Portrait of a woman with braces on

Protect Your Investment: How to Clean Braces

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

No matter what age you are when you get braces, learning how to clean them can pose a new challenge. Orthodontic care is a serious investment in you and your family's time and money, so it's no wonder you want to get it right!

Whether you have a hard-to-reach area in your mouth, are unfamiliar with the parts of your braces that need cleaning, or find it difficult or unpleasant to grip floss, the following information will help you make an action plan for how to keep your mouth healthy!

What Gets Caught Around Braces?

Each type of orthodontic hardware, including wires, bands, brackets, expanders, springs, elastics, and screws, poses its unique cleaning challenge. All this hardware provides surfaces for food debris, acids, bacteria, and plaque (also known as biofilm), to adhere to. This can lead to two issues for your teeth.

Those tiny germs can find a sneaky place to hide around orthodontic hardware and between teeth, growing into larger plaque colonies. If left unchecked, they'll transform into a hardened plaque, known as tartar. Because tartar is porous, more plaque can adhere to it, which can lead to tooth decay. Or, have you ever seen pictures of the white, decalcified spots that can remain on teeth after removing braces? These occur when food particles and plaque biofilm are left on your teeth, and the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack your teeth. This acid builds up around the brackets and bands of your braces, wearing down the enamel. There's good news, though! You have control over preventive care, like flossing and toothbrushing, that can mitigate the chances of white spot lesions and cavities.

How To Clean Braces at Home

It can sometimes be challenging to decide which dental products are best to use for braces. But there's a wide range to choose from, available at your local drugstore or a major retailer.

  1. Floss/Interdental Cleaners
  2. It's important to note that different interproximal cleaning tools can remove plaque biofilm and food debris. The "interproximal" spaces in your mouth are the spaces between adjoining teeth, common areas for food debris, and plaque to get stuck. Many of these products are small and lightweight, perfect for taking on-the-go. Woven dental floss, super floss, soft picks, interdental picks, and proxy brushes fall into this category. You can carry the interdental cleaning tools in your bag or purse to use when you don't have time for traditional flossing at home.

    But despite the variety of available cleaning tools, it's best to use waxed floss with a floss threader for your everyday interdental cleaning needs and when cleaning your braces. Access the areas where most other devices can't reach by gliding the floss along the tooth's surface and gently cleaning the area below the gumline.

  3. Oral Irrigation Systems
  4. Also known as water flossers, at-home irrigation systems push water through a device in a thin stream to directly flush around the teeth and orthodontic hardware. You can wash away food, bacteria, plaque, and acids from the hard-to-reach spots of your mouth with these systems. Oral irrigators can make your home care efforts more effective and are a great addition to your oral care routine if using floss is challenging. But it's still essential to brush your teeth twice a day and use floss around your braces, too, when able.

  5. Brushing Your Teeth and Brackets
  6. While you probably think, "of course, I know how to brush my teeth!" many of us don't brush our teeth correctly. So when you get braces, it's a critical time to learn. You should hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and brush it back and forth at the gum line. Then sweep it toward the biting surface of your teeth. You should brush both the top and bottom surfaces of the brackets of your braces too. It may be beneficial to physically hold back your lip with one hand to have full access to your braces' brackets while you brush.

  7. Fluoride Treatment and Germ Killers
  8. Germ-killing mouth rinses and antibacterial toothpaste decrease the concentration of living bacteria in your mouth. These products contain powerful germ killers to stop the cycle of plaque-related gum inflammation. A prescription fluoride toothpaste or mouth rinse can also go a long way toward protecting your teeth. It can strengthen areas of exposed root surfaces that often occur among people with braces. You should consult your dental professional about whether this type of prescription is right for you.

Tooth Decay and Braces

It's ironic that while correcting your teeth with braces ultimately helps prevent cavities, there's an increased chance of decay while wearing braces.

Depending on the type of braces you wear, braces can catch bits of food and sugar from certain drinks. Once trapped, these food/drink particles cause bacteria to form. The bacteria lead to plaque deposits. And plaque buildup leads to tooth decay (aka cavities) as well as gum disease.

As you'd imagine, you're more likely to experience these issues with nonremovable braces no matter what materials they're made of. However, removable clear aligner trays and headgear braces can lead to problems without proper care.

Toothaches, chewing pain, and sensitivity to sweet, cold, or hot foods and drinks are all signs you might have one or more cavities. Tooth decay left untreated might infect a tooth's pulp. Cavities can soon progress into painful abscesses, infections, or even jaw problems. That's why it's essential to spend the extra effort keeping your braces clean to prevent tooth decay.

When To Get A Professional Cleaning

Your orthodontist may recommend that you see your dentist and dental hygienist for a checkup and dental cleaning more than the routine biannual visit you're used to. Note that your orthodontist is the one who manages your braces, but not your teeth cleaning. When your orthodontist makes this suggestion, please don't assume it means you aren't doing a great job with your at-home care. Instead, it's a preventive measure that allows you to get the professional cleaning you deserve. That way, your teeth can be as clean and healthy as possible once you're ready to remove your braces!

No one wants a cavity diagnosis or chalky white imprints to overshadow the delight of having their braces taken off. And the good news is, you can prevent these issues from forming! Whether it's with cleaning tools for braces, fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash, or guidance from your dental professional on how to brush correctly, it's critical to be informed about the daily measures you should take.

By implementing a stellar oral care routine, you'll be ensuring you've done everything you can for your mouth to be as clean and healthy as possible. After the commitment you've made to keep your teeth clean while wearing braces, aren't you excited to show off that perfect smile?

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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