Approximately 3 million teenagers wear braces, according to research by toothpaste manufacturer Colgate. These orthodontic devices are used to correct tooth and jaw alignment, including overbites, underbites, crossbites and crowding. Metal brackets connected to a wire are mounted to the rear molars. The molars act as anchors for the wire, which when threaded through the brackets, pull the teeth straight. While braces improve tooth alignment, there are some dangers you should be aware of before heading to the orthodontist.
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Jaw Pain and Headaches
The primary side effect of braces is pain and it can come from two directions. When the orthodontist tightens the braces during regular appointments, it adds tension to the jaw. This tightening helps the alignment of the teeth, but puts tremendous pressure on the mouth and face. According to the Online Guide to Braces, the body responds to the shifting of teeth as it would to other inflammations, by shifting blood cells to the region and secreting proteins related to healing injury. This response often triggers the feeling of pain in the mouth and head. While the pulling causes your head to feel tense, the trauma to the gums leads to greater sensitivity to the mouth tissues. Chewing or biting down on hard or rough items can cause gum pain and bleeding, as the gums are already irritated.
Tissue Damage Inside of the Mouth
The Online Braces Guide reports that within the first few weeks of wearing braces, you will experience the formation of sores on the inside of the mouth. The insides of your lips and cheeks take time to adjust to the crowding caused by the steel brackets and wires. Rubbing of these tissues against the braces can cause abrasions, sores, bleeding and pain.
Open sores in the mouth leaves you susceptible to other infections. On his website, Nebraska dentist Dan Peterson cautions users against engaging in oral sex while wearing braces. "Metal braces can scratch genital areas or rip a hole in a condom," according to the website. This can increase one's chances of catching an STD, such as HIV/AIDS, chlamydia, or hepatitis B or C.
Damage to the brackets on teeth and molars is rare, but the thin wire binding them all together can break. The Online Braces Guide cautions users to avoid some foods: Hard foods like nuts, candy, and ice cubes or foods that must be bitten into or from a bone or cob—including corn, spare ribs or chicken wings—can result in the accidental breakage of wires. Broken wires can scrape and poke the inside of your mouth, causing cuts and bleeding. Breakages and delays in repair can also prevent progress.
Orthodontists will take periodic X-rays to measure movement and progress as well as a condition called root resorption—the shortening of the tooth's roots. Brace Place, the practice of British orthodontist Adel Bou Saba, reports that some slight changes in root length will occur with orthodontic treatment and that dramatic root loss is a sign of "unnecessarily extended orthodontic treatment."
Increased Likelihood for Tooth Decay
Teeth with braces require extra care, as the brackets and wires can trap food particles. The formation of plaque can become troublesome around the bracket and the glue that holds it to the tooth. On their website, West Virginia orthodontists Roland Fulcher and Roberta Gardner write that plaque buildup can cause discoloration, bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease. The doctors recommend brushing after each meal, flossing at least once per day and using a Waterpik to keep plaque from hardening into tartar.