Braces work because your teeth can move. Their current spots in your mouth are not necessarily permanent. However, they don’t move around easily; they can’t trade places or jump over to see what the other side of your mouth is up to. (Imagine your teeth sliding around while you’re trying to eat a sandwich!) But with the right amount of gentle pressure, they can gradually move into more desirable positions that contribute to better health.
Before your braces can get to work, your orthodontist may need to prepare your teeth to make sure the braces will function as planned. That sometimes includes orthodontic spacer appliances—small devices that create gaps between teeth.
Let’s take a look at how these tiny devices play a brief but critical role in your dental health.
What Are Orthodontic Spacers?
Before you get your braces, your orthodontist will make sure there is room in your mouth to accommodate all the hardware—brackets, bands, and wires—that need to fit on and around your teeth. In some cases, teeth may be too close together to allow anything between them. Quite often, the teeth in question are molars.
Your orthodontist will insert orthodontic spacers, also known as separators, in those places. The job of the spacer appliance is to budge your teeth apart just enough to create small gaps between them so your braces will fit properly.
Types of Orthodontic Spacers
There are two types of spacers for braces—elastic and metal.
Elastic, or rubber, spacers are approximately one centimeter in diameter and look like small rubber bands, though they are much sturdier. Rubber spacers are used for a shorter time than metal spacers (about a week or two), and they sometimes fall out, either because they’ve been pulled out of place or because the required space has been created.
Metal spacers are titanium or stainless steel rings made for long-term use—up to six weeks. More durable than the elastic variety, these rings are placed around the molar and are not prone to falling out.
Do All Require Orthodontic Spacers before Braces?
Every mouth is different. The number and condition of the teeth, the shape of the jaw, and your overall dental health are a few of the many factors orthodontists evaluate to determine what you will need. Here’s an interesting note – Teeth can move at any age. So whether it’s dental spacers for a child or an adult, the considerations are the same.
If your teeth are already evenly spaced, you may not need spacers for braces. But if there is crowding in your mouth, some of your teeth can be tightly pressed together, making it harder to keep them well brushed and flossed. As a result, it’s impossible to get your braces installed as they should be. In essence, your teeth need to practice a bit of social distancing!
Inserting and Removing Orthodontic Spacers
Inserting and removing spacers are both simple procedures. The orthodontist first stretches the spacer a bit, then gently and gradually pushes it between your teeth until it settles into place. There it should stay until it’s time to put your braces in. But as mentioned earlier, a spacer can fall out if it gets jostled enough or falls through the gap it creates. This is more likely with rubber spacers.
After being in place for a week or two (or longer if necessary), the spacers have done their job and are ready for retirement. When it’s time for your braces to be installed, the orthodontist will remove the spacers using a dental tool.
Do Orthodontic Spacers Hurt?
As we said at the top of this article, your teeth can move. But that doesn’t mean they want to. So whether they are correctly aligned or not, your teeth are quite happy to stay right where they are.
Braces, retainers, spacers for braces, and other orthodontic devices use pressure to force your teeth into desired positions gently. Unfortunately, your mouth is not used to this. So for a little while, maybe a day or two, you may feel sore after the spacers are put in. More specifically, you may experience swollen or bleeding gums, difficulty chewing, irritated nerve endings, and soreness around the teeth.
To ease the pain, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen. You can also rinse your mouth with warm saltwater.
How to Care for Orthodontic Spacers
While they will only be in your mouth for a few weeks at most, spacer appliances require careful maintenance to do their jobs well. First, there are certain foods you should avoid. Any food that is overly chewy, crunchy, sticky, hard to bite down on, or sugary can damage your spacers. You might be wondering what is left for you to eat! But there is still plenty out there for you to enjoy.
As always, brush your teeth, but do so more carefully, and use a soft brush. You can still floss everywhere except the locations of the spacers.
Sometimes a spacer will fall out before it’s time to remove it. You might need to have it replaced, but if it’s close to the time to remove it, your orthodontist may decide not to replace it if it has already created enough of a gap between your teeth.
Schedule your COMPLIMENTARY Consultation!
Spacers are simple, handy little devices that help prepare your teeth for your upcoming braces. They make just enough space between your teeth to ensure a good fit for all that hardware. With proper care, they will do their jobs quickly and efficiently.
Are you ready to discuss more on orthodontic spacers with an orthodontist? Do not hesitate to schedule a complimentary consultation at Loudoun Orthodontics! In the meantime, make sure to check out our blog for more information on orthodontic treatments.