How to Handle Orthodontic Emergencies

April 11, 2024

When you're wearing braces or any orthodontic device, life throws you a curveball sometimes – an orthodontic emergency. These aren't rare, and they range from a tiny wire poking your cheek to something a bit scarier, like a bracket that's come loose or even pain that just won't quit. 

Knowing what you're up against and how to deal with it can really take the edge off. After all, who needs extra stress? 

Common Types of Orthodontic Emergencies

Below are the common orthodontic emergencies you may encounter during your treatment process:

Loose or Broken Brackets, Bands, and Wires

Among the most common orthodontic emergencies are issues with the hardware itself: loose or broken brackets, bands, and wires. 

These components are critical to guiding your teeth into their new positions, and any disruption can potentially delay your progress.

  • Loose Brackets: Brackets are the metal or ceramic pieces attached to each tooth. They can become loose due to various reasons, such as eating hard or sticky foods or an injury to the mouth. A loose bracket may not immediately cause discomfort, but it's crucial to address it promptly to avoid any impact on your treatment timeline.
  • Broken Bands: Bands are the metal rings placed around certain teeth, typically molars, to anchor other parts of the braces. A broken band can compromise the structural integrity of your braces, leading to discomfort and potentially altering the direction of tooth movement.
  • Wires: Wires connect the brackets and bands, applying the pressure needed to move teeth. A broken or protruding wire can poke the inside of your mouth, causing irritation or injury. While a minor annoyance at first, it can lead to more significant discomfort if not corrected.

How To Fix

In the event of any of these issues, it's important to contact your orthodontist. They can advise you on immediate steps to take for comfort and schedule an appointment for repair. 

Temporary solutions might include using orthodontic wax to cover sharp edges or gently pushing a protruding wire into a more comfortable position with a clean pencil eraser.

While these situations can be unsettling, they are manageable with the right approach and timely care from your orthodontist. 

Keeping a small dental care kit with you, including orthodontic wax, a clean pencil eraser, and a small mirror, can be invaluable for addressing minor issues until professional help is available.

Displaced or Poking Archwires

A common challenge in the realm of orthodontic emergencies involves the archwire—the main wire that connects all the brackets and guides the movement of your teeth. 

Displaced or poking archwires can not only cause discomfort but also interfere with the intended direction of tooth movement, potentially delaying your progress toward that perfect smile.

  • Displaced Archwires: Archwires can become displaced for several reasons, including improper care, eating hard or sticky foods, or during physical activities. When an archwire is displaced, it can lead to uneven pressure on your teeth, which might result in discomfort or a setback in your treatment.
  • Poking Archwires: As your teeth shift and adjust, the end of the archwire may start poking out at the back of the braces, irritating the soft tissues in your mouth. This irritation can range from mildly annoying to quite painful, impacting your ability to eat and speak comfortably.

How to Fix

In dealing with these issues, the first step is to apply orthodontic wax to the offending wire, providing a temporary barrier between the wire and your mouth's soft tissues. This can offer immediate relief from discomfort. 

However, it's essential to follow up with your orthodontist for a more permanent fix. They may need to adjust or trim the archwire to ensure your treatment continues smoothly and without pain.

If you find yourself facing a displaced or poking archwire, avoid the temptation to cut the wire yourself. Improper handling could lead to swallowing or inhaling small pieces of the wire. Instead, rely on professional help to address the issue safely and effectively.

Lost or Damaged Aligners or Retainers

In the landscape of orthodontic emergencies, lost or damaged aligners or retainers hold a significant spot. These appliances are pivotal in not just moving teeth into their desired position but also ensuring they stay put after treatment. 

When an aligner or retainer is lost or damaged, it can halt the progress of your treatment or jeopardize the stability of your results.

  • Lost Aligners: Misplacing an aligner can be distressing, given their role in the step-by-step movement of your teeth. Without the constant pressure provided by the aligner, teeth can begin to drift back to their original positions, potentially undoing weeks of progress.
  • Damaged Retainers: Similarly, retainers are crucial for maintaining the alignment of your teeth post-treatment. A cracked, warped, or otherwise damaged retainer can't perform its job effectively, putting your long-term results at risk.

How to Fix

If you find yourself without a usable aligner or retainer, it's crucial to contact your orthodontist as soon as possible. 

They can provide guidance on your next steps, which may include wearing a previous aligner in the series (for Invisalign users) or quickly fabricating a new retainer to prevent any regression in your treatment.

In the meantime, maintaining excellent oral hygiene and being mindful of your eating habits can help minimize any potential movement of your teeth until you receive a replacement. Remember, quick action can make a significant difference in preserving the hard-earned progress towards your perfect smile.

Oral Irritation and Sores

Oral irritation and sores are among the more common discomforts associated with orthodontic treatment, but when they escalate, they can become orthodontic emergencies. The hardware necessary for straightening teeth, including braces and other appliances, can sometimes rub against the inside of the mouth, leading to irritation, sores, or even ulcers. 

These issues are not only uncomfortable but can also interfere with eating, speaking, and maintaining oral hygiene.

