Humans only have one set of adult teeth in their life. Once they grow in, they’re in that position permanently — unless, of course, you take steps to correct their alignment. Braces can help to put your teeth back on the figurative and literal straight and narrow. However, just like your teeth, braces need to be cleaned properly to keep them in top condition and to make sure they don’t do more harm to your teeth than good.
Keeping your or your child’s braces clean is an important task, but with so many tools available on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start. There are brushes, toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash, as well as different tools to help you use them. For the unprepared, it can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to look over your options and find which combination of tools works best for you.
Why is keeping braces clean important?
The purpose of braces is to straighten crooked or unaligned teeth — or, in severe cases, to pull completely misplaced teeth down or to the side in order to create an even smile. To do this, brackets are attached directly to the teeth and threaded with wires, which are tightened in increments. Over time, this pulls the teeth into the preferred position. However, the brackets and wires also create ideal places for plaque to accumulate, as well as hinder access to other areas in the mouth.
Plaque is a thick, colorless film made of saliva, food particles and bacteria. The bacteria feed on the leftover food particles, particularly sugars and starches, and produce acids as a byproduct. These acids, when left unchecked, can damage tooth enamel and gum tissue. This leads to cavities, bad breath, tooth discoloration, and periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease.
Gum disease occurs in three stages. In the first stage, plaque causes the gums around the teeth to swell and bleed, creating a condition known as gingivitis. In the second stage, the plaque hardens into tartar, which will eventually cause gaps to form between the gums and the teeth. This creates more space for plaque and tartar to accumulate. In the third stage, bacteria builds in these spaces and directly attacks the bone beneath the gums, which can cause even healthy teeth to loosen and eventually fall out.
Normally, brushing and flossing and periodic dentist visits are enough to clear away plaque. But when you or your child have braces, plaque can accumulate around the brackets or in hard-to-reach places behind the wires. This makes it more difficult to remove, which makes it easier for it to develop into cavities and gum disease. This, by extension, leads to more dental work to repair the damage — and if you or your child have braces already, then chances are you don’t want more dental work done than necessary.
That’s why it’s important to take the time to thoroughly clean your braces. Cleaning them properly prevents plaque from accumulating in hard-to-reach places and causing cavities or gum disease, which saves you money on a dentist trip later down the line. However, since braces create new surfaces and crannies in the mouth, the cleaning method is slightly different than that of a standard set of teeth. That’s why it’s important to know what cleaning tools work best for you.
Best tools to clean braces
There are a variety of tools available for cleaning teeth and braces. Toothbrushes, toothpastes, floss and mouthwash are all useful additions to an oral routine and come in a variety of sizes, shapes and formulas. Using any one tool isn’t enough — rather, it’s best to combine them in a way that works best for you or your child’s mouth. Here are some of the available options and the features of each.
Chances are you’ve used a manual toothbrush at some point in your life. This is a simple tool that you use to scrub toothpaste onto your teeth. The bristles, as well as the toothpaste, will remove plaque buildup and food particles from your teeth. Some manual toothbrushes also come with built-in tongue scrubbers in order to clean plaque buildup off the tongue as well as the teeth.
When using a manual toothbrush, it’s important to spend time on every part of the tooth — top, front and back. It’s also important to replace your toothbrush whenever it begins to wear out, as worn-out bristles won’t clean your teeth efficiently. Make sure to use a soft-bristled brush, as hard bristles can scrape the surface of the tooth as well as the gums and lead to irritation.
Be sure to choose a good toothpaste as well, preferably one suited to whatever specific mouth issues you have. For example, if your teeth hurt when eating cold foods like ice cream, you can use toothpaste specially formulated for sensitive teeth. If you want to strengthen your tooth enamel, you can get a toothpaste formulated to do so.
Instead of relying on arm power, an electric toothbrush scrubs your teeth automatically, allowing you to remove plaque and food particles more efficiently. These are recommended by many orthodontists for cleaning braces. This is because an electric toothbrush is able to remove plaque and food particles without placing unnecessary strain on the brackets or wires. Some electric toothbrush brands even provide special brush heads made specifically for cleaning braces.
Electric toothbrushes come in either rechargeable or battery-powered varieties. Some also feature built-in brushing timers and specific cleaning modes. These features are optional but can be helpful when cleaning your teeth. Similarly to a manual toothbrush, an electric toothbrush must also be paired with a good toothpaste for maximum cleaning efficiency.
You also have to be sure to reach every part of the tooth while using electric toothbrushes — top, front and back. Missing a spot means that the plaque there will have more time to accumulate and eat away at your tooth enamel and gums.
As stated, there are many different types of toothpaste. However, if you’re looking for a toothpaste to use with braces, it’s important for it to contain fluoride. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is often added to public drinking water as a health measure. Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel by remineralizing the tooth surface. Fluoride toothpaste will help to keep your teeth strong and healthy, even with braces.
Toothpastes that contain fluoride are labelled as such. You can buy them in large tubes to use at home, or purchase small, travel-sized tubes to bring with you when you’re traveling. They also come in a variety of flavors, although mint is the most popular option.
