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Braces 101

a primer for adults new to braces

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Part Three: When the Braces Go On

Today's the day! What should you expect? A little knowledge goes a long way!

The Braces are Put On

  • Brush your teeth well and floss at home. Have a picture taken. That crooked smile is going to change!

  • Apply a thick coat of Chapstick or lip balm to your lips, because they tend to get rather dry during the process of installing the braces.

  • The dental assistant or orthodontist will dry off your teeth and apply "etchant" to them. This tastes like Krazy Glue and is vile. Try not to get it on your tongue. The etchant prepares the surface of your teeth for the bonding "cement" that holds on the brackets.

  • The brackets are placed on your teeth. A blue high intensity plasma light is then quickly applied to the surface of the bracket to set the bond.

  • The wire (arch wire) is placed through the brackets. This should not poke your cheek. If it does, tell them so that the end of the wire can be clipped.

  • Little rubber bands (ligating modules) are placed on the brackets. This is what holds the wire to them and creates a feeling of pressure.

That's it! You're done! Each row of teeth takes about an hour. 

Here's a great link from an orthodontist in Florida which shows photos of the typical procedure.

Here's another link to the website "", which explains the parts of your braces, names of your teeth, and other helpful information.

What Does It Feel Like?

  • At first, you will feel an unusual feeling of pressure on your teeth. If any of your teeth have metal brackets around them, this will feel weird, but not unbearable.

  • At first, feeling the braces underneath your lips will be a strange sensation. After about a week, you'll probably find that you barely notice it.

  • You should stick to soft foods for the first day or two; nothing crunchy or hard, nothing large and difficult to bite and chew (e.g., big sub sandwiches or burritos).

  • The first day, it may not hurt too much. The second and third days, it may feel like somebody hit you in the teeth with a baseball. Take a pain reliever like Ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) and try to chill out. It will get better!

  • At  first you will not be able to eat certain foods, like tortilla chips, sugar cones, crunchy cookies, hard taco shells, etc. When you eat out, think of your teeth first and be kind to yourself! Order soft foods!

  • Chewing will be difficult. You may bite the insides of your cheeks. The metal hooks on the brackets may hurt. Just chew slowly and carefully. Do not take large mouthfuls. Hint: Fill up on protein-rich foods, not just carbs, so you can go several hours between meals!

  • At first, you won't be used to food getting lodged in your braces. This really takes some time to get used to. It doesn't hurt, it just feels weird and make you want to run immediately to the bathroom to rinse and brush. In time it won't bother you as much.

  • Use dental wax on the little hooks or brackets that hurt. You may not need to use the wax for long, maybe just a week or two until your mouth adjusts to all the hardware. Just break off a piece of wax and gob it on the offending area.

  • Don't try to floss for several days, or even a week. It will probably hurt too much.

  • After a week or two, your teeth may feel loose. That's normal and necessary. It passes in another week or two.

What the Heck Can I Eat?

In the "old days," dentists had a long list of foods to avoid. Well, you're not a kid and you're probably not going to be eating jaw breakers, gummi bears, or anything stupid. You can eat anything that seems sensible and "do-able."

Tip: Nuts get stuck in your teeth and are painful, so avoid them at first.

Here's a short list of my  favorites for those painful first days (or the days after an adjustment). For a longer list, go here.

  • Meatloaf or meatballs

  • Tuna, chicken, or egg salad

  • Lunch meat (plain, not in a sandwich -- sandwiches can be too hard to bite)

  • Soup

  • Cheese slices

  • Cooked eggs

  • French toast, pancakes, waffles

  • Soft cooked meat (pot roast, roasted chicken, etc)

  • Baked or broiled fish

  • Non-crusty bread without seeds or chunks

  • Saltine crackers (they crumble on the roof of your mouth!)

  • Cottage cheese

  • Yogurt (custard-type is best; the less chunks the better -- or just don't eat the fruit chunks!)

  • Cereal that gets soggy in milk

  • Oatmeal or hot cereals

  • Ice cream and cake (hey, what the hell, treat yourself! But remember, no nuts!)

  • Frozen cheese blintzes or potato pancakes

Next....Living with Braces


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