Wearing braces is a common method of straightening crooked teeth and properly aligning your bite.

Before you get braces, your teeth have to be ready for them. One way that your orthodontist may prepare your mouth for all the hardware of braces is by inserting spacers between some of your teeth.

If you need spacers, you won’t have them for very long, but you need to be sure to take care of them while you’re wearing them.

Most people who get traditional braces will need to have spacers, which are also called orthodontic separators.

Traditional braces involve brackets cemented to the surface of your teeth and connected with wires.

The wires are anchored to metal bands, which look like rings, around some of your back teeth. Those back teeth are often wedged very closely together.

The purpose of spacers is to create a little space between certain teeth, usually molars, so that your orthodontist can install metal bands around those teeth.

Spacers can consist of a different materials. The most common types of spacers are:

  • Rubber spacers. These are essentially small rubber bands that are put in between your molars to create a little extra space between them.
  • Metal spacers. These may look like small metal rings.

Spacers are just the first component of having braces, so they’ll be included with the cost of your braces. Based on American Dental Association survey results, the cost for comprehensive treatment with braces ranges from about $5,000 to about $7,000.

Various options for payment are available. If you have dental insurance, check to see whether it covers orthodontic treatment — and if so, how much of the total cost you might be responsible for.

You may also be able to use funds from a flexible spending account or health savings account. Many orthodontists also offer payment plans to help spread out the cost.

If you need spacers, you’ll get them about a week before you get braces.

To insert rubber spacers, your orthodontist uses a small tool or dental floss to stretch out each spacer first. Then, after you open wide, they will wiggle each spacer into place between your molars.

During the process, you may feel some pressure and a pinching sensation as the spacer gets down toward your gumline.

How spacers are removed

The removal of spacers is a fairly simple process that shouldn’t take very long. Your orthodontist basically just pops them out of place with a small tool. If the spacers have done their job of making space, they should come out fairly easily.

Pain is different for everyone. One person might consider spacers to be very painful, while someone else may feel they’re mostly just irritating.

But pain is a common complaint among people who wear braces and those who get spacers prior to having braces put in. The good news is that the pain tends to dissipate over time.

Research suggests that it does get better pretty quickly. A 2015 study of 62 adolescents looked at the pain they felt with spacers. The study reported that the first 2 days after getting spacers were the worst in terms of pain.

However, you might not get to the point where you forget that you have spacers in your mouth. You may still have the sensation that something is caught between your back teeth.

If you do experience some pain, your orthodontist may advise you to take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), to dull the ache.

You can also try rinsing with a warm salt water mixture (1 tsp. salt to 8 oz. of water) three to four times per day to relieve the discomfort.

Orthodontists typically request that people with braces steer clear of certain foods. These are typically hard or sticky foods, such as:

  • candy like toffee, caramel, and gummy bears
  • chewing gum
  • food that requires a lot of chewing, like steak

It’s a good idea to avoid these same foods when you have spacers in your mouth. Look at it as practice for having braces.

If you’re wondering how to brush and floss your teeth while you have those spacers in your mouth, the short answer is very carefully.

First, rinse your mouth out with water. Next, gently brush all surfaces of your teeth with your toothbrush, taking special care with those back teeth. Rinse with water again.

Finally, you can floss your teeth, with one caveat: Don’t try to floss the areas where the spacers are located. You might accidentally dislodge one.

The most important things you can do while you have spacers is watch what you eat and be careful when caring for your teeth. Also, don’t pick or pull at them to avoid accidentally dislodging one.

You won’t have the spacers, or separators, in your mouth for very long. If everything goes according to plan, you’ll probably have them for a week or two before your orthodontist removes them and puts metal bands around your back teeth.

Your spacers might fall out before you return for your next appointment. If this happens, notify your orthodontist right away. You may need to get another set installed, or your orthodontist might decide that you already have enough space between your teeth.

Spacers are just the first step on the road to straighter, more evenly aligned teeth. You won’t have them for very long since they’re designed to prepare your back teeth for the bands that will soon be placed there.

If you have any problems with your spacers, call your orthodontist. And go easy on your teeth in the meantime.