What is orthodontic braces?

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Dental care with braces: Overview

Braces are sets of wires and brackets attached to the teeth. They straighten crooked teeth and improve the way the upper and lower teeth line up.

Good daily dental care is always important, but with braces it's even more important. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria that sticks to teeth above and below the gum line. It can build up and harden into tartar. The bacteria in plaque and tartar can cause tooth decay and gum disease. Your braces' wires and brackets easily trap bits of food. Besides damage to your teeth, not cleaning well can lead to stains on your teeth after the braces come off.

After the braces come off, a removable retainer made of wire and plastic may be used to keep the teeth from drifting out of place.

Your dentist or dental hygienist will show you how to keep your teeth and braces clean.

How can you care for your teeth when you have braces?

  • When you brush:
    • Brush after every meal. Use a fluoride toothpaste.
    • If you can't brush after a meal, rinse your mouth with water to wash food particles out of your braces.
    • Use a toothbrush with soft, rounded-end bristles and a head that is small enough to reach all parts of your teeth and mouth. Your dentist may recommend a special brush to use with your braces. It is shaped to clean behind the wires and up against the brackets.
    • Place the brush at a 45-degree angle where the teeth meet the gums. Press firmly, and gently rock the brush back and forth using small circular movements. Don't scrub. Too much pressure can loosen the wires or pull off the brackets of your braces.
    • You may also use an electric toothbrush. The ones that work best have a rotating and oscillating (back-and-forth) action.
    • Brush all surfaces of the teeth, tongue-side and cheek-side. Be sure to remove all food particles from the tight spaces in your braces.
    • Brush your tongue from back to front. This helps remove bacteria.
  • When you floss:
    • Floss at least once a day. You can use a floss threader, which is a plastic loop that helps you pull the floss under the wire of your braces and between your teeth. Water flossers, like Waterpik, can also help remove food and plaque from between the teeth and around braces.
    • Gently work the floss between the teeth toward the gums. Curve the floss around each tooth into a U-shape and gently slide it under the gum line. Move the floss firmly back and forth several times to scrape off the plaque.
  • Do not use toothpicks or plastic picks that can bend the wires on your braces.
  • Do not eat sticky food or food that can get caught in your teeth, such as popcorn, gum, taffy, and nuts.
  • Use a fluoride mouthwash after you brush and floss. It can help keep your teeth clean and strong.


Mouth of someone with braces, showing ceramic braces on top and metal braces on the bottom

Braces are sets of wires and brackets cemented to the teeth. Over a period of about 24 to 28 months, the wires are tightened and adjusted, gradually applying enough force to move the teeth into alignment.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.