The primary culprits behind oral irritation are the brackets and wires of braces that can poke and scrape against the cheeks, lips, and tongue. Especially in the initial stages of treatment, your mouth needs time to adjust to the presence of these foreign objects.

How to Fix

Fortunately, most cases of oral irritation can be managed effectively at home. Applying orthodontic wax to the offending parts of your braces can create a smooth barrier that protects the soft tissues of your mouth. 

Over-the-counter pain relief gels can also be applied directly to the sores to numb the area and provide relief. Moreover, rinsing with a saline solution or a specialty mouthwash designed for oral wounds can help accelerate the healing process.

If the irritation or sores persist despite home remedies, or if you notice signs of infection such as increased pain, swelling, or fever, it's important to contact your orthodontist. Persistent sores may require more targeted treatment to prevent infection and ensure they heal properly.

Severe Pain or Discomfort

In the journey of orthodontic treatment, experiencing some level of discomfort is not uncommon, especially following adjustments. However, when pain escalates beyond the typical soreness and ventures into severe or prolonged discomfort, it enters the realm of orthodontic emergencies. 

Such intense pain is not a normal part of the orthodontic process and can indicate underlying issues that require immediate professional attention.

It’s essential to differentiate between the expected mild soreness after an adjustment and severe pain. The former is a normal reaction as your teeth move, often manageable with over-the-counter pain relievers and soft foods. 

Severe pain, however, can be debilitating, affecting your ability to carry out daily activities and indicating possible complications such as misaligned wires, an infection, or issues with the pressure applied to your teeth.

How to Fix

If you encounter severe pain, initial remedies include applying a cold compress to the affected area to reduce swelling and inflammation, and taking over-the-counter pain medication as directed. These measures can provide temporary relief but do not replace the need for a professional evaluation.

Any episode of severe pain warrants a call to your orthodontist. They can determine the cause of your discomfort and make necessary adjustments to your treatment plan. Ignoring severe pain can lead to further complications, potentially extending your treatment time or causing irreversible damage to your teeth or gums.

Read Also: How to Manage Invisalign Pain

Preventing Orthodontic Emergencies

While not all orthodontic emergencies can be avoided, many can be prevented with proper care and precautions. 

Being proactive about your orthodontic health can significantly reduce the risk of encountering emergencies, ensuring a smoother and more comfortable treatment journey. Here are strategies to help prevent common orthodontic emergencies:

  • Adhere to Dietary Guidelines: One of the most effective ways to prevent damage to your orthodontic appliances is to follow the dietary guidelines provided by your orthodontist. Avoiding hard, sticky, and chewy foods can prevent bracket breakage, bent wires, and other appliance damages
  • Maintain Rigorous Oral Hygiene: Keeping your teeth and orthodontic appliances clean is crucial. Regular brushing and flossing prevent the buildup of plaque and debris, which can lead to issues such as cavities and gum disease, complicating your orthodontic treatment.
  • Wear a Mouthguard: If you're involved in sports or activities that could result in a blow to the face, wearing a mouthguard is essential. A mouthguard can protect your braces or aligners and prevent injuries to your mouth.
  • Regular Orthodontic Check-Ups: Attend all scheduled orthodontic appointments. These check-ups allow your orthodontist to make necessary adjustments and catch potential issues early, before they escalate into emergencies.
  • Use Orthodontic Wax: Applying orthodontic wax to areas of your appliance that are causing irritation can prevent sores and ulcers from developing, which, if left untreated, could lead to more severe issues.
  • Know How to Handle Minor Issues: Familiarize yourself with basic care for common orthodontic issues. Knowing how to temporarily fix a loose wire or apply wax to a sharp bracket can be invaluable.
  • Emergency Kit: Keep an orthodontic emergency kit handy. This should include orthodontic wax, sterile tweezers, a small mirror, and the contact information for your orthodontist.

Final Word

Don't let orthodontic emergencies throw a wrench in your journey to a perfect smile! Regular check-ups are your first line of defense, ensuring your treatment is progressing as planned and helping to catch potential issues before they escalate. 

If something feels off, or if you're experiencing discomfort that seems out of the ordinary, it's crucial to reach out to your orthodontist immediately. Prompt action can prevent minor issues from turning into major setbacks.

For our readers in Atlanta, GA, or Decatur, GA, Quest Orthodontics is here to support you through every step of your orthodontic journey. Whether you're facing an emergency or just due for a check-up, our team is committed to providing the care you need when you need it. 

Beyond emergency care, we specialize in a range of orthodontic services, including braces and Invisalign, tailored to meet your unique needs and ensure the best possible outcome for your smile.

So, schedule your in-person assessment today to access expert orthodontics treatment today!

New Patient? Let’s Chat!
Chat with us
Welcome to Quest Orthodontics: Dr. Arjun Patel!
We are open and offering complimentary new patient consultations.
How can we help?
I'm considering treatment
I’m a patient and need assistance
Excellent, I can help!
Good news, We're are now offering both complimentary Virtual and In-Office Consultations
Let us know what you would like to do next:
I'd like to set up a virtual consultation
I'd like to set up an in-person consultation
I have a quick question - click to call Quest Orthodontics: Dr. Arjun Patel