Getting braces is a big commitment, so it's important that you have all the information you need to decide whether they are right for you.
One of the most common questions that people of all ages have is whether braces are painful. Some people avoid orthodontic treatment altogether for this very concern.
The truth is, braces can be uncomfortable at certain times, but they should never be too painful, and there are many ways to effectively relieve the pain.
Choosing not to have orthodontic treatment could risk worse pain and complications in the long term if you have misaligned or protruding teeth that are affecting your oral health or causing other problems.
Why are braces uncomfortable?
Braces aren't uncomfortable most of the time, as long as they're well fitted, but you may feel some soreness when the arch wires are first attached and tightened at subsequent appointments.
Some discomfort can't be avoided because of how orthodontics works. Your braces are designed to apply gentle force to your teeth that causes them to shift position over the course of your treatment. This force can cause discomfort at first as your teeth resist the pressure before getting used to it.
It can also take time to get used to wearing braces, and the brackets and wires can sometimes irritate soft tissues in your mouth. This is normally only an issue at the very start of orthodontic treatment before your mouth adjusts.
How long do braces hurt for?
Pain or discomfort from braces should not be constant. It may be most noticeable in the first few days to a week after your braces are fitted, as your teeth and mouth need time to get used to the pressure and rubbing of the appliance, especially when you eat.
You may also feel discomfort when your braces are adjusted by your dentist, but this is usually less than after the first fitting, as your teeth and mouth will already be accustomed to the sensation. Many people stop noticing their braces altogether by six months into the treatment.
What to expect when getting braces
The orthodontic experience is different for everyone, as it depends on how much correction is needed, the type of braces you choose and other considerations. This is a general guide to what pain or discomfort you can expect at each stage of the process.
Some people require other treatments in advance to prepare their teeth for braces, and these may involve their own adjustment and recovery periods. This may include:
- Spacers or separators worn for 1 to 2 weeks to make it easier for the teeth to move
- Expanders worn for several months to widen the upper jaw
- Extracting teeth that may restrict orthodontic treatment, including wisdom teeth removal
Your teeth will normally be professionally cleaned and scaled to remove any plaque build-up before braces are fitted.
Fitting your braces
Attaching braces to your teeth should not be painful and doesn't require anaesthesia or dental sedation. The process normally includes:
- Attaching bands around the molars (back teeth)
- Applying a bonding agent to the teeth, then mounting the brackets to every tooth
- Attaching the wires to connect the brackets and bands
- Adding elastic bands to hold the wires in position
The braces procedure usually takes 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the type of braces you choose.
You will likely feel some discomfort starting within a few hours of the orthodontic wire being attached. This may only last for a day or two, or up to a week.
Your cheeks and lips may be irritated by contact with your new braces and your teeth may also feel more sensitive to temperature and pressure, but this should also be temporary.
Your dentist will recommend eating soft foods only for the first few days. Eating may feel uncomfortable at first and could take longer than normal as you adjust to eating with braces. Most people can eat normally within a week.
Tightening your braces
You will need to attend regular appointments with your dentist during your orthodontic treatment to have your braces checked and adjusted. This involves tightening the wires to gradually move your teeth into their new position.
Each time your braces are tightened, you may feel discomfort as the pressure on your teeth changes. This should only last for 1 to 2 days and is not usually as noticeable as when you first get braces. There should also not be any pain in other parts of your mouth at this point.
Removing your braces
You may also feel some discomfort when your braces are removed at the end of your treatment and pressure is relieved from your teeth. This should only be temporary.
Your dentist will then normally provide a retainer for you to wear as instructed. This is important for maintaining the new position of your teeth. As a retainer does not move the teeth, it should not cause discomfort like braces.
How to manage brace pain
Whether you only experience minor discomfort or distracting pain from braces, you don't have to grin and bear it. There are lots of options for pain relief, from standard over-the-counter medication to home remedies and orthodontic products.
These can include:
- pain relief medication, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
- anti-inflammatory medication to relieve swelling
- topical anaesthetic cream applied to the gums
Follow the instructions on the packaging or your dentist or doctor's recommendation when taking any medication. Pain relievers can be more effective when taken at the first sign of pain, rather than to combat more severe pain.
If your braces are irritating or cutting your cheeks, lips or the inside of your mouth, your dentist may provide a soft wax that can be rubbed over your braces to create a protective barrier. Dental wax is non-toxic and is also available from some pharmacies.
You may also relieve pain or discomfort by:
- rinsing your mouth multiple times a day with warm salt water
- holding a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in a towel against your face
- eating cold foods and sipping iced water
- chewing sugar-free gum to increase blood flow to your mouth
- gently massaging your gums with your finger
Living with braces
Besides pain, there are other things you need to know about braces that could help you decide whether they're the best choice for you or your child. These include:
How long do braces take?
Teeth straightening with braces takes an average of 1 to 2 years, but there's no set timeline for orthodontic treatments, as they can vary for every individual. This will depend on:
- how much your teeth need to be straightened
- the type of braces you choose
- whether your treatment is interrupted
After your braces are removed, you may need to wear a retainer for a certain amount of time.
What can I eat with braces?
You will still be able to eat most of your favourite foods with braces, but your dentist may recommend avoiding very hard and sticky foods in general, as these could damage or dislodge your braces.
You should also avoid consuming too much sugar, as this can increase your risks of tooth decay, gum disease and other oral health problems that could interfere with your treatment.
When your braces are first attached, it's recommended to only have soft foods such as soup, mashed potato, smoothies and yoghurt for at least a few days while your mouth adjusts.
Do braces affect brushing and flossing?
Having braces can make daily oral hygiene more difficult and time-consuming, as you need to clean between all the brackets, but it's important to do it thoroughly.
Your dentist will recommend using a soft-bristled toothbrush to avoid irritating sensitive teeth and gums. If you find traditional floss too hard to use with braces, your dentist can recommend alternatives such as an interdental brush or water flosser.
If you develop cavities, gingivitis or other oral health problems during your orthodontic treatment, this could extend your treatment time or affect your results.
Are braces safe?
Braces won't normally cause problems when they are well fitted and provided by a dentist who is trained and experienced in orthodontics, but it's still important to know the possible risks. These can include:
- cuts, scratches or ulcers from braces rubbing inside the mouth
- the appliance coming loose and causing injuries
- poor oral hygiene if you find it hard to brush and floss with braces
You can lower your risk of brace injuries by:
- choosing a qualified and reputable dentist
- wearing a custom mouthguard when taking part in sports
- making an emergency appointment with your dentist if your braces are loose, damaged or you have signs of an infection
What are the alternatives to braces?
If you're not sure whether braces are right for you or your child, your dentist might discuss other options, depending on your needs, preferences and price range. These may include:
- Clear aligners for minor to moderate orthodontic issues
- Porcelain veneers for minor cosmetic straightening
- Removable plates for younger children
Orthodontic consultation in Brisbane
Find out more about braces and other teeth straightening options by booking a consultation at your local Face Value Dental clinic.
Healthdirect. Dental braces and retainers [Online] 2020 [Accessed April 2022] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-braces-and-retainers