A patient who needs braces will often wonder does getting braces hurt? Adults, as well as children and adolescents worry about this. The answer is that patients will feel some pain and discomfort throughout the treatment, particularly during the monthly adjustments. Knowing what kind of pain and discomfort to expect, when to expect it, why it happens and how to treat it will make the patient more comfortable with the use of braces.
Understanding the way braces work will help in preparing for the discomfort and pain caused by the treatment. To straighten the teeth, brackets are bonded to each tooth, and an arch wire is threaded through the teeth, attached to each individual tooth with a thinner wire or a small rubber ligature. Approximately each month, the orthodontist adjusts the pressure of the wire on the teeth so that they are guided in the right direction. Some patients might also need rubber bands to apply additional pressure.
Orthodontic treatments take on average two or more years because the process is delicate and gradual. The pressure applied to each tooth moves the tooth into the desired position, and time is given for bone to grow and provide support in this new position. If the process is rushed and too much pressure is applied too quickly to a tooth, a patient can lose the tooth.
The pain and discomfort associated with braces can be internal, a result of the adjustments to the wire and the increased pressure. Each time the wire is adjusted, new pressure is applied and the patient will experience pain and discomfort for a few days. It can also be external, a result of the brackets and wire rubbing against the inside of the mouth, the arch wire poking out from the back of the teeth and scratching the inside of the cheeks or one of the bracket wires becoming lose and scratching.
To ease the pain resulting from having the braces initially attached and from the monthly adjustments, patients can eat a diet rich in soft foods such as purees, soups and ice cream. However, patients should avoid sticky, sugary foods and drinks, as well as acidic ones, which can damage the braces and aggravate the problem. After the monthly adjustments, hot and cold compresses can be used to lessen the pain, irritation and swelling that can occur.
Additionally, over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, can be used for relief. If the wires are poking out at the end of the teeth and scratching, patients can use a sterilized nail clipper to cut off the extra wire, a pencil eraser or cotton ball to push it out of the way, or visit the orthodontist to have the wire cut. If sores form from the rubbing motion, a cotton ball can be put over the sore to cover it while it heals. When a patient is informed and prepared, she will not wonder, does getting braces hurt? Instead, she will be ready to deal with the minor discomfort when it happens.
Legris S. Managing pain and discomfort in orthodontics. J Dentofacial Anom Orthod. 2011; 14: 1-10. https://www.jdao-journal.org/articles/odfen/pdf/2011/01/odfen2011141p109.pdf. Accessed February 4, 2018.
Krishnan V. Orthodontic pain: from causes to management—a review. Eur J Orthod. 2007; 29: 170–179. doi:10.1093/ejo/cjl081