How to Brush With Braces

People with braces often learn that one of the top challenges in orthodontic care is brushing. Braces require extra effort to clean, and different techniques to reach areas where food and germs buildup — especially around brace brackets, bands, wires and fixed retainers. But with a few methodical tips, anyone can learn how to brush with braces.

Choosing a Toothbrush

The first step in brushing braces is choosing a soft toothbrush that is gentle on the gums, yet strong enough to clean around the metal brackets. Toothbrushes such as the Colgate® 360® put bristles at an angle designed to sweep germs and food particles from areas that are more difficult to access. When left to grow, germs digest these sticky food particles and produce plaque acids that destroy the enamel. These toothbrushes also have durable polishing cups to hold toothpaste along the teeth and bracket areas longer, delivering more consistent results. Furthermore, the Colgate®360® is specially designed to clean not only the teeth and braces, but also the cheeks, gums and tongue so the entire mouth feels clean.

Applying a Toothpaste

Now that you've chosen the right toothbrush, the next step is selecting the toothpaste to clean and protect your teeth and braces. Most toothpastes are fine to use with braces, but avoid using whitening toothpastes and products because these will only work on the parts of your teeth not covered by braces. A good toothpaste will cut through the food easily hardened behind braces, as well as kills germs and work to stop plaque from forming on teeth and around braces. Select a toothpaste such as Colgate® Max Fresh® for an all-round clean and a unique flavor that kids will love.

Brushing Through the Brackets

With the selection of the proper toothbrush and toothpaste, learning how to brush with braces is a snap. After applying the toothpaste to the brush, start in one corner of the mouth and place the bristles of the brush at a 45-degree angle against the back teeth so you can feel the bristles up along the gums and brush back and forth on all areas of the gumline on upper and lower teeth. Next, using small circular motions, slowly sweep the toothbrush cleaning only one or two teeth at a time for at least 10 circles. It's best to choose a pattern that cleans the face sides including the brackets of the braces and tongue sides. The biting surfaces of the upper and lower teeth should be brushed using a back and forth motion. Before you finish brushing, check hard-to-reach areas like the face side of the upper and lower front teeth, under the lip, and any areas where the brackets and wires are located to make sure that all plaque and food is removed. This process should take two to four minutes to thoroughly clean the teeth and braces.

Brush, Replace and Repeat

It's recommended that toothbrushing take place at least three, if not four times a day for patients with braces. Most people brush after each meal and immediately before bedtime because germs and food left on the teeth overnight can do significant damage. Those with braces are no exception, but teeth with braces can wear out toothbrushes fairly quickly. The toothbrush is being used more often on both metal and enamel, so patients are encouraged to replace their toothbrush every three months.

Toothbrushing is not the only thing keeping braces clean, but proper brushing will remove much of the germs and food debris. Flossing, the use of small specialized interproximal brushes, and various rinses are often recommended to keep the mouth healthy as well. With attention to detail, some extra time and the right tools, brushing braces doesn't have to be a challenge and can be fun.

About the author: Emily Boge, RDH, BS, MPAc is currently a health sciences public administration Master's degree candidate at Upper Iowa University, and has practiced dental hygiene since 2003 in Manchester, Iowa. Emily is also the owner of Think Big Dental, a consulting and writing firm specializing in the education of corporations and health professionals on the role of dental hygienists.

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