You might be interested in braces because you like the way a straight smile looks — but there are benefits braces treatment can provide you beyond a smile you’re proud of (even though that’s a pretty great perk). Beyond aesthetics, the way your teeth sit in your jaw can have major implications on your oral health.
In this guide, we will take a look at which ways braces can help improve your overall health by aligning and straightening your smile. We hope you leave this guide with a better understanding of whether or not braces are ideal for aligning your bite and setting you up for success with good oral health moving forward.
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Can Braces Improve My Oral Health?
When it comes to oral health, one small change can have a huge impact. Aligning your smile with braces can create a series of positive changes beyond looks. If your orthodontist or dentist deems you a good candidate for treatment with braces, then it’s likely you’ll finish with overall improved oral health. Let’s explore why that is.
What Can Braces Improve?
Braces gradually straighten your teeth and align your bite. So how do those positive changes impact the rest of your oral health?
When you finish treatment with braces, your smile will be much easier to clean.[ 1 ] Crooked teeth provide bacteria with plenty of places to hide from your floss and toothbrush. Straight teeth are easier to clean because they’re easier to access. Since bacteria are to blame for most dental issues, the ease of cleaning your mouth is an important piece of overall oral health.
Gingivitis and Periodontal (Gum) Disease
As mentioned above, straight teeth are easier to clean than crooked teeth. When teeth are easier to keep clean, you can brush and floss more effectively, preventing the plaque on your teeth from turning into tartar — which is harder and more difficult to remove (you’ll need a deep cleaning from a dental hygienist).
Tartar can cause significant problems. If it remains at the gum line long enough, it can irritate that part of your gums (called gingiva). When the gingiva get swollen and inflamed, it’s called gingivitis. Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease.[ 2 ] This begins as puffy gums that bleed easily, and even though it’s very common, if left untreated, it can lead to gum recession or tooth loss.
Getting your teeth straightened with braces can help you keep the plaque from turning into tartar, potentially saving you from bigger problems down the line.
Your gums are very sensitive, and a little dramatic too. Numerous factors can contribute to your gums starting to recede — and once they do, they won’t grow back. The good news is that by aligning your smile, braces can help prevent some of the causes of gum recession.[ 3 ]
Many cases of gum recession are due to a misaligned bite causing imbalanced wear and abrasion on just a few teeth. When those few teeth are under undue stress, the gums can begin to recede in response. An aligned bite distributes the work of chewing in a more balanced way, saving those few teeth from having to do all of the work.
Bruxism is the chronic grinding and/or clenching of teeth.[ 4 ] Oftentimes, this is a condition people don’t even know they have because it can occur when you are asleep (called sleep bruxism). Bruxism is often caused (or made worse) by misaligned teeth. A properly aligned bite allows the whole mouth to share in the burden of chewing. A misaligned jaw, on the other hand, puts an undue share of the work onto just a few teeth.
This kind of constant demand on your teeth can lead to premature wear on enamel, issues with your jaw joints, or even gum recession — which can have larger and more invasive consequences like periodontal disease or tooth removal. Even on the milder side of things, bruxism can cause annoying headaches and soreness in your face. All potential symptoms most people would like to avoid.
With braces, it’s likely you can! Using brackets, wires, and other appliances, they can shift your bite into the proper alignment to help avoid clenching and grinding.
Dentists and orthodontists often suggest their patients get night guards to help treat their bruxism. Night guards are durable pieces of plastic worn overnight that prevent the teeth from grinding together. They provide a protective layer between your teeth and give your jaw a break.
When you get your braces off, you’ll need to wear an overnight retainer indefinitely — this helps ensure your teeth stay in their new positions and don’t revert back to their old ways. Fortunately for anyone dealing with bruxism, post-treatment retainers can provide similar relief to night guards. So while you are taking care of your new smile, you can also avoid the perils of bruxism. Two birds, one durable piece of plastic!
Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is what connects your jaw to your skull. This helpful little joint is responsible for your jaws opening and closing.[ 5 ] TMJ refers to the joint itself, but TMJ has also become a way of describing pain or disorders related to that joint (the technical term for this is temporomandibular disorders or TMD, but the medical community accepts both abbreviations).
TMJ/TMD can be caused by a variety of factors.[ 5 ] Braces may be able to help when TMJ/TMD is brought on by bruxism or misalignment. A misaligned bite can put too much pressure on certain areas of the jaw, the stress potentially resulting in TMJ/TMD. TMJ/TMD can also be brought on by the stress and abrasion caused by bruxism — which we’ve already established braces can help relieve.
Can Braces Cause Any Oral Health Problems?
Braces can align our smiles and help us avoid complications with our oral health. But are there any oral health problems that braces can cause?
That depends. Any health problem that comes from braces typically has more to do with the way the patient took care of their teeth during treatment and less to do with the braces themselves.
When you have braces, there’s a slight chance that a nerve might get damaged from the force of being moved in the bone. If a nerve does get damaged, it may die, requiring a root canal.[ 6 ] It’s rare, but it’s still a possibility. A root canal is a simple procedure that can be done in as little as an hour, depending on the tooth’s location.
Swollen gums are a common occurrence during braces treatment and can mean a variety of things. It can indicate your treatment is working and your gums are responding to all the movement under the surface by becoming swollen. In this case, there’s nothing to worry about.
Gum inflammation can also be a symptom of something larger, like gingivitis. Gingivitis can present additional problems later on, so it’s important that you still see your dentist regularly throughout treatment so they can analyze what is happening and correct it before it gets worse.
