Orthodontic treatment with braces has many benefits, including a beautifully aligned smile that is also fully functional. However, it can also come with a few challenges! One such challenge can be finding and maintaining an effective dental hygiene routine. When you’re wearing traditional metal braces, cleaning your teeth thoroughly can be a little tricky since you’re having to navigate around brackets, wires, and bands. Flossing properly can also be a bit of a chore. If you aren’t able to successfully remove the plaque from your teeth daily, it can build up into a kind of sticky, invisible film that produces bacteria. This bacteria may lead to a minor gum disease known as gingivitis.

Gingivitis is common, and anyone can develop it, not just those wearing braces. It can sometimes accompany orthodontic treatment, but fortunately, it’s reversible. That means there’s no need to wait until you’re finished with treatment to get rid of it! At Sawgrass Orthodontics, we’re dedicated to providing the most stress-free and rewarding orthodontic experience possible for all our patients. That means looking out for your dental health as well as your oral issues. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly gingivitis is, why you’re more prone to it if you’re in braces, and what we can do to help you avoid it.

Braces plus plaque can add up to gingivitis

Not only is it easier to accumulate plaque when you’re wearing braces, it can be a lot more harmful if you do. This is due in large part to the way that braces push food particles into the brackets when you bite. While much of this will rinse out easily, some of the debris that gets caught in the tiny spaces between your gums, teeth, and brackets can be very difficult to clean effectively. Bacteria live and breed in plaque, so any time there are pockets of it near the gums, it can cause gingivitis, which is essentially an immune reaction. The resulting inflammation and swelling is an effort by your gums to keep bacteria at bay.

Orthodontics themselves are a form of what we call controlled inflammation. By helping the gums become more relaxed, the braces are better able to guide the teeth into their new and improved positions. Because your gums are already inflamed and under stress when you’re in braces, it doesn’t take much for bacteria to irritate them even further, causing an immune reaction.

Some of the symptoms that can accompany gingivitis include:

  • red, irritated, or swollen gums
  • minor bleeding after brushing and flossing
  • tenderness in the gums
  • noticeably bad breath
  • loose teeth

If gingivitis is left untreated over time, a condition called periodontitis may develop. This is the more severe form of gum disease. Without treatment, the body will attempt to naturally fight off the byproducts of bacteria. It does this by breaking down the bone and connective tissues that hold the teeth in place, causing the gums to begin receding, and forming pockets in between the teeth. This can lead to possible bleeding, pain, and serious damage if it not addressed and corrected.

Preventing gingivitis while wearing braces

It’s easy for inflammation to get out of hand if you aren’t vigilant about your dental hygiene routine while undergoing orthodontic treatment with braces. Normally, brushing and flossing daily is enough to keep gingivitis at bay. But braces can make brushing more difficult, and flossing can be time-consuming. The good news is, there are a number of products available to help orthodontic patients keep their teeth clean and healthy throughout the treatment process!

A great example of this interdental brushes. Several studies have shown that using an interdental brush is one of the best ways for braces patients to remove plaque. These are thin, round, or cone-shaped brushes with a small head of bristles that are held on by wire. Some of them have short or specially shaped handles that make them easier to grip, while others have long handles that are similar to toothbrushes. Because they’re designed to be inserted between the teeth, interdental brushes can reach right into those tight spaces where plaque is likely to build up. They can also be reused several times as long as you brush after each use just like a regular toothbrush. They come in several different sizes, so you’re guaranteed to find one that fits comfortably and gently between your teeth without you putting any force behind it.

There are other actions you can take to improve your oral hygiene and help prevent gingivitis while in braces, such as:

  • drink water throughout the day, and especially with meals, in order to help wash food particles away
  • invest in a Waterpik, a product that uses a pressurized water stream to “floss” teeth
  • gargle with warm salt water to reduce any irritation that occurs
  • eat a healthy, varied diet
  • use an antibacterial mouthwash

When mouthwash is added to a regular regimen of brushing and flossing, it can be an effective form of preventative dental care thanks to its bacteria-killing abilities. If you’ve looked at the oral care aisle of any store lately, you’ll know there are too many mouthwashes on the market to count! Here’s what you should be looking for to help prevent and combat gingivitis.

Breath fresheners

Some mouthwashes focus on getting rid of unpleasant breath odors, or at least masking them. Many of these brands use antibacterial ingredients as a means of eliminating bad breath, so they can be useful in preventing gingivitis. It’s worth noting, however, that a growing number of new mouthwashes focused on freshening breath have chlorine dioxide as a primary ingredient. While this can be effective at neutralizing the kind of bacteria that cause bad breath, it isn’t likely to do much about the bacteria that cause plaque and gingivitis.

Antibacterial rinses

Antibacterial ingredients can be found in many over-the-counter types of mouthwash and rinses. These products also often contain essential oils that can kill plaque-causing bacteria, such as thymol, eucalyptol, methyl salicylate, and menthol. When combined with proper brushing and flossing, this can that can help to prevent gum disease.

Prescription strength mouthwashes

Antibacterial mouthwashes and rinses are effective over-the-counter items to fight gingivitis, but they aren’t as strong as mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine, because they don’t last as long inside the mouth. Chlorhexidine mouthwashes are only available with a prescription, and because they can cause staining to your teeth, they should be monitored by your dentist or by an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Kristen and Dr. Penny.

Laughing teen with orthodontic braces

Keep your smile straight and your teeth healthy with Sawgrass Orthodontics

By following our advice and keeping a close eye on your oral hygiene habits, you should be able to spot any troublesome signs of plaque, bacteria, and gingivitis before they get out of hand. Acting on these early gives you the best chance at a healthy mouth and beautiful smile! Don’t be tempted to get lazy with your oral hygiene routine, because regular brushing and flossing is still the best way to prevent plaque from breeding bacteria in your mouth. It might take a little extra effort when you’re wearing braces, but it’s worth it to keep your teeth and gums clean and free of plaque and bacteria.

If you’ve experienced any potential symptoms of gingivitis, or if you’ve felt any major discomfort with your braces, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us! We’re committed to helping you have the best orthodontic experience, and are always happy to discuss any questions or concerns you have. Sawgrass Orthodontics is here to keep your smile on track!

- Dr. Langford

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