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Are Braces Painful & How to Relieve Pain

Written by: Dr. Laura Edwards, Orthodontist

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Oleg Drut, Orthodontist and Diamond Braces CCO

Date: October 8, 2020

Does Getting Braces Hurt: What to Expect

When Braces Are First Applied

Orthodontist bonding braces during patient visit

Getting braces put on does not usually hurt. The process of getting your braces put on is called “bonding”: this is because the brackets are bonded to each tooth using a special medical-grade glue. A metal archwire is connected to bands or tubes on the back teeth and secured to the brackets.

The bonding process itself is not painful: you might experience some discomfort when the orthodontist and assistants adjust the appliance in your mouth, and many people find that the glue tastes bad, but the feeling of the brackets bonding shouldn’t cause any pain.

The procedure takes about 1-2 hours, and you'll leave the office with instructions for care and some tools to help you with any discomfort at home.

After Getting Braces On

Once your braces are on your teeth, some pain and discomfort may develop. This is normal: your teeth are adjusting to the new appliance. The braces need to apply pressure to straighten your smile, so your teeth, gums, lips and tongue all need time to get used to the new sensations.

Any of the following are normal types of pain or discomfort:

  • Pressure on the teeth

  • Swollen or inflammed gums

  • Irritated cheeks, lips, and gums

  • Jaw tension

  • Headaches

  • Sensitivity to heat or cold

  • Lightly bleeding gums

  • Difficulty chewing food

  • Feeling of loose teeth

All of the above are your body's normal, appropriate responses to the new orthodontic appliance. In the majority of cases, this discomfort fades within the first few days as you adjust to your braces.

Getting Braces Tightened During Treatment: Pain or Discomfort

Once your braces are on, you will go to the orthodontist regularly for check-ups and tightening. These visits happen every few weeks, generally once every 4-6 weeks for most patients. The orthodontist and assistants tighten the appliance, including the wire and springs, and replace the old elastic rubber bands for new ones.

This tightening can cause some pain, similar to the pain experienced when the braces are first put on.

This pain should fade within 1-3 days after your orthodontic appointment. You can use over-the-counter pain medication to soothe the discomfort, or drink or eat a cool beverage like ice cream, popsicles, or even a cool glass of milk.

Getting Braces Off & Retainers

Generally, getting your braces off does not cause pain: in fact, most patients report that getting braces removed feels good, especially because people are excited to see their beautiful, finished smile.

When your braces are removed – also called de-bonding – the orthodontic team will use a specialized tool to remove the brackets from your teeth and scrape the glue off your teeth. The metal bands on your molars will be loosened and removed and the wire removed as well.

This process isn't painful, although it may take awhile and be uncomfortable to have your mouth open for so long.

Once the de-bonding procedure is complete, you have entered the retention phase. Either your orthodontist will apply a bonded (glued-in) retainer, which goes behind the teeth as a discreet retainer, or you will receive a removable kind of retainer.

Retainers may cause some of the similar kinds of discomfort described above as your mouth adjusts to the new appliance, but you should get used to your retainers as quickly as you adjusted to your braces.

Food to Eat if Your Teeth are Sore

Certain foods can help alleviate any pain or discomfort from your braces.

When you first get your braces put on, eat soft foods for the first few days while your teeth adjust. As the discomfort fades, you can introduce more foods, although you should always avoid hard or crunchy foods that could break or snap your orthodontic appliance.

Soft foods that can help soothe pain in your teeth:

  • Cool soothing drinks or food like popsicles, ice cream, or drinkable yogurt

  • Smoothies (add leafy vegetables for extra nutrition)

  • Soft boiled vegetables

  • Eggs

  • Mashed potatoes

  • Soft pasts like mac and cheeese

Get some cooking tips on preparing delicious, healthy soft foods.

Read this guide for the full scoop on what to eat with braces.

How Long Do Braces Hurt?

For most patients, the pain or discomfort experienced with braces fades within a few days, either after braces are put on or after they are tightened during visits to the orthodontist.

Some pain is normal – your teeth need to shift in order to end up in their correct positions, so pressure on the teeth is required to move them. This pressure can cause a variety of pains, soreness, or discomfort.

The majority of patients report that soreness or pain goes away entirely between 1 and 5 days after braces are put on or tightened. There are a variety of solutions to treat pain at home as described below.

Expected Outline of Braces Pain:

  • Day 1 (bonding): Not painful, but general discomfort possible during bonding

  • Days 1-5: Soreness, pain, or discomfort common. Treat at-home with methods described above

  • After Day 5: Pain should fade as your teeth adjust to your braces

  • Orthodontic visits for tightening: expect some soreness or pain 1-3 days after treatment

  • Braces removal: No pain

  • Retainers: Potential soreness when permanent retainer is placed or as teeth adjust to removable retainers

If pain or soreness does not subside or gets worse, you may need to have your braces adjusted, or a part of the appliance may be loose or improperly affixed. Contact your orthodontist to discuss your case and see if you should come in for a visit.

8 Methods for Treating Braces Pain at Home

There are several methods to handle braces pain at home.

  1. Over-the-counter pain medication: Pain medication like ibuprofen can be taken to alleviate pain. Be sure to follow the medication instructions and know if you have any allergies to certain medications.

  2. Orthodontic wax: This is medical-grade clear wax provided to you by your orthodontist, which can be placed over any brackets or wires that are bothering your mouth.

  3. Oral analgesic: Use a topical numbing analgesic like Orajel or Anbesol on your teeth and/or gums to desensitize your mouth to the pain. You can use a finger or cotton swab to apply the gel.

  4. Suck on something cool: Soothing ice treats like popsicles or ice cream reduce inflammation and calm pain. An ice pack against your jaw will also help.

  5. Rinse your mouth with warm salt water: This reduces inflammation and serves as an antiseptic, cleaning any cuts or sore spots in your mouth.

  6. Eat soft foods: As your mouth adjusts to the braces, soft foods will help alleviate pain. Soups, mac and cheese, and smoothies are all foods that won’t cause pain when chewing. Learn more about what to eat with braces.

  7. Chew to stimulate blood flow: Studies show that the pain associated with braces can be caused by reduced blood flow, so chewing can stimulate blood flow and alleviate pain. Try chewing something not too crunchy, like soft bread or a banana, which won’t hurt your teeth but still get the blood flowing in your mouth and jaw.

  8. Continue to brush and floss: Keeping your teeth clean and fresh and your braces free of food will prevent any plaque build-up or gum inflammation, which can cause pain and damage to your teeth.

If the pain does not fade or gets worse, your braces may need to be adjusted or checked for loose pieces. Contact your orthodontist if you have ongoing pain.

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