Braces are a rite of passage for the American teenager. Adult teeth often come in crooked following the loss of baby teeth, and orthodontia is used to correct the crowded, overlapping and crooked growth. Toothpaste manufacturer Colgate estimates that three million teens in the United States are wearing braces at any one time. Physical pain often accompanies the emotional adjustment that must be made when braces are applied. The leading side effect of the pulling and realignment caused by braces are swollen and painful gums.
More Vigilant Oral Care
Dr. Jeff Donnelly, a Massachusetts orthodontist, writes that swollen gums are a telltale sign of poor plaque removal. Braces crowd the surface of the tooth, making it more difficult to brush and clean the remaining exposed areas, including the gum line. Untreated plaque buildup can lead to gingivitis and periodontal disease. Dr. Donnelly reminds patients to use fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash per the dentist's instructions, and to continue flossing.
Change Your Diet
Braces pull the teeth into a straight alignment, which may cause pain and swelling. Eating hard or rough-textured foods can exacerbate the problem. South Carolina orthodontists Drs. Roland and Roberta Gardner recommend avoiding raw vegetables and fruits, as well as crusty bread. The pressure required to bite through hard foods can make the pain of swollen gums worse.
Soothe the Gums
Drs. Gardner also note that massaging the gums can relieve swelling and pain. They suggest using a soft toothbrush with no toothpaste to gently massage both gums and teeth for about 30 minutes. Dr. Donnelly suggests rinsing often with a saltwater solution of 1/2 teaspoon salt to a glass of warm water. The saltwater cleans the gums while decreasing inflammation.
Change Your Habits
Bad habits, like nail biting or pen chewing, can have the same effect as chewing hard food. As the tooth clenches on the object, the gums absorb the pressure and become more swollen and painful. Drs. Gardner suggest avoiding these habits, as well as biting your lip and/or pushing your tongue against your teeth. It is also recommended that adults wearing braces avoid smokeless tobacco, like snuff and chew, and drinking alcohol. These substances can irritate the gums and cause further pain and swelling.