Orthodontic Emergencies: How to Handle Common Issues at Home

Learn some tips for taking care of common orthodontic issues at home

December 10, 2023

Congratulations! You or your loved one are on their journey to their perfect smile! Because your teeth are being moved into their ideal position, you may experience some typical soreness for the first couple days. This is normal! Orthodontic treatments are designed for a smooth transition to a better bite and alignment. Until you get used to caring for your braces, occasional hiccups like a loose bracket or a poking wire can happen. 


Luckily, not every twist and turn on this path requires a professional's immediate attention. In fact, most orthodontic mishaps can be addressed right at your kitchen sink or bathroom mirror!


Understanding how to manage these orthodontic emergencies at home can save you from unnecessary  discomfort, protect your treatment's progress, and prevent a simple issue from becoming more complicated.

What Qualifies as an Orthodontic Emergency?

Almost all unexpected orthodontic occurrences do not qualify as emergencies as they can be taken care of from the comfort of your own home. An orthodontic emergency is any unexpected issue related to your braces or orthodontic care that demands urgent attention. This can range from severe pain to an appliance malfunction that impedes your treatment or poses a risk of injury. For example, minor discomfort or a loose wire, while inconvenient, do not typically necessitate emergency treatment and can often be managed at home.


True Emergencies:

  • Significant pain or discomfort that over-the-counter pain relievers cannot alleviate.
  • Trauma to the mouth, teeth, or face that affects orthodontic appliances.
  • A broken appliance that causes pain or threatens to injure the cheeks, tongue, or gums.


Less severe issues:

  • Mild soreness after an adjustment.
  • A loose bracket that is not causing discomfort.
  • A poking wire that can be temporarily covered with orthodontic wax.  


Distinguishing between these scenarios is crucial, as true emergencies require the expertise of an orthodontist to prevent further complications, whereas minor issues can be temporarily remedied at home until professional care can be sought.

How to Handle Common Orthodontic Issues at Home

Navigating orthodontic care isn't just about the adjustments that occur in the orthodontist's chair; it's also about managing the occasional hiccups that happen at home. 


Here's how to handle the most common issues that might arise with your orthodontic appliances, ensuring you stay comfortable and your treatment stays on track.

Loose or Broken Brackets

Brackets are the small squares attached to each tooth, and they can sometimes become loose or break if you bite into something too hard.


Step-by-step guide on what to do:

  1. Assess the Damage: Determine if the bracket is still attached to the wire. If it is, leave it in place. If it's not, remove it carefully and keep it safe to bring to your orthodontist.
  2. Rinse Your Mouth: Use warm salt water to clean your mouth and soothe any irritation.
  3. Temporary Fix: If the bracket is loose but still attached, you can slide it back to the center of the tooth using a sterile tweezer. Apply orthodontic wax to secure it and provide a cushion between the bracket and your mouth.
  4. Contact Your Orthodontist: Explain the situation and ask for the next steps. They may want to see you immediately or wait until your next scheduled appointment.


Tips for temporary fixes:

  • Orthodontic Wax: Apply dental wax over the bracket to reduce irritation.
  • Sugar-Free Gum: In a pinch, sugar-free gum can be used similarly to orthodontic wax to cushion a loose bracket.
  • Poking or Protruding Wires - Use a pencil eraser to gently push the wire flat against the tooth.


  • Sometimes wires can shift and begin poking the inside of your mouth, causing discomfort. If the wire has slid to one side, you can use tweezers to gently slide it back to the center.


DIY solutions to manage discomfort:

  • Use a pencil eraser to gently push the wire flat against the tooth.
  • If the wire has slid to one side, you can use tweezers to gently slide it back to the center.


How to use orthodontic wax:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Roll a small piece of wax between your fingers to warm and soften it.
  • Flatten the wax and place it over the area of the wire that is poking you.


Lost or Broken Retainers

Retainers are vital for maintaining the position of your teeth after braces have been removed.


Immediate actions to take:

  • If your retainer is broken, gather all the pieces and store them in a safe container to bring to your orthodontist.
  • If it's lost, search thoroughly; check unusual places if necessary.


The importance of contacting an orthodontist:

Even if the retainer is only slightly damaged, it may not hold your teeth in their proper position.

A replacement or repair will likely be necessary, so contact your orthodontist as soon as possible to avoid any setbacks in your treatment any unwanted shifting of your teeth.


Mouth Sores from Braces

Until your cheeks get used to your new braces, braces can sometimes irritate the inside of your mouth, leading to sores.


Home remedies for relief:

  • Rinse regularly with warm saltwater to promote healing and reduce discomfort.
  • Apply topical anesthetics like Orabase or Orajel with a cotton swab to numb the area.


When to seek medical attention:

  • If sores do not improve with home treatment after a few days.
  • If you have excessive pain, swelling, or signs of infection, such as fever or pus.


Discomfort from Teeth Movement

Feeling some discomfort is normal when your teeth move during orthodontic treatment.


Normalcy of the discomfort:

  • Teeth movement often causes temporary pressure and discomfort, which is a sign that your braces are working to move your teeth into their ideal positions.


Pain management techniques:

  • Soft foods will be easier on your teeth when they're feeling tender.
  • Cold foods and beverages can help numb the area and reduce inflammation.
  • Over the counter medications you would take for a headache can bring some relief.

Handling orthodontic issues at home can be straightforward with the right knowledge and tools. While some situations can be addressed with simple at-home solutions, always keep in communication with your orthodontist for guidance and to ensure your treatment remains effective and on schedule.


Preventing Orthodontic Emergencies

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when it comes to orthodontic treatment. Preventing emergencies before they occur is key to a smoother, more comfortable experience with braces or any orthodontic appliance. 


Here’s how to be proactive and minimize the chances of running into unexpected issues.

Best Practices for Orthodontic Care

Adopting a stringent care routine for your orthodontic appliances can greatly reduce the risk of emergencies.


Routine care tips for orthodontic appliances:

  • Brushing and Flossing: Maintain excