Brace Yourself: What to Do When Braces Break

Braces are a significant investment in confidence-your own or your child's. Braces also require special care, because although they're hardy, they aren't unbreakable.

To protect your bracesfrom damage, your orthodontist asks you to avoid certain foods and take specialcare of your braces. Each time you visit the orthodontist, you report on how well you're abiding by these rules.

However, even when you're following all the rules, bracessometimes break. Accidents, injuries, and even your teeth's gradual movements all have the potential to break parts of your braces. And broken braces don't straighten your teeth as effectively.

Whether you're preparing to get braces or have them already, you should know the most common damage braces incur, how to fix these problems until you can visit the orthodontist again, and how your orthodontist repairs each issue.

Common Braces Problems& How to Fix Them

Loose bracket. When you first get braces, your dentist attaches metal brackets to every tooth using a sticky, tooth-colored resin. This resin weakens over time, particularly when you chew hard or sticky foods. Weak resin leads to loose brackets that rub uncomfortably against your mouth.

If you have a loose bracket, you may notice this uncomfortable rubbing or feel the bracket moving when you eat or drink. Your orthodontist probably gave you special orthodontic wax when you first got braces. To reduce discomfort, place some of this wax over the bracket's sharper edges.

When you notice a loose bracket, call your orthodontist's office. Your orthodontist will ask you questions to determine how soon your loose bracket needs to be fixed. You may need to come in right away, or it might be okay for you to wait until your next scheduled appointment.

Loose band. Your back teeth and some front often have metal bandssecured around them. These bandsstrength your braces and keepsthem in place. Like brackets, metal bands loosen when their cement weakens.

If you feel a band becoming loose, leave it alone as much as possible. Call your orthodontist and schedule an appointment to have it examined and re-cemented. If your band comes off, you shouldn't try to put it back on. Your orthodontist needsto reattach it or replace it. Keep the detached band in a safe place so you can bring it to your orthodontist's office next time you visit.

Uncomfortable wire. Wires run through all the brackets on your teeth and encourage them to line up properly. Broken and poking wires are a very common problem, so you have several options for fixing them between orthodontic appointments.

Wires often cause irritation at the back of your mouth. If the wire is poking you, gently use the eraser end of a pencil to push the wire'ssharp point into a more comfortable position. You can also cover it with orthodontic wax if the wire doesn't move or still bothers you. At your next appointment, tell your orthodontist the wire has been bothering you.

In the meantime, you may have a sore from the wire irritating the inside of your cheek. Make a simple salt water rinse to clean this area and keep it from swelling or hurting. Stir a half teaspoon of salt into 8 ounces of water. Swish the mixture around in your mouth for a few seconds, then spit and repeat if desired. If the sore is painful, use a small dose of an over-the-counter pain reliever. If discomfort persists or the sores don't improve, call your orthodontist.

Whatever you do, do not cut a broken or bothersome wire. You could swallow or inhale part of the wire, which is potentially very dangerous. Plus, a broken or cut wire doesn't help your braces work properly.

Loose spacer. Sometimes your orthodontist usesspacersto create room between teeth. Usually your orthodontist leavesthese rubber ringsin for only a few days. When spacers become extremely loose or fall out, it's usually a sign they've done their job. The best thing to do is call your orthodontist because you're probably ready to have metal bands attached.

Broken rubber bands. The colorful rubber bands placed over your brackets sometimes break, too. When you notice a broken rubber band, call your orthodontist and describe which tooth lost itsrubber band. Whether you need to come in before your next appointment usually depends on which tooth has a broken rubber band. Typically, thisissue isn't serious and can be fixed easily at your next appointment.

Having braces should be as comfortable an experience as possible. If you have any of these issues with your braces, no matter how they happened, the best thing you can do iscall your orthodontist. The sooner you report any problems, the faster your orthodontist can fix them. And fast fixes mean you stay on track to unveil your brand new smile.