What Does Tightening Braces Do?

Tightening Braces

Published by Dr. Charles Gemmi

A Board Certified Orthodontist and a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics, Dr. Charles Gemmi has been a practicing orthodontist with Orthodontics Limited since 2000 and is a member of the teaching staff at Einstein Medical Center. Orthodontics Limited is a Diamond+ Provider of Invisalign in Philadelphia and Hatboro, PA.

If you are going to your first orthodontist appointment after getting your braces put on, it can seem a little daunting. You don’t know what to expect and you are nervous that it will hurt a lot, especially the brace tightening part. The unknown can be scary, but knowledge is half the battle. Here is what you can expect from the brace tightening process and what it does to your teeth:

Why does the orthodontist tighten the braces?

The sole purpose of wearing braces is of course to straighten crooked teeth and help keep your mouth in perfect alignment. The brackets and wires put pressure on your teeth igniting the cell regeneration process causing the teeth and their support system to move into better alignment. It usually takes the wires a long time to move teeth hence the need to wear braces for as long as you do and the monthly orthodontist appointments. Make sure you never miss an appointment.

More commonly today, exotic thermally activated wires are used. These wires are soft and pliant when cold and grow stiff as they warm up so the orthodontist will place them in your mouth when they are cold and then the wires will stiffen up as they adjust to the warmer temperatures inside your mouth. With these wires, there is no actual tightening needed. It is more of an adjustment process as your current wires are replaced with new wires that are either larger or stiffer, depending on how your orthodontist wants your teeth to move.

What can you expect at your appointment?

While you are wearing braces, you will need to see the orthodontist every 4 to 6 weeks. During that appointment, he or she will tighten or adjust your braces. Although this sounds very painful, all you might feel is a little discomfort afterwards.

The adjustment consists of:

  • First the rubber bands called elastic ligature that hold the brackets to the arch wire are removed.
  • Next the arch wire itself is removed.
  • Then the orthodontist will examine your teeth and their positioning. He or she will let you know if you will need a new arch wire.
  • Finally, either your old arch wire or a new one will be put back onto your brackets and then new elastic ligatures will be added to hold the brackets to the arch wire.

This final step is where you may feel a little discomfort if it is your first time experiencing tightening braces. Each visit you come back for, you will experiences less and less discomfort from the pressure being placed on the teeth. The one thing you should never feel is the arch wire jabbing into your cheek. If you do, have the orthodontist fix it before you leave the office. If you feel it later at home then make an appointment to come back as soon as possible. The arch wire can easily be shortened with clippers and this will prevent the wire from doing damage to the inside of your cheek.

If you are feel some discomfort from the brace tightening after you leave, it is okay to take a little pain medicine like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. It is also a good idea to stick to only soft foods like mashed potatoes or soup for the next couple of days. Other tips for dealing with the discomfort include drinking cold water, applying cold pressure and using an oral anesthetic. The coldness either from drinking the water or directly applying cold pressure to the sore area will produce a numb feeling in your mouth which will ease the pain and reduce any inflammation in your gums. If you prefer heat treatments when you are injured instead, then you can also apply a heat paid to your mouth as well. Just be sure to have a cloth separating your skin from the heat so you don’t burn yourself.  Rinsing out your mouth with warm salt water has also been known to help. You can also apply an oral anesthetic like Orajel directly to your teeth and gums for relief as well. After the first day, you should start to feel a little better each day until the discomfort wanes completely.

While you might be dreading having to go through this every month for the foreseeable future, it is important that you always keep the final endgame in mind. Remember that a beautiful smile that will help boost your self-confidence is at the end of this long road. You won’t have to hide your mouth behind your hands anymore or only smile with tight lips. You will no longer be too ashamed to look at pictures of yourself or to be the social butterfly you were always meant to be. Be patient and trust your orthodontist and the process. In the end, you will be glad you did this for yourself. A beautiful smile is always the most important accessory when you step outside your home.

Braces are typically worn for a couple of years, but the timing can vary. Depending on how your teeth respond to the pressure and if you are able to maintain good oral hygiene with the braces on will determine how long you will need to wear the braces. By following all your orthodontist’s instructions, you will be well on your way to a straighter, more beautiful smile.

Every patient’s response to tightening braces is different and some might not feel any discomfort at all while some patients might be sore for a few days after. Always listen to your body. You know what is normal for you and what is not. You should never be in a lot of pain though and you should never ignore a wire that is sticking into your cheek either. In either of these instances, you should call the orthodontist right away. Don’t think that you have to suffer in silence. It is always important to take care of yourself.

For more information about braces in Center City and orthodontic care, call an orthodontist in Philadelphia.

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16 responses to “What Does Tightening Braces Do?”

  1. Kayla says:

    I just got my top braces and I got my wire tightened today. When I went in my orthodontist said I was doing great cleaning and my teeth have moved a lot. He told me that I skipped the wire I was supposed to get and went up the one above that one. I was wondering if that’s a good sign or not.

  2. Isabel says:

    I just got my braces tightened today and i noticed that my teeth shifted and looked straighter. Is this supposed to happen? I am kind of worried that my teeth aren’t meant to move immediately and the soreness is a bit intense.

    • Jessica says:

      I just got my braces last week and they have already straightened a lot and the pain was, I would say moderate for me and I have a high pain tolerance. From first impression and what I have read, it is like your teeth move the most in the first couple of days and then slows down the closer you get to your next appt. Which is why the pain is more intense in the first couple of days and then doesnt hurt so much after that

      • Sophia schneider says:

        I got braces about four and a half weeks ago. I had a tooth gap between my two top front teeth and it’s completely closed (apart from the bottom, because I fell at school and my tooth broke a few months ago. The fragment is slightly too far to one side), so it just looks really awkward,

  3. Sutton Turner says:

    I am glad you mentioned that when you have braces, you should see the orthodontist every 4-6 weeks. I am getting braces for the first time next week. Thank you for the information on what tightening braces does for your teeth.

  4. Ssush says:

    My ortho says braces are not meant for teeth at the end of the mouth since they are strong and big we cannot move them but they are crooked and troubling me she is not doing anything. Is she right?

    • Heather Foster says:

      I currently wear braces and I do not have brackets on my back 2 molars

    • Maureen Stover says:

      I am 70 years old and got re braces because my teeth had slipped back into their original position since I had braces as a teenager. I have had them about 4 months now and after each adjustment I have no pain or pressure, its the weirdest thing!

  5. Tela says:

    ANYONE! That’s about to get braces , I promise you ! You better eat everything that you love eating cause once you get braces all of the good eating is over with ! Your teeth will be super sore , you won’t be able to bite down on anything , food is going to be getting stuck in your braces which is so annoying. Your braces is going to start scraping the hell out of the inside of your mouth. Just do anything that you can before getting braces

  6. Kim Robinson says:

    So true, I’ve had braces for 6 week’s
    it’s so uncomfortable and you cannot eat what ever you want.
    Morning till night uncomfortable and sore.

  7. wayne hogrefe says:

    i have only top braces when will i get my bottom braces on?

    • Cathy Coppin says:

      @Wayne Hogrefe

      I’m 4 days in of having braces and I also just have my top row. Was told in 5wks I will be fitted with my bottom row.

      … Hang in there!

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