Many common orthodontic “emergencies” can be handled easily at home. To
help you accurately describe an emergency situation to the orthodontist, use
the diagram at the end of this section, which illustrates and names each part
of a typical set of braces. A list of supplies to keep on hand is also posted at
the bottom of this section.
Trauma to tooth – tooth came out
If a tooth has been knocked out, do not clean off the tooth.
Call your orthodontist or your dentist immediately to inform them of what has
Upon locating the tooth, hold the enamel end of the tooth, not the pointed
Do not rinse the tooth in water. Do not scrub the root. You may remove large
debris. If possible, put the tooth back in socket where the tooth was and hold
in place with gauze or washcloth. If it is not possible to replace the tooth in its
socket, put the tooth into cup of milk or saline solution, or put the tooth
between the cheek and gum. Do not put the tooth in plain water.
Apply an ice pack to the affected soft tissue area to reduce swelling
Do not let the tooth dry out. A tooth can often be saved if cared for properly
and re implanted within an hour.
Clean the injured area and apply an ice pack to the effected soft tissue area to
Save the tip of the tooth (for possible reattachment) and call your dentist right
Piece of the Orthodontic Appliance is Swallowed or Aspirated
If you are able to see the piece, you may carefully attempt to remove it. But do
not make the attempt if you would cause the patient harm.
Encourage the patient to remain calm. If the patient is coughing excessively
or having difficulty breathing, the piece could have been aspirated (drawn into
If there is no coughing or difficulty in breathing, and you suspect the piece
has been swallowed, call the patient’s orthodontist for advice and instructions.
If you are unable to see the piece and believe it may be have been aspirated,
call 911 (or the appropriate emergency number for your area) and the
orthodontist immediately. The patient should be taken to an urgent care
facility for an x-ray to determine the location of the piece. A physician will
have to determine the best way to remove it.
A Bracket is Knocked Off
Brackets are the parts of braces attached to teeth with a special adhesive.
They are generally positioned in the center of each tooth. If the bracket is off
center and moves along the wire, the adhesive has likely failed. Call your
orthodontist, who will determine the course of action.
If the loose bracket has rotated on the wire and is sticking out, attempt to turn
it back into its normal position and call your orthodontist to schedule an
appointment to have it reattached. You may wish to put orthodontic wax
around the area to minimize the movement of the loose brace. If you are in
pain, please call your orthodontist and inform them of the circumstance. If
you are not in pain, this is not a true emergency. Please call the orthodontist
at your earliest convenience to schedule an appointment to reattach the brace
to the tooth.
Remember, brackets can become loose as a result of chewing on hard, sticky
or chewy foods or objects as well as from physical contact from sports or
Be sure to wear a protective mouth guard while playing sports!
The Arch wire is Poking
If the end of an orthodontic arch wire is poking in the back of the mouth,
attempt to put wax over the area to protect the cheek. Call the orthodontist to
schedule an appointment and have the wire clipped. If you are uncomfortable,
make sure you inform the orthodontist.
In a situation where the wire is extremely bothersome and the patient will not
be able to see the orthodontist immediately, as a last resort, the wire may be
clipped with an instrument such as fingernail clippers.
Reduce the possibility of swallowing the snipped piece of wire by using
folded tissue or gauze around the area to catch the piece you will remove.
Use a pair of sharp clippers and snip off the protruding wire. Relief wax may
still be necessary to provide comfort to the irritated area.
“Ligature Wire” is Poking Lip or Cheek
Use a Q-tip or pencil eraser to push the wire so that it is flat against the tooth.
If the wire cannot be moved into a comfortable position, cover it with relief
wax. (See “Irritation of Cheeks or Lips” below for instructions on applying
relief wax.) Make the orthodontist aware of the problem.
Loose Brackets, Wires or Bands
If the braces have come loose in any way, call the orthodontist to determine
appropriate next steps. Save any pieces of your braces that break off and
bring them with you to your repair appointment.
Irritation of Lips or Cheeks
Sometimes new braces can be irritating to the mouth. A small amount of
orthodontic wax makes an excellent buffer between the braces and lips, cheek
or tongue. Simply pinch off a small piece and roll it into a ball the size of a
small pea. Flatten the ball and place it completely over the area of the braces
causing irritation. If possible, dry off the area first as the wax will stick better.
The patient may then eat more comfortably. If the wax is accidentally
swallowed it’s not a problem. The wax is harmless.
People who have mouth sores during orthodontic treatment may gain relief by
applying a small amount of topical anesthetic (such as Orabase or Ora-Gel)
directly to the sore area using a cotton swab. Reapply as needed.
It’s normal to have discomfort for three to five days after braces or retainers
are adjusted. Although temporary, it can make eating uncomfortable.
Encourage soft foods. Have the patient rinse the mouth with warm salt water.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be effective.
Lost Ligature (Rubber or Wire)
Tiny rubber bands known as elastic ligatures are often used to hold the arch
wire into the bracket or brace. If an elastic ligature is lost, contact the
orthodontist, who can advise you whether the patient should be seen.
The same holds true for wire ligatures.
What if the Lip Gets Caught on a Brace?
Call your orthodontist immediately. Apply ice to the affected area until you
have the opportunity to been seen by your orthodontist or family dentist.
I Can’t Open My Mouth
Potential causes – problems with lower jaw joint or swelling around the soft
tissues in the mouth. Call your orthodontist or dentist and inform them of
Food Caught Between Teeth
This is not an emergency. It can be resolved with a piece of dental floss. Try
tying a small knot in the middle of the floss to help remove the food or use an
inter proximal brush to dislodge food caught between teeth and braces.
To help you accurately describe an emergency situation to the orthodontist,
use the definitions below to name each part of a typical set of braces.
The arch wire is held to each bracket with a ligature which can be either a tiny
elastic or a twisted wire.
B. Arch wire
The arch wire is tied to all of the brackets and creates force to move teeth into
Brackets are connected to the bands or directly bonded on the teeth. They
hold the arch wire in place.
D. Metal Band
The band is the cemented ring of metal which wraps around the tooth.
E. Elastic Hooks & Rubber Bands
Elastic hooks are used for the attachment of rubber bands, which help move
teeth toward their final position.
With these supplies on hand, you will be prepared to handle the most
common problems with braces:
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