The way you approach oral hygiene during braces treatment can be the difference in finishing treatment with a healthy mouth or leaving treatment with developing oral health issues.
Braces do present challenges in cleaning; there’s no getting around that. It will take longer to brush and to floss since you’ll need to accommodate the brackets and wires. But it’s entirely possible to rise to the occasion and take excellent care of your teeth during braces treatment — that way, when you debut your new smile, it’s as healthy as can be.
Dentists and orthodontists recommend brushing and flossing twice daily and using a waterpik to help flush food and plaque debris that’s difficult to access with a toothbrush. Some people even prefer to go for more frequent professional cleanings, just to stay on top of their oral health.
How Else Can I Improve My Oral Health?
Stop Using Tobacco and Tobaccoless Products
We all know that using cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products, and vaping has repercussions for our overall health.[ 7, 8 ] What you might not know is that it can harm your oral health. From staining and weakening the teeth to increasing the risk of oral cancers, there is a lot of harm smoking does to the mouth. If you have picked up this habit, now is the time to work on quitting.
Nutrition plays a huge part in your overall oral health. In fact, consumption of added sugars is shown to be a better predictor of cavities than even brushing and flossing frequency! Added sugars are different from naturally occurring sugars found in fruit, so there’s no need to hold back in the produce section. Avoiding added sugars just may be the single best thing you can do to prevent cavities and keep your mouth healthy.
Focus on Mental Health
Stress and mental health issues have a tendency to eventually manifest themselves in physical ways, too.[ 9 ] They can even have adverse effects on your oral health. Bruxism can occur as a response to stress or anxiety, sometimes without you even realizing it. It’s important to try and take care of our mental health and de-stress as much as possible.
We know that mental health is a lifelong project that isn’t easily fixed after reading an article about braces, but there are small changes you can make to your life that may be a good place to start destressing. Think about things like keeping a journal, going for a walk, or even talking to a friend or counselor to lower your stress levels.
Schedule Regular Dental Visits
Visiting the dentist twice a year is an important part of your oral health. Certain issues like gum recession can happen so gradually that it’s nearly impossible to notice in the early stages on your own. Keeping twice-yearly dental appointments helps to catch these issues in their early stages, while you still have time to take preventative measures.
If you are putting off dental visits due to cost, consider looking up dental schools in your area. They provide free or low-cost treatment by dental students, all under the supervision of licensed professionals.
Wear Your Retainers
If you’ve finished orthodontic treatment, it’s imperative you wear your retainer overnight in perpetuity. Your retainer keeps your teeth in their new positions, and may prevent you from clenching and grinding your teeth.
Braces can straighten your teeth and align your bite, giving you a smile that makes you feel your best. But beyond just aesthetics, braces treatment can prevent you from developing serious oral health problems later down the line. Plus, the straightening of your teeth will help you better maintain good oral hygiene, which is a major line of defense in your overall oral health.
All in all, braces are a fantastic way to straighten your smile, align your bite, and set yourself up for success with your oral health moving forward.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it easier to keep my gums healthy during treatment with braces or clear aligners?
Both braces’ and clear aligners’ ability to align your teeth provides you with healthier gums in the long run. During treatment, however, it’s much easier to maintain healthy gums and good oral hygiene with clear aligners than it is with braces. This is simply because aligners are removable, whereas braces maintenance requires a higher level of attention and care since they are physically attached to you.
Can I wear a night guard while I have braces?
You can! Normally, a night guard would be customized to fit your particular smile. With braces, your teeth will be shifting on a week-to-week basis, making a customized night guard not a realistic option. However, there are over-the-counter night guards that are one-size-fits-all, which you could use over your braces. Be sure to talk to your dentist or orthodontist before moving forward with an over-the-counter night guard option.
Which has faster treatment times: braces or clear aligners?
Braces have an average treatment time of 24 months, and treatment with clear aligners like Invisalign averages between 12-18 months. So usually, clear aligners will provide a faster treatment.
Can at-home aligners improve my oral health too?
At-home aligners are able to treat mild to moderate cases of misalignment. So if your condition is on the milder side, at-home clear aligners could be a convenient way for you to get all the oral health perks of an aligned smile from the comfort of home.
How do you floss with braces?
It’s a little complicated to floss with braces since the archwire connecting your teeth is in the way. You’ll need to thread the floss behind the archwire in between each tooth. There are tools that can aid in this process.
How do I know if I have gingivitis?
In some cases, gingivitis doesn’t have many symptoms, and other times, it presents itself as swollen gums that bleed easily. It can be hard to know if inflamed gums are from braces themselves or from something more problematic — like gingivitis. That’s why it’s important to continue to have regular dentist appointments throughout your braces treatment so that any issue with your gums can be noticed in the early stages before it gets worse.
If I get gingivitis does that mean I will get gum disease?
Not necessarily! Gingivitis is very common — it’s likely that most people will experience it at some time or another. Gingivitis is reversible and doesn’t always turn into periodontal disease, but if left untreated, it is possible. Continue to brush and floss once a day and see your dentist twice a year to catch this early.
Is there such a thing as brushing my teeth too often?
Actually, yes! Brushing is a vital part of oral health, but it’s possible to overdo it. It’s also possible to brush your teeth too hard. In both cases, the added abrasion can wear away at your enamel. Enamel can’t regenerate once it’s gone, so it’s important to stop this before it becomes a problem. Always use a soft bristle toothbrush and try to avoid excess pressure while brushing.