What is considered an orthodontic emergency?

Surprisingly, many things thought of as an orthodontic emergency are easy to repair, at least temporarily. Let’s explore some easy temporary fixes that you can perform on your braces. The handy guide we compiled may keep you from having to make an emergency trip to the orthodontist’s office.

What Qualifies as an Orthodontic Emergency?

True orthodontic emergencies are fairly rare. Although you will feel some slight discomfort with braces, one of the key signs of an emergency is pain. Differentiating between minor discomfort that is normal and pain that is not normal can be confusing.

A good rule of thumb to follow is if the pain is not eased with over-the-counter pain relief medications, it may be an emergency. While you can also try cold compresses (ice packs) and saltwater rinses, if nothing eases the pain you should contact the doctor. If you’re not sure, use the following list as a guideline:

  • Bleeding, swelling, or any signs of a potential infection
  • Broken wire or bracket that can’t be temporarily repaired
  • Any trauma to your face, teeth, or mouth

Additionally, if you are experiencing pain that is not eased with OTC medications, cold compresses, or saltwater rinses, please contact your orthodontist’s office. Use a rhyme to remember — When in doubt, check it out.

Make an Emergency Plan

Developing a plan before you have an orthodontic emergency is a great way to rest easy during your treatment period. Although your plan may look different, we compiled a brief example to start with.

The first step is to identify the problem. When something feels “wrong” you tend to notice. Take a few minutes to look in a mirror to see if you can spot the problem. Have a friend or family member help if necessary.

Next, determine if it is a problem that can be fixed, at least temporarily. We cover many problems that can be repaired below. Although they are not permanent repairs, they remove the emergency so you won’t have to rush off the doctor’s office.

Third, contact your doctor. If you have repaired the problem, let them know what happened and what you did to fix it. If you could not fix it, see if they have additional suggestions. The staff will let you know what to do next.

If you experience any type of medical emergency not related to your braces, please contact your regular family doctor.

Having braces is a new experience. Although you will experience some normal discomfort, please be aware of worsening pain and follow your plan. Even though orthodontic emergencies are rare, they do occur. Most problems you develop will be easy to correct.

Make Yourself an Emergency Tool Kit

Many of the tools you might need to repair your braces are probably already in your house. The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) offers a basic list of items that you should keep handy. If you place these items into a small bag, they will be easy to carry in a backpack, briefcase, or purse.

  • Small clean nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Non-medicated dental wax
  • Orajel™ or other analgesic
  • Cotton swabs
  • Toothpicks
  • Interdental brush
  • Pencil with eraser
  • Dental floss
  • Rubbing alcohol (optional, to sanitize tools)
  • Salt (optional for saltwater rinses)

You may think of a few extra items that you can add. Keeping a similar kit close can be a lifesaver if anything happens to your wires and brackets.

Guide for Repairing Braces

The following guide is presented as quick fixes to ease pain caused by broken wires and similar situations you may face with braces. Please maintain contact with your orthodontist’s office. Let them know when you have to use these tips. They will determine if you should schedule an additional appointment for a complete repair.

  1. Broken wires: If a wire breaks and is poking the inside of your mouth, you can push it gently to reposition it using the clean eraser end of a pencil. For poking wires that are too small to reposition, use a small dab of dental wax to cover the pointy end of the wire.
  2. Trimming wires: If you have a broken wire, it can be trimmed using small nail clippers. Sanitize the trimmer with rubbing alcohol. Cover the end of the wire with a dab of dental wax.
  3. Ligatures or missing elastics: If your brackets use ligatures rather than elastics, a broken wire can be pushed aside using the pencil eraser, clipped, or held in place with dental wax. Missing or broken elastics normally do not cause any problems.
  4. Broken or loose brackets: Occasionally the bonding on a bracket may loosen. Dental wax can be useful to hold the bracket in place. If the bracket becomes completely separated, remove it from your mouth and put it in a safe place to bring to your next appointment. Your braces will function normally with one missing or loose bracket.
  5. Mouth sores: Occasionally your braces may rub the inside of your mouth causing small sores or chafed areas. Try to avoid touching the affected areas. These sore spots will normally heal quickly. Using dental wax can protect the area. You may also apply an analgesic using a cotton swab for local pain relief.

For Our Patients Using Clear Aligners

We haven’t forgotten you. In fact, the truth is that there are seldom orthodontic emergencies with clear aligner users. However, if you damage or misplace a tray aligner, please contact the office as soon as possible. Our staff will advise you about what steps to take.

In some instances, a new tray can be provided. In other instances, the doctor may recommend shifting to the next set of trays in your sequence. Please do not make this decision without consulting your doctor.

Occasionally, a tray may be slightly uncomfortable and require additional trimming. If you are experiencing more than the normal level of discomfort when shifting into a new set of tray aligners, please contact your doctor.


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