If you want extra cleaning beyond what toothpaste can offer, mouthwash is a useful substance. Because braces create uneven surfaces in the mouth, it can be difficult to clean them properly with only a toothbrush and floss. However, since mouthwash is a liquid, it can easily reach all surfaces in the mouth and combat the germs found within. Mouthwash can also combat bad breath and dry mouth, depending on the formula.
Just like toothpaste, it’s important to read the labels on mouthwash and decide which one is best for you or your child’s mouth. They can come in a variety of flavors, although mint is a popular choice, just like toothpaste.
An interdental brush is a small toothbrush that can be used as an alternative to flossing. Instead of a flat head with bristles on one side, an interdental brush has a small pick with bristles arranged in a cylinder. This means it can be inserted between the teeth and in hard-to-reach places and used to scrub out whatever’s stuck there.
Interdental brushes are also small enough to carry discreetly, meaning they’re a good emergency tool if you get something stuck in your teeth or braces while in public. They also come in a variety of sizes and colors, which can be helpful if you’re trying to convince your child to use them more often. They’re often sold in packs, meaning that you can get a lot of them at once and swap them out regularly instead of using the same increasingly dirty brush in your mouth.
Similarly to interdental brushes, dental picks are small tools meant to get between the teeth or in hard-to-reach places in the mouth. They’re small plastic picks that come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, and allow you to work around braces, especially under the wires. Since they’re so small, you can even carry them in public in case you have a dental emergency on the go. They’re also usually sold in groups, meaning that it’ll take longer for you to run out.
Normal dental floss must be measured off of a roll and usually requires you to wrap it around your fingers before forcing it between your teeth. This can make it difficult to position the floss if you have braces — not to mention painful on the fingers!
A floss threader makes flossing your teeth easier. It’s a small plastic tool with a looped end where you can secure the floss and a stiff, pointed end to insert between your teeth. This positions the floss so that it’s easier to use, especially around brace wires.
Traditional dental floss is a spool of waxed, sometimes flavored string that’s pulled between the teeth in order to remove plaque and leftover food particles. A water flosser uses pressurized jets of water to achieve the same effect. Since water is liquid, it flows easily around brace brackets and wires. Not only is it more effective in removing food particles than traditional floss, but it also massages the gum line. It also cuts down on one of the more unpleasant parts of traditional flossing — bleeding gums.
How to clean braces
Now that you know what tools are available for cleaning braces, you need to know how to use them. Since plaque accumulates quickly when using braces, it’s important to know how to clean them properly to avoid cavities and gum disease. Here are a few tips for cleaning you or your child’s braces:
- Floss first: When most people floss, they do so after brushing their teeth. However, researchers have recently found that flossing your teeth before brushing allows for the most efficient fluoride distribution. Floss your teeth before brushing, whether it be with a floss threader or a water flosser.
- Clean all surfaces: A quick scrub with your toothbrush might save you time brushing your teeth, but it will also leave plaque behind in less obviously visible places.
- Brush after meals: Every time you eat, even if it’s just a snack, you’re leaving food particles behind in your mouth and allowing plaque-creating bacteria to feed. Make sure to brush your teeth every time you eat, ideally for two minutes each time. If you can’t brush your teeth, rinse your mouth out with water to remove loose food particles.
- Clean before bed: Obviously, you won’t be brushing your teeth while you’re sleeping, which gives the bacteria in your mouth plenty of time to produce acid unbothered. To combat this, make sure to clean your teeth thoroughly before tucking yourself in.
- Clean first thing in the morning: No matter how thoroughly you clean your teeth before bed, chances are you’ll miss at least a little residue. Brushing first thing in the morning will help to remove plaque accumulated during the night — as well as cut down on that pesky morning breath.
Do I still need to see the dentist with braces?
If you have braces, then you’ll be making regular trips to the orthodontist to have your teeth examined. Because of this, you might think it’s unnecessary to to visit the dentist on top of the orthodontist. This is a common assumption by those who have just gotten braces, but not one that should be taken to heart.
While brushing, flossing and mouthwash help to remove plaque, a dentist is the only way to be sure that you remove as much of the buildup as possible. A dentist will also check to make sure you don’t have any cavities and will clean and fill them if you do. That’s why you should continue to schedule cleanings every six months, even if you’re visiting the orthodontist regularly.
Schedule a consultation today
It’s understandable to want your teeth to be straight and orderly so you or your child can have a smile you’re proud of. Braces can help you achieve this, but they also create more places on your teeth for plaque to accumulate. To prevent this from becoming an issue, it’s essential that you keep your braces clean.
If you’re looking for a premiere orthodontics service, try Fredericksburg Orthodontics. We’re ABO certified, voted best in the Fredericksburg area, and have been offering quality treatment for sixteen years, helping both children an adults reach the straight, beautiful smile they’ve always wanted. We offer a variety of services, including metal braces, retainers, Invisalign® and more. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation and light up the world with your smile. Check out our blog to learn more.