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If you’re about to become one of the 4 million people in the United States and Canada who wear braces to straighten crooked teeth, improve your bitea, close gaps, and give you a more attractive smile, you may have a few questions about the process.

So what’s the first day going to be like?

Getting your braces on takes one to two hours. Depending on your teeth and the kind of braces you’re going to wear, the process for putting them on could happen in one appointment or two.

Some parts of the process could involve a sense of pressure. But overall, getting braces put on doesn’t hurt.

Spacers

If your back teeth are very close together, your dentist might put spacers or rubber bands between them about a week before your braces are applied. This step is to create enough space for bands to fit around your back teeth.

The down side of spacers is that your back teeth and jaw will probably be sore as your teeth move to accommodate the spacing devices.

Starting clean

Before your orthodontist puts your braces on, your teeth should be really clean. Once your teeth have been thoroughly cleaned and dried, the orthodontist can apply the braces.

Gluing on the brackets

Brackets are the small metal or ceramic devices that hold the wires in place on your teeth.

To attach the brackets, the orthodontist places a small amount of glue in the center of each tooth. Then they shine a blue light on your teeth to set the glue. The glue usually tastes bad but it isn’t toxic to you.

The next step is to place a bracket in the center of the tooth.

Sliding on the bands

To anchor the braces, the orthodontist puts metal bands around your back molars.

After choosing a band that’s the right size for your tooth, the orthodontist applies some glue to the band, sets the glue with the blue light, and slides the band onto your tooth.

Maneuvering the band onto your molar may involve a little bit of twisting or pressure. Let your orthodontist know if you’re feeling a pinching sensation. They can adjust the band so it’s comfortable.

Attaching the archwires

Once the brackets and bands are firmly in place, the orthodontist attaches the archwire to the brackets. They do this by wrapping a small rubber band (ligature) around each bracket to hold the wire in place.

The rubber bands are the fun part for many people because they get to choose the color they want.

The orthodontist then snips the end of the archwire to be sure it doesn’t touch the gums at the back of your mouth.

Lingual braces have many of the same components as conventional braces, but they are applied to the back of the teeth, on the “tongue side” of the mouth, instead of the front of the teeth.

Because of the special placement, putting them on may take a little longer than conventional braces, and they must be applied by specially trained orthodontists.

If you’ve chosen to use clear alignment trays to reposition your teeth, you won’t need bands or wires. You still need to have an impression of your teeth made so that your trays will be a perfect match for your teeth on day one of treatment.

When you go to the orthodontist, you’ll try on the alignment trays, make any necessary adjustments, and learn how to wear and care for your appliances and teeth during the alignment process.

Attachments

Some of your teeth might need special attention because of where they are.

To make sure that all of your teeth can move efficiently into place, your dentist may glue small, tooth-colored attachments to your teeth. These attachments act like handles that the alignment trays can grip to guide teeth in the desired direction.

Your dentist might also attach small, tooth-colored mounds of bonding material to the teeth near the back of your mouth. These “buttons” can then be used to link your upper and lower teeth with small rubber bands that help move your teeth into the right position.

New alignment trays

Every one to two weeks, you will visit your dentist or orthodontist to check your progress and to pick up new trays. Just like with metal braces, new trays can sometimes make your teeth sore for a few days afterward.

After you get your braces on, within an hour or two, you will probably feel some discomfort. You might only notice the pain when you eat, or you could have a generalized headache or jaw discomfort for several days.

You could try an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicine like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to ease the pain. You could also try an oral anesthetic like Orajel or Anbesol to numb the area. Shop for dental pain relief.

Foods to eat the first few days

For the first few days after you get your braces put on or adjusted, eat soft foods to minimize pain from chewing. These foods should be easy to eat:

  • yogurt
  • oatmeal
  • mashed potatoes and mashed cauliflower
  • soft-cooked vegetables
  • fish
  • scrambled eggs
  • soft fruit like berries and bananas
  • macaroni and cheese
  • ice cream, frozen yogurt, and smoothies

You may also have sore places in your mouth where the brackets or wires rub against the insides of your cheeks. Use the wax your orthodontist gave you to cover the parts of the braces that are causing pain.

You could also try rinsing with a saltwater solution or applying a topical anesthetic like Anbesol or Orajel to the sore spots.

Within about a month, your mouth will have adjusted to the braces, and you won’t experience this kind of soreness.

The main thing you’ll notice is that your teeth will start gradually moving into place, which is the reason you’re wearing braces. But you’ll also adopt a new daily dental care routine after your braces are applied.

To prevent cavities and stains on the surface of your teeth, you need to learn a new way to brush and floss. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that you clean your teeth multiple times a day — even if you’re away from home.

At a minimum, swish with water after eating or whenever you’ve had something sugary to drink. And consider using special tools like a water flosser or an interproximal brush to get underneath the archwire and between your teeth.

Foods to avoid with braces

For as long as you have braces, you will also want to avoid foods that could pop off your brackets. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends you stay away from eating hard, chewy, and sticky foods such as:

  • nuts
  • popcorn
  • corn on the cob
  • ice
  • hard candy
  • chewing gum
  • caramels

The two biggest days in the life of someone who wears braces are the day they get their braces on and the day they get their braces off. Getting braces on doesn’t hurt, and it only takes an hour or two.

If you’re wearing conventional braces, the process involves applying bands, brackets, and wires. If you’re wearing lingual braces, the application involves the same basic parts, but it could take a little longer because of the placement on the inside of your teeth.

If you’ve chosen clear alignment trays, you won’t need brackets or bands, but you may need attachments, buttons, and elastic bands between your upper and lower teeth.

Afterward, you may have some pain, but it can usually be relieved by OTC medicines and eating soft foods for a few days.