Orthodontic Emergencies

Whether you’re new to braces or have been wearing them for a while, it’s important to have some knowledge about the issues that can occur when undergoing orthodontic treatment. At Lincoln Orthodontics, we want our patients to feel informed and confident in all aspects of the orthodontic process, including how to handle an emergency. While true orthodontic emergencies are rare, they can occur from time to time, and it’s important that you know what to do if a problem does arise.

What do we mean by “true orthodontic emergency?” Basically, this would include any of the following:

    • serious injury or trauma to the face, neck, mouth, teeth, or gums
    • swelling, infection, or bleeding of the gums or mouth
  • severe pain or discomfort in your teeth, mouth, face, or neck

We recommend seeking help as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms while undergoing orthodontic treatment. If you’re a current patient, we welcome you start with our office, but your family dentist can also help treat your dental emergencies. Your general dentist may have additional options to manage your needs in the case of a non-orthodontic dental trauma. Additionally, do not hesitate to go to an urgent care clinic or the emergency room if you feel this is your best option. Some patients worry that the orthodontic process will be interrupted in some way by emergency treatment, but we can always pick up where we left off or adjust things once the problem has been corrected and the emergency has passed.

Treating non-emergency issues at home

We’re often asked how to tell if an issue is worth an immediate ER visit, or if it’s a situation where patients can take a “wait and see” approach. One example of a problem requiring immediate diagnosis and treatment would be something like a fractured tooth. Another good example of this would be any severe pain or swelling around your teeth, jaw, or mouth, since this can be a sign of infection or disease.

Fortunately, these types of emergencies tend to be few and far between! Although it’s helpful to have a plan in place for dealing with an emergency, quite a few oral issues can be remedied from the comfort of your own home. While home remedies aren’t always able to to take care of all pain, discomfort, or irritation, they’re often useful for resolving minor problems, and good at lessening or relieving symptoms until we can see you in our office.

Below you’ll find more information about some of the most common minor “emergencies” or sources of discomfort, and what you can do about them without having to leave the house!

Mouth sores

Some patients seem to be more susceptible to getting mouth sores during orthodontic treatment, and irritation from braces can exacerbate them. If these ulcers show up on your cheeks, lips, tongue, or gums, you can get some relief by using a cotton swab to apply a small amount of topical anesthetic directly to the sore. This can be reapplied as needed, following the instructions included with the packaging. You can also use the wax we provided in your care kit to cover the bracket or aligner area causing irritation–just remember to remove the wax and brush the area and reapply as needed.

Loose or broken brackets, bands, or wires

If any part of your braces comes loose or breaks, please contact our office as soon as possible so we can determine what your next steps should be. While you’re waiting for your appointment, there are a few guidelines you can follow to keep your braces and your mouth safe.

If a band or bracket is broken but still attached to the wire, don’t connect any elastics to it. Try to leave it alone until we see you in the office. If it’s irritating the inside of your mouth, you can cover the offending part with orthodontic wax. If a piece has actually broken off, please place it in a bag and bring it to your appointment.

Misplaced archwire, bracket, or tie

As your teeth begin to move into the positions laid out in your treatment plan, the archwire that connects them may also move. This can sometimes result in it poking out a bit near the back of your mouth, which can cause irritation. Fortunately, this can be remedied by moving the wire into a better spot by using the eraser end of the pencil or a cotton swab.

If it’s the wires or ties that are misplaced, they can often be manipulated back into place by gently using a pair of clean tweezers or the eraser end of a pencil. When wires or brackets shift and irritate your mouth, try a pinch of orthodontic wax over the parts that are poking out. This can help relieve the immediate discomfort, but be sure to contact our office as soon as you can so our doctors are able to determine what the actual problem is and correct it.

Tooth pain or loosening

During orthodontic treatment, your teeth can loosen slightly, and as scary as that sounds, it’s actually exactly what we want them to do. That said, this movement may occasionally cause some slight tenderness, especially right after your braces are put on, or following an adjustment appointment. Salt water rinses are a popular home remedy, and doing them twice a day during soreness can be really beneficial. Simply mix one teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water, then swish it around your mouth for about 30 seconds. A warm washcloth or a warm heating pad placed on the outside of your jaw can offer some relief as well. Some patients find relief in over-the-counter pain medicines like Tylenol or ibuprofen, similar to what you would take for a headache.

Broken Retainer – bonded or removable

After orthodontic treatment, retainers are routinely placed. The retainers used are specific to your individual treatment plan and may be bonded (“fixed” or “permanent”) or removable. If a bonded retainer comes loose, please continue to wear your removable retainer full-time until you are able to be seen at our office for a diagnosis and repair. This will prevent tooth movement and may be more comfortable to protect your tongue from irritation. If your removable retainer breaks or cracks, please contact our office and make arrangements to have the retainer replaced as soon as your schedule allows. Retainers – both bonded and removable – work together to prevent orthodontic relapse, as there is a chance your teeth will continue to shift throughout your lifetime.

Lincoln Orthodontics is here to help

Although true orthodontic emergencies are rare, they do happen, and you should seek treatment from an experienced and qualified orthodontist as soon as possible if you experience one. But we know that even minor emergency situations can be upsetting. That’s why our team is committed to keeping your orthodontic experience as safe, stress-free, and rewarding as possible! Our skilled staff create beautiful smiles every day for patients of all ages, and that process doesn’t have to be painful. If you have been experiencing any discomfort with your braces, or any other aspect of your orthodontic treatment, get in touch with us today. We’ll get to the bottom of it, and put a smile back on your face in no time!