How to Brush Your Teeth With Braces
It’s no secret that getting straight teeth and a beautiful smile is a lot of work. You’ve paid your money, you show up to all your appointments (of which there are many), missed school or work, you’ve sacrificed candy, gum and popcorn, and you are careful not to break any of your braces. But probably the most work that it takes to get straight teeth goes into doing something you already are doing anyway: cleaning your teeth.
There are many companies that will try very hard to sell you various implements that they say will get your teeth perfectly clean and shiny with very little effort. While these claims are not necessarily deceiving, the truth is that with a bit of floss and just the right toothbrush and some toothpaste, you can get and keep your teeth as clean as they need to be, even with braces!
Besides the obvious benefits of fresh breath and white teeth, the main purpose of brushing and flossing is to remove PLAQUE. Plaque is a fancy and less-gross word for bacteria. Seriously, if you don’t clean your teeth properly, bacteria and their by-products build up on the surface of your teeth, and after only about 12-24 hours, they get so thick you can actually see them. Visually, plaque is the white, fuzzy layer that builds up on the teeth, and needs to be removed at least a couple times each day. If you remove all the plaque then you will avoid both tooth decay and gum problems. If plaque is left too long on the teeth—even for just a little while—tooth decay and gum problems will definitely occur.
So how do you remove plaque? Easy. Brush and floss. Brushing can get probably eighty percent of the plaque off the teeth. But it only gets the plaque off the spots that are relatively easy to access. Even though flossing is important to remove only about twenty percent of the plaque, it is the most difficult 20% to remove. Plaque likes to accumulate in hard to reach places like the grooves on the biting surface, at the gum line and between the teeth (your tongue and cheek brush it away from the easy, flat spots). Floss is really the only thing that will remove it from between the teeth, and the toothbrush will get the rest.
But what about when you’re wearing braces? Well, when braces are on the teeth, there are many, many more spots for plaque to accumulate where the tongue and cheek cannot brush it away. Think about it—if you are a bacteria, and you want to live a long and happy life just munching on food that is provided for you several times a day, your best hope is to find a place in a corner somewhere where you won’t be spotted. Like around or under braces and wires.
Therefore, your job (YOU, not you the bacteria) is to make sure there AREN’T any hiding spots that don’t get cleaned out, because that is exactly where the bacteria will build up, and where the decay and gum disease will happen.
But how can you make sure to get all the hiding spots? You are going to have to think a little more and work a little harder. Brushing the same way as you did before braces will not keep your teeth as clean as it used to. In order to keep your teeth as clean as they once were (or even MORE clean!) you need to do two things: Brush longer and brush smarter.
Brushing longer ensures that no areas are missed. Thought will need to go into making sure every spot of your teeth gets hit by the toothbrush. Inside, outside, and all biting surfaces. You can no longer count on your tongue and cheek to pick up some of the slack, since the braces keep them away from the teeth in most spots. A good rule of thumb is that with the right technique, it will take at least twice as long to brush with braces on, and it should last at LEAST two minutes. If you are like most people, two minutes of brushing will seem like a VERY LONG TIME. Don’t cut corners, though. Your beautiful smile at the end will be well worth the time spent caring for your teeth during your orthodontic treatment.
The “right technique” is the “brushing smarter” we talked about in the last paragraph. You will be required to angle your toothbrush in ways that were unnecessary without braces. If you spend a little time thinking about what the bristles of the toothbrush are doing as you drag them across the teeth and braces it will be clear that some areas will be out of reach and some plaque will remain without some variation in technique. Angling the toothbrush is the key. You need to brush ABOVE the braces, angling the bristles DOWN so they poke underneath the wire, and so they hit the corners between braces and teeth. Likewise, you will need to brush BELOW each brace, angling the bristles UP so they clean the bottom of the braces, and also poke underneath the wire, ensuring that no plaque is left behind. Small circles help to get the front and back edges of the braces and even reach in between the teeth to help the floss do its job. Be sure not to forget the biting surface and the insides of the teeth. Just because you have braces only on the outside doesn’t mean you can neglect the spots you had to clean before braces went on.
But what about electric toothbrushes? When used properly, most electric toothbrushes can help to improve oral health. Sometimes, however, the level of hygiene can actually DECREASE when these toothbrushes are used. It may not make much sense that an expensive oral hygiene aid like one of the currently available electric toothbrushes could lead to worse hygiene, but it’s a very common problem. The issue is not with the toothbrush itself (the vibration of the bristles is a GOOD thing), but with the person doing the brushing. Many people get a little “lazy” about their brushing when they start using an electric toothbrush because they think the toothbrush has some magical property that will suddenly clean without any effort. It is important to remember that all the special techniques like angling the brush and brushing longer STILL need to be used when you have an electric toothbrush! Don’t get the idea that the brush is “taking care of it” because it isn’t. Brush the same way we discussed above with an electric toothbrush and it will do at least as well (and many times BETTER) than a regular one.
Of course, you should always use a toothpaste that contains fluoride but try to avoid products that contain “whitening” agents, as the braces will cover parts of the teeth, and you don’t want to have some of the tooth surface look whiter than others when the braces come off!
Clearly flossing will be more difficult with braces, but it is still just as critical as before. Special floss can be used to get underneath the wire and clean the in between spots just as well with braces on as when you had no braces. Just as with brushing, however, it will take a bit longer. Don’t get discouraged, just turn it into a habit. You and your orthodontist will be so glad you did!