Having an orthodontic emergency can be a frightening ordeal in some instances. Your best defense is knowing how to handle an emergency before it happens. Part of that is being aware of the difference between an orthodontic emergency and a simple inconvenience.

Orthodontic Emergency or Just an Inconvenience

Let’s start with pain. Pain is usually a sign of a dental or orthodontic emergency. While you will probably experience some discomfort with braces, especially following an adjustment, it should not be painful. Understanding the normal level of discomfort will allow you to know when the pain is more than normal.

Minor Inconveniences

Normal discomfort will be felt when you first get your braces. The inside of your mouth will be tender. The brackets and wires may irritate the inside of your cheeks and lips. Although this discomfort is normal, it should not last more than a couple of days. It should ease if you are using over-the-counter pain relief medications. Saltwater rinses may also help, and ice compresses can be useful if you experience swelling or inflammation.

You may also feel discomfort following adjustments. Because the doctor will be moving your teeth to adjust the archwires, this usually results in discomfort. For Invisalign® patients, switching to a new set of tray aligners may cause a similar period of discomfort.

Now that you understand the normal inconvenient discomfort, let’s talk about what constitutes an orthodontic emergency.

Orthodontic Emergency

If what you are feeling is painful and isn’t eased with pain relief medicines, saltwater rinses, or ice compresses, you may be experiencing an orthodontic emergency. The following are orthodontic emergencies:

  • Severe pain not eased with OTC medications
  • Swelling or bleeding could be a sign of infection
  • Major trauma to the face, mouth, or teeth
  • A broken appliance that is poking painfully and cannot be repaired temporarily

The basic rule of thumb is to contact your orthodontist’s office if you have any doubt. In many instances, staff can help you correct the problem at least temporarily.

In the Event of an Orthodontic Emergency

You know your mouth. Although having braces may be a new experience, you can sense when something feels wrong. Having a plan will help you deal with any situation that may arise. A simple plan for handling an orthodontic emergency:

  1. Identify the problem. Look in a mirror or have a family member help to identify what is wrong. It may be a loose wire, bracket, or something more serious.
  2. Can the problem be fixed? We are including a handy guide below with tips and tricks to correct many problems without a special trip to the office. Determine if your problem is something that can be fixed at home, at least temporarily.
  3. If the problem can’t be fixed at home, contact your orthodontist’s office as soon as possible. Describe the problem and what steps you have already taken to the staff. Sometimes they will offer additional suggestions. If they can’t help, they will schedule you for an office visit.
  4. For medical emergencies please call your regular family doctor for assistance.

Although your plan may be more in-depth than our example, the important thing is to have a plan in place. This will lessen anxiety and give you an effective way to handle orthodontic emergencies.

Handling Broken Wires, Brackets, and Other Quick Fixes

Many problems that may occur with your brackets can be fixed easily without a trip to the office. We’ll include a list of handy tools at the end of this section. These small items will be invaluable to you while wearing braces.

Loose or broken bracket: If you can, leave the bracket in place. You can use a dab of dental wax to keep it in place. Your braces will still function normally until you can have them repaired. If the bracket breaks off completely, remove it from the archwire and bring it with you to the office for your appointment.

Broken, poking wires: Occasionally, a wire will break and poke the inside of your mouth. The wire can be pushed in using a pencil eraser (please disinfect it first) or a cotton swab. You can also place a small dab of dental wax on the wire end to keep it from poking.

Trimming broken wires: The thin wires are easy to clip. Disinfect a pair of clean nail clippers with rubbing alcohol. Simply trim the wire to reduce the length. Add a dab of dental wax on the exposed end of the wire to keep it from causing further irritation.

Sores caused by chafing: The brackets and wires may cause small sores and tender spots in your mouth. Normally, these go away on their own fairly quickly. Cover the area of your hardware that is irritating the area with dental wax. Additionally, you may take an OTC pain reliever if necessary.

Ligatures: Some brackets use wire ligatures rather than elastics to hold the archwire in place. If you have ligatures and they unwind, try to push them down with a clean pencil eraser. Dental wax can also be helpful to keep the wire from poking you.

Handy-Dandy Tools for Self-Repair

You probably already have many of these items at home. We recommend finding a small bag, or kit, to carry them with you throughout the day. Toss them in your backpack for fixes at school. Keep them in your purse or briefcase for fixes at work. These simple tools will make life with braces much easier:

  • Dental wax (non-medicated)
  • Small, clean nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • New pencil with eraser
  • Cotton swabs
  • Toothpicks
  • Dental floss
  • Interproximal brush

Optional items, if you have room for them, are salt for saltwater rinses, a topical anesthetic such as Orajel™, and a small leak-proof container of rubbing alcohol. Please check with your school as they may not allow medicines and rubbing alcohol. In those instances, a school nurse often has (or will hold) those items for your use.

Carrying this small kit will save you in most instances. It contains almost everything you will need to perform emergency fixes for your brackets and wires. Any time that you fix a problem, you should call your doctor’s office and check in with staff. They can evaluate the seriousness of a problem and determine if an additional appointment is necessary.

Call Koch Orthodontics If You Have an Orthodontic Emergency

If you have questions about a potential orthodontic emergency, contact Koch Orthodontics at (585) 243-3174.

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