Dealing with Discomfort from Braces

Person in pain holding a compress to their cheek

One of the most common questions that prospective orthodontic patients ask is whether braces will hurt. Mild pain or tenderness is a common side effect of wearing braces, but you will experience it infrequently during your orthodontic treatment. Most of your time in braces will be completely painless. Many patients are surprised by how minimally they experience unpleasant effects.

What Causes Discomfort?

Internal inflammation and pressure are the primary reasons your braces might feel uncomfortable after the orthodontist applies or adjusts them. Braces exert force on the teeth and surrounding soft tissues. This process changes the volume of blood flow to the gums, triggering an inflammatory response.

Externally, the presence of brackets and wires in your mouth also can trigger initial discomfort when you are not used to them. Contact with the soft tissue inside the mouth can initially cause minor abrasions, but with time, the affected areas will eventually adjust by toughening.

When Does Discomfort Occur?

The process of applying braces is painless, but discomfort may occur following the initial application and with each orthodontic adjustment. Typically, the most pain you will experience while in braces occurs right after they go on. During this period, your appliances exert the most force, and your mouth is not used to having pressure applied. This will be the longest period of discomfort you experience, lasting about one week.

Though some patients do not feel any discomfort following orthodontic adjustments, most will experience a few days of soreness after each. The amount of discomfort you will feel depends on your treatment plan. The farther your teeth need to travel to move into their desired positions, the more likely you are to experience discomfort. As you get closer to the end of treatment, the amount of discomfort you experience should dissipate.

Tips for Dealing with Discomfort

Each patient experiences orthodontic soreness differently, but many options exist for alleviating discomfort associated with braces.

Eat Soft Foods

Your orthodontist will provide a list of foods to avoid throughout your braces’ treatment to prevent damage to appliances. This will include foods that are hard, crunchy, chewy, or sticky and those that contain small pieces that could become stuck in brackets and wires.

The good news is that you will naturally want to avoid these food items while your mouth is sore from braces, as biting into hard foods or eating foods that require extensive chewing will exacerbate your discomfort. Try adding yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, tuna, eggs, smooth peanut butter, mashed potatoes, and canned fruits and vegetables to your grocery list.

Apply Ice

Applying a cold compress can help numb pain after an adjustment and even reduce the swelling in your gums and tissues. Wrap an ice pack in a thin towel and place it over the outsides of your mouth for 20 minutes at a time. If you don’t have an ice pack, you can make your own by placing ice cubes in a plastic bag.

Some orthodontic patients benefit from coldness inside the mouth as well. Therefore, you might suck on ice cubes or eat popsicles when your mouth is sore.

Use a Warm Compress

If you experience sensitivity to cold, try applying heat to the areas of discomfort for pain relief. Heat improves circulation and blood flow to the soft tissues to relax and soothe them. You can use either dry or moist heat or a combination of both. Dry heat includes sources like heating pads. Moist heat includes items that are placed in water and then warmed up, like steamed towels or washcloths.

Apply Topical Medications

Several over-the-counter topical ointments can help alleviate pain after adjustments. These are typically anesthetics, such as Anbesol and Orajel, and they work by numbing the area they are applied to for a few hours with benzocaine, which blocks nerve pain signals. Follow the instructions on the label as to how often it is safe to re-apply these numbing agents.

Take Oral Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can effectively control discomfort from braces. Some patients benefit from taking NSAID medication 30 minutes to one hour before each adjustment to pre-emptively control inflammation. However, though most of these medications (e.g., ibuprofen, acetaminophen) are sold over the counter, you should talk with your orthodontist about how best to use NSAIDS, as chronic use can slow your orthodontic treatment.

Rinse With Warm Salt Water

Another quick and effective remedy is to prepare a warm salt water rinse when you are experiencing discomfort. Salt has natural healing properties and the capacity to limit bacteria growth in the mouth. Add one teaspoon of salt to one cup of warm water and rinse thoroughly for 60 seconds. Repeat this process every few hours.

Apply Peppermint

Peppermint contains numbing properties and can help relieve a sensitive tooth. It has antibacterial compounds, so it also can help with oral hygiene. You can apply this via a moist peppermint tea bag or by using a few drops of peppermint essential oil.

Use Orthodontic Wax

Orthodontic wax is especially helpful in dealing with the discomfort caused by brackets rubbing the insides of your mouth or wires poking your cheeks. Applying this wax to the braces, teeth, and gums provides a barrier that helps reduce friction between the appliance and your mouth, which minimizes discomfort.

You can apply orthodontic wax across your braces or on specific teeth that are acting up. Make sure your hands and teeth are clean before application, then pinch off a small piece of wax about the size of a pea. Roll it into a ball and then flatten it slightly to make a small mold to fit over the hardware. You can use orthodontic wax as much and as often as needed as it is non-toxic.

Massage Your Gums

Using a clean or gloved hand, gently massage the painful areas of your gums in a circular motion. You should feel slight pressure but not pain. You also can use a water flosser with warm water to soften the gum tissue. Simply move it around your mouth, focusing on your gums.

Practice Good Dental Hygiene

You can preempt unnecessary discomfort from braces by practicing excellent oral hygiene while receiving orthodontic treatment. Brackets and other orthodontic appliances allow plaque to build up in the teeth and gums, increasing susceptibility to decay and causing painful inflammatory responses. When the orthodontist applies your braces, he or she will provide a detailed guide on how to care for your teeth and keep them clean, and it is essential to follow these instructions precisely.

Are you ready to see where your journey toward a better smile will take you? Start by contacting us today to schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified orthodontists.


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