a type of orthodontic treatment that orthodontists use to help correct overcrowded or crooked teeth. Braces can also help correct an overbite. People who are getting braces soon or are considering them may wonder whether they hurt.
According to the American Dental Association, abnormal bites become apparent between the ages of 6 and 12 years, when children get their adult teeth. Orthodontic treatment typically begins between the ages of 8 and 14 years. In some cases, an adult may consider getting braces.
Although everyone is different, most people experience some pain for a few days when they first get braces and after brace tightening. However, others may experience only mild discomfort that goes away within a few hours.
Keep reading for more information on whether braces hurt and what to expect while they are on the teeth.
Each person will have a different experience with braces, but the following should provide a general idea of what to expect at each stage of the treatment process.
Some people may have to wear spacers, or separators, between their teeth for a week or two before getting braces.
These spacers may feel tight and sore for a few days, resembling the feeling of having food caught between the teeth, but the discomfort should go away.
When an orthodontist first fits the braces, a person will not usually experience any immediate pain.
An orthodontist will often attach bands around the back molars. This process may be temporarily uncomfortable because it involves some pressure and can pinch, but it is not painful.
Once the bands are in place around the molars, the orthodontist will clean or "etch" the teeth with a solution that tastes a bit sour. They will then wash this off and apply glue to the face of the top or bottom set of teeth or both.
A person may dislike the taste of the etch and glue, but these steps should not cause any discomfort or pain.
When the glue is in place, the orthodontist mounts brackets to each tooth individually, using blue light to harden the glue. Again, this part of the process should not hurt.
Finally, when the brackets are in place, the orthodontist will connect them all with a wire. They will attach each end of the wire to the bands around the molars in the back of the mouth. The final step is adding elastic bands to hold the wire in place.
When the braces first go on, a person might not experience any pain or discomfort straight away. However, within a few hours, the gentle pressure that the braces put on the teeth will start to take effect.
The pressure of the braces slowly pulling the teeth into alignment can create pain and discomfort, which could last from a day or two to about a week.
Some things to expect during the first week include:
- sore gums
- scrapes or sores on the inside of the cheeks due to the metal brackets rubbing against them
- potential for cuts on the tongue if the person uses their tongue to feel the braces
- the teeth may feel sore, especially when eating food
After some time, a person may not notice their braces as much as their body adjusts. However, for braces to work, the orthodontist needs to tighten them periodically.
When an orthodontist tightens the braces, they may:
- replace the current wires
- place or tighten springs
- tighten bands on the braces to put additional pressure on the teeth
Typically, tightening occurs once a month or as necessary, depending on the person's progress.
When tightening occurs, a person is likely to experience a level of discomfort similar to that when they first got the braces. In some cases, it may be less uncomfortable.
After tightening, many people only feel pain in the teeth and gums. The cheeks and tongue have usually adjusted to the braces by now, so new abrasions on these parts of the mouth are less likely.
Although everyone is different, braces typically stay on for about 1 to 3 years. When it is time to take the braces off, a person may experience some discomfort as an orthodontist removes them.
An orthodontist will remove the brackets, bands, and wires before cleaning the teeth to remove any glue.
To complete the process, an orthodontist will fit the person for a retainer. A retainer is a device that helps keep teeth in their new position after braces.
People may need to wear a removable retainer for a set period after the removal of the brace, either during the day or just at night. The retainer should not cause any additional discomfort.
Some retainers are permanent and will require an orthodontist to glue them to the teeth in a similar way to braces.
It is not uncommon for people to have trouble cleaning their teeth properly while wearing braces or a retainer. This difficulty can lead to cavities and tooth decay, which can be painful.
Keeping the mouth as clean as possible with good oral hygiene and avoiding sticky, sugary foods can help prevent cavities and tooth decay.
Most people will experience mild-to-moderate discomfort or pain when they first get braces. They may also feel some discomfort following brace tightening, which happens regularly while a person has braces.
Discomfort or pain should go away within a few days, but in the meantime, a person can try some of these treatments for pain relief:
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- using a warm saltwater rinse comprising 1 teaspoon of salt per 8 ounces of warm water
- eating soft foods, such as soup, ice cream, or yogurt, as these do not require much chewing
- drinking cold beverages or eating cold foods
- applying a cloth covered ice pack to the face
- applying topical anesthetics to the gums with a finger or cotton swab
- asking an orthodontist for a soft wax to help prevent braces from cutting the inner cheeks or buying some at a local pharmacy or online
- avoiding sticky foods, gum, and foods that can catch in or dislodge the braces
- cleaning the teeth and in between the braces properly to help prevent tooth decay
In most cases, a person will see their orthodontist regularly for tightening while they wear their braces. If a person's braces become dislodged, a wire comes loose, or the bands pop off, a person should call their orthodontist to schedule an appointment. While waiting for the appointment, the person can place wax on the wire or bracket so that it does not cut their cheek or tongue.
A person should also contact their orthodontist if they have severe pain that does not go away within a few days or after taking pain relievers. An orthodontist can examine the braces to make sure that everything fits properly and that another underlying condition is not causing pain.
Braces can cause discomfort or pain while the person is wearing them. Usually, people will only feel pain or discomfort when an orthodontist first fits the braces and after regular brace tightening. They may also feel pain if part of the brace is rubbing or poking into the inside of their mouth.
In both cases, pain is typically manageable with OTC pain relievers, cold liquids, and a soft foods diet. If the braces become loose or cause severe pain, a person should see their orthodontist.