If something goes wrong with your braces, it will only rarely require urgent professional medical attention, but knowing what to do in the event of a genuine orthodontic emergency will make the situation less of an ordeal.
Bear in mind that orthodontic treatment may cause some soreness when you first get your braces, and minor discomfort as your teeth begin to move into new positions. This is normal.
If you find yourself in what you believe to be an orthodontic emergency, the first step is to determine the severity of the problem: is it a real emergency or a less serious issue you can fix yourself temporarily ahead of a long-term solution from your orthodontist.
Is It Really an Orthodontic Emergency?
The vast majority of orthodontic problems are relatively minor although some may irritate your mouth or cause discomfort. In general, the best approach is to try to ease the source of the problem, and then call your orthodontist to schedule an appointment.
Here are three common orthodontic problems you may be able to relieve at home, prior to a scheduled visit to your orthodontic office.
When your teeth begin to move, the wire that connects them – the archwire – may start to poke into your mouth. Try gently repositioning the wire so it’s more comfortable – use tweezers, a pencil eraser or cotton swab.
Alternatively, you might be able to snip off the end of the wire with a nail clipper you’ve sterilized in alcohol. However, first call your orthodontist for advice and instructions. Covering the protruding piece of wire with dental wax can also help to soothe irritation.
Broken or Loose Brackets and Bands
These problems are often caused by eating sticky or hard foods. If the bracket or band is still attached to the wire, leave it where it is. If it’s irritating your mouth, cover it with orthodontic wax. If it’s come off, save it to take to your orthodontist later. In either case, call your orthodontic practice to let them know what’s happened, and they’ll schedule an appointment for you.
In cases of damaged wires, brackets or bands, it’s still important to call your orthodontist as soon as possible to arrange for repairs to keep your treatment plan on course.
It’s natural for teeth to become slightly loose when wearing braces – it’s a sign that your orthodontic treatment is working. Sometimes this tooth movement can be accompanied by tenderness, especially immediately after braces are fitted or adjusted.
Try taking over-the-counter pain relief. Rinsing your mouth twice a day with salt water may also help. A heating pad or warm washcloth placed on your face can also be beneficial.
Genuine Orthodontic Emergencies
If you get a real orthodontic emergency – severe bleeding and/or pain – it’s likely one of two things has happened:
- You’ve taken a blow to the mouth.
- Your braces themselves are doing the damage.
In these cases, you need prompt professional medical attention.
If you’ve sustained a direct injury to your mouth, teeth or face, contact your regular dentist, who will be better equipped than your orthodontist to handle problems such as:
- Dislodged teeth.
- Fractured teeth.
- Knocked-out teeth – the tooth can usually be replaced if it’s reinserted within an hour.
Icing the affected area in the meantime may ease the discomfort.
Alternatively, head for the Emergency Room. Bear in mind, though, that while ERs are highly skilled in handling general medical emergencies, they may not have the same expertise or equipment to cope with a dental crisis. Having said that, if you’ve damaged your neck or head as well as sustaining oral trauma, ER should be your first port of call.
If your braces were damaged when you were injured, your orthodontist can replace or repair them as soon as possible after your emergency dental treatment.
If a wire or bracket has otherwise been broken or shifted and is causing serious bleeding or pain – and you can’t resolve the issue yourself – this is also regarded as a genuine orthodontic emergency. Call your orthodontist immediately.
Avoiding Panic in an Orthodontic Emergency
Knowing what to do in an orthodontic emergency1 and having access to immediate professional urgent treatment will take some of the stress out of the situation and help to avoid panic.
In less serious cases, your orthodontist can advise you on the best way to deal with the problem yourself without causing more damage, and you can then arrange a follow-up appointment so they can evaluate the condition of your braces and your mouth.
How to Lessen the Risk of an Orthodontic Emergency
You can greatly reduce the risk of an orthodontic emergency by taking a few precautions such as:
Avoiding Bad Oral Habits
The brackets and wires of braces are fragile and can easily be damaged by biting your nails or chomping on a pen or pencil or ice – resulting in costly replacements or repairs. Nail-biting can cause bits of the nail to break off and get stuck in the brackets and between your teeth. The pressure exerted by biting your nails may also snap off wires or brackets.
Brushing and Flossing Properly
A diligent routine of oral hygiene is crucial while wearing braces in order to prevent a build-up of plaque and tartar, which can result in cavities or gum infection. However, aggressive brushing can damage the delicate material of your braces or dislodge brackets – as well as scrubbing enamel off your teeth.
Avoiding Certain Foods
Hard and/or sticky foods can break the wires, bands, and brackets of braces, and the resulting unscheduled visits to your orthodontist to repair the damage may lengthen your treatment time. Even when eating softer foods, it’s important to chew carefully and slowly.
Wearing a Mouthguard During Sports
Dental injury is the most common type of facial trauma in sports. If you’re getting orthodontic treatment, a custom-made, professionally-fitted mouthguard is particularly important to prevent oral injuries and damage to your braces if you take part in contact sports.