Protect Your Investment: How to Clean Braces

All orthodontic patients must know how to clean braces, regardless of age. Orthodontic care is a serious investment of a family's time and finances. By learning about proper orthodontic home care in advance, patients will be prepared for the time commitment necessary to maintain oral health during and following orthodontic care.

What Gets Caught around Braces

Each type of orthodontic hardware, including wires, bands, brackets, expanders, springs, elastics and screws, poses its own unique challenges for the patient when it comes to cleaning. All this hardware provides additional surfaces for food debris, plaque biofilm and acids to adhere and collect in these areas of the mouth that are very difficult to clean, as explained on Dental Associates.

The tiny germs first find an effective place to hide around orthodontic hardware and between teeth, growing into larger colonies of plaque biofilm. As readily available food particles are digested by the germ colonies, the plaque biofilm masses process the food debris. Acid is the by-product of this germ digestion process. These acids etch around the brackets and bands, creating the white chalky orthodontic spots often shown to patients before they pursue braces. The good news is that these spots can be prevented if a patient is taught how to clean braces properly.

Cleaning Braces at Home

The proper removal of food debris, biofilm and acids from around the braces will protect the teeth and gums from being affected by oral care diseases. Patients must be reminded before the placement of orthodontics that a higher level of at-home care will help decrease the incidence of tooth decay. Specialized equipment is recommended for cleaning teeth with braces. The standard tools for cleaning braces at home include a high-quality toothbrush, floss/interdental cleaners and an at-home oral irrigation system.

Toothbrushing: Whether manual or electric, a toothbrush with soft bristles and a compact head is best for cleaning teeth with braces. Always remember to remove elastics before brushing so hooks and wires are not disturbed.

The following are some toothbrushing instructions to assist you in cleaning your braces:

1. The toothbrush should be held at a 45-degree angle at the gum line and brushed back and forth and then swept toward the biting surface of the teeth.

2. Brush the top and bottom surfaces of the brackets to remove plaque and food debris as well as the front of the bracket and wires. It may be beneficial to physically hold back the lip with one hand and brush the bracket areas.

Specialized toothbrushes, such as the Colgate® 360°®, are available to more easily access the areas under and around brackets. The Colgate® 360º® also includes a tongue and cheek cleaner for the removal of germs that can stick to those areas.

Floss/Interdental Cleaners: It's important to note that there are different interproximal cleaning tools that can remove debris from the mouth when you're on the go, such as soft picks, proxybrushes, woven dental floss, superfloss or triangular, interdental picks. Patients can carry these tools in their bags or purses to use when they don't have time for traditional flossing. Despite the variety of cleaning tools available, there is no substitute for proper flossing with a threader, as detailed on Dental Health Advice. Food can get trapped in the spaces between the teeth and under wires, so it's necessary to take some time each day to thread floss under the wires to remove debris before it damages the enamel. Access the areas where most other devices can't reach by gliding the floss along the surface of the tooth and gently cleaning the area below the gum line.

Oral Irrigation Systems: At-home oral irrigation systems are specialized dental tools available at drugstores and major retail chains. They push water through a device in a thin stream to directly flush around the teeth and orthodontic hardware. Food, bacteria, plaque biofilm and acids can be flushed from hard-to-reach spots with these systems; although they can make your home care efforts more effective, they should never be used to replace brushing and flossing.

Fluoride Treatment and Germ Killers

Although topical fluoride is very important to use regardless of whether you have braces, fluoride becomes even more important during and immediately following orthodontic care. Since braces make teeth tougher to clean, the risk for tooth decay increases with braces. A fluoride rinse can decrease this risk, as explained by the American Dental Association.

Using a prescription fluoride toothpaste also goes a long way toward protecting your teeth. Products such as Colgate®PreviDent® 5000 Booster Plus have a much higher amount of fluoride protection than over-the-counter toothpastes, and they can strengthen areas of exposed root surface that often occur among people with braces. Germ-killing rinses and anti-bacterial toothpastes also decrease the concentration of living bacteria in the mouth. Over-the-counter products such as Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield® Mouthwash and Colgate Total® Toothpaste contain powerful germ killers to stop the cycle of plaque-related gum inflammation.

The delight of having your braces taken off to reveal a beautiful smile can often be overshadowed by a diagnosis of cavities throughout the mouth, but these cavities can be prevented. Don't let them happen to you! By learning how to clean braces effectively before their placement, both patients and parents can be proud of a newly aligned smile.

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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