Eating can be tricky when your teeth are topped (or backed) by braces. If you're a so-called "brace face" at the moment, you may be wondering what food and drinks it's safe to have — and which snacks you should avoid until the braces come off.
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Thankfully, there are only a few things you truly shouldn't eat or drink when you have braces on your teeth. For example, you can still enjoy snacks like apples, oranges, chips and cookies, as long as you're careful.
Read on to learn more.
Dental braces are traditionally made from metal brackets and wires that sit on the front of the teeth, according to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). More modern metal versions are lingual, meaning that they're placed on the inside so as to be less visible. Other modern braces are made of tooth-colored ceramic. No matter what type of braces you have, certain foods and beverages will need to be avoided until the braces are permanently removed.
Items that are inappropriate for those who wear braces to consume or chew fall into two basic categories: Things that can bend, break, dislodge or otherwise damage the braces themselves, and things that are difficult to clean off braced teeth and that can therefore permanently stain or damage the teeth.
It's important that you abstain from putting things that could damage your braces or your teeth into your mouth. Doing so will prevent injury, keep your tooth enamel healthy and ensure that you won't need to wear the braces for an extended time.
As it turns out, the list of things you truly cannot eat and drink with braces is actually quite short. As long as you bite and chew carefully, you'll find that you can still enjoy most of your favorite foods and snacks.
If your braces are brand new (read: your mouth is still sore from the procedure), the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that you start out by eating soft, semi-solid items such as soup, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, smoothies, pasta, tofu and cooked or canned fruit and veggies. "The first few days are the worst, so try eating softer foods ... until the soreness passes," they advise.
"Successful orthodontic treatment depends on three things – pressure, time and cooperation," observes the AAO. "Patient cooperation is needed by keeping teeth clean [and] avoiding food items that break the brackets."
Prep Your Food
Even after your initial tooth-soreness passes, you should prepare your food in a way that makes it easier to bite and chew, so as to prevent damage to your braces. "Any food that you need to bite into to eat is prime for breaking braces," notes the ADA. "You can get around this by cutting the food, such as corn off the cob or rib meat off the bone, or slicing apples and chopping carrots into small, bite-size pieces."
Once you have braces, you will have to alter your chewing style to avoid snapping a bracket on hard or chewy items. Try to get into the habit of chewing all foods with your back teeth, and never use your front teeth to rip a bite of food off a larger piece.
If your braces get damaged and you don't get them repaired right away, your treatment time may be lengthened. Your orthodontist will need to restart the process of slowly tightening the mechanism to get your teeth into the correct position.
What to Avoid
The ADA's list of foods to avoid includes too-hard, too-soft, too-sticky, too-sugary, and too-acidic items. Some can damage your braces. Others can damage your teeth.
Popcorn should be avoided because the hulls can get stuck between your brackets and cause gum inflammation and infection. Biting into a fresh apple is not allowed, and neither is chewing ice. Hard candies such as peppermints and lollipops are restricted unless you suck on them instead of biting them.
Thick pretzels, potato chips, tortilla chips, hard cookies and other hard baked or fried snacks (including pizza crust) are mostly off-limits. However, some types — such as certain baked-chip brands — are OK. In addition, you may be able to soften some "banned" snacks to make them braces-friendly. Talk to your orthodontist if you want to enjoy a snack you're not sure is safe.
Soft and Sticky Snacks
If you have braces, you also should stay away from goodies like taffy, caramels, gummies and fruit-flavored snack rolls, which can all stick to your teeth, your wires and your brackets and damage your braces. Instead, choose snacks that melt easily, such as chocolate bars without nuts.
Fresh, chewy bread products such as bagels and soft white bread can also get stuck in your braces, and many dentists recommend that braces wearers avoid them. Ask your orthodontist for advice.
Chewing gum is a big nope if you have braces because the gum can get stuck on your brackets and around the wires. Aside from causing a general mess that is difficult to clean, gum can also damage your braces and possibly cause them to dislodge.
If you used gum to freshen your breath before wearing braces, try brushing your teeth more frequently throughout the day or using an orthodontist-approved mouthwash instead.
Sweet snacks don't just endanger your braces — they can also endanger your teeth. Your dentist will likely recommend you cut back on sugary foods like cake and cookies, because pieces of them can become trapped in your braces and cause tooth decay. "Eating too many sugary foods with braces can lead to plaque build-up around your brackets that could permanently stain or damage your teeth," cautions the ADA.
Foods that have high acidity, such citrus fruits, carbonated water and soda, can also damage your teeth and cause discoloration. "Most soft drinks have phosphoric and citric acids that wear away tooth enamel," notes the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC).
If you eat or drink a lot of highly acidic beverages when you have braces, you might be able to see where the brackets were after the braces are removed. "The most important thing to know about white marks on teeth [post-braces] is that they are preventable," says the AAO. "All you have to do to be white mark-free is to keep teeth clean and stay away from some foods and beverages. It's that simple."
Anything that accelerates tooth decay should be given a wide berth when you have braces, because you're already fighting an uphill battle against tooth decay and tooth-enamel damage. Substances that dry out the mouth — such as alcohol and medicines like inhalers and antihistamines — invite tooth decay and should therefore be avoided when possible, per the URMC.
According to the Mayo Clinic, dry mouth and decreased saliva can have a huge negative impact on the health of your gums and teeth. Problems caused by dry mouth include cracked lips, split skin at the corners of your mouth, gum disease, tooth decay, mouth sores, thrush and increased plaque.
This means that having plenty of saliva flowing at all times is crucial. "Next to good home dental care, [saliva] is your best natural defense against cavities and gum disease," explains the URMC. "About 20 minutes after you eat something that has sugars or starches, your saliva begins to reduce the effects of the acids and enzymes attacking your teeth. Saliva contains traces of calcium and phosphate. So it also restores minerals to areas of teeth that have lost them from the bacterial acids."
- American Dental Association: "Braces"
- American Association of Orthodontists: "Adult's Guide to Orthodontics"
- American Dental Association: "Braces and Orthodontics"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "The Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dry Mouth"
- American Dental Association: "What (and How) to Eat When You're Having Dental Issues"
- American Association of Orthodontists: "How Orthodontics Works: Braces"
- American Association of Orthodontists: "Will Orthodontic Treatment Cause White Marks on My Teeth?"