Braces are here to help give us a better smile. So why do braces hurt? And why do they especially hurt when you first get them?
The short answer: Braces hurt primarily because they are literally pushing and pulling your teeth. This creates pressure, and the pressure can make your teeth and gums more sensitive.
The Longer Answer: How Braces Work
By exerting force on your teeth, braces slowly move your teeth through the soft gum tissue of your mouth. They do this through a system of wires connected to brackets, which in turn are cemented onto your teeth. The wire pulls or pushes the brackets, moving your teeth very slowly.
This force feels like a small, constant pressure, which can make your teeth and gums much more sensitive. This might be a barely noticeable dull pain at first, but it becomes much more noticeable when, say, you bite into something solid.
Braces can also be uncomfortable because your mouth is not used to having wires and brackets in it. Sometimes a bracket might feel like it has a sharp edge, or a wire might seem to be poking into your cheek or gum. You can solve this by putting a little dental wax on the problem area.
Why Do Braces Hurt More On the First Day?
We often have patients ask us if braces hurt when you first get them. The truth is that, yes, in most cases, they do—though how much pains depends a lot on the individual, and on the skill of the orthodontist.
Braces hurt when you first get them because this is when they exert the most force. When you first get braces, your teeth are far from the places where your braces are trying to move them. Thus, there is more push/pull on the brackets. As your teeth get closer, the force is less. When the force is really small, that’s when it’s time to tighten your braces.
Think of your braces like a rubber band. When a rubber band is stretched out to the max, the ends are far away from each other and there is a lot of force drawing them together. As you slowly move the ends of the rubber band towards each other, the force is less. When the ends are really close, the rubber band is at rest and there is no force anymore.
Why Do Braces Hurt When They Get Tightened?
It is almost never the case that you can get braces to move your teeth from where they are now to where you want them to end up. Not only would the pain be unbearable, but you might end up hurting your teeth!
For this reason, orthodontists do braces in stages. When you first get braces, they aren’t moving your teeth to their final positions, but to a comfortable place part way. When your teeth arrive at this point, the braces are no longer exerting force. They must tighten your braces then to get your teeth to move to the next position. This is usually repeated several times during the course of treatment.
What this means is that each time you get your braces tightened, it is almost like having them the first day. The pain does subside, fortunately, but you should know to expect it.
While some pain is perfectly normal with braces, especially on the first day or after tightening, there are some kinds of pain that mean something is going wrong. You should contact your orthodontist if you notice your braces hurt due to:
- Sudden, sharp pain in a tooth or spot on your gums
- A poking or stabbing sensation (often from a protruding wire)
- Brackets that become loose or fall off
- One or more teeth chip and begin to hurt
- Pain that lasts more than five days after tightening
- Extreme sensitivity to hot or cold foods
Prepare for Day One
You can make life easier on yourself if you get ready for that first day of pain with braces. Yes braces hurt, but with a few easy adjustments and tips you’ll minimize your discomfort and get you past this painful period more quickly:
- Plan to eat liquids and very soft foods. Foods that you have to chew put pressure on your teeth, which will hurt when your gums are most sensitive. Even biting into a white bread sandwich can be uncomfortable! Stick to soups, stews, pudding, jello, etc.
- Use over-the-counter medication. If the pain is constant or gets really bad, using medication like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help. Remember, use these in moderation!
- Plan tightenings for days that make sense. If you know you are going to do lunch out with friends or got to a birthday party with food, it doesn’t make sense to get your braces put on or tightened that day. You may also want to avoid days where you will need to speak a lot, or in front of an audience.
- Have cold things on hand. Cold can help numb your mouth, so have some cold things on hand. Frozen treats like popsicles, ice-cream, or a cold pack that goes in the freezer can work well.
A Good Orthodontist Can Minimize the Pain
Again, pain is a very subjective thing. Some people might tolerate the pain of the first day better than others.
That said, a skilled orthodontist will know how to balance making progress with your braces with minimizing the pain and discomfort you feel. It is well worth paying a little extra for an orthodontist who can do this.
If you want to find more answers to the question “Do Braces Hurt?” Come in for a consultation with MyOrthodontist. We have decades of experience with braces and would love to help you through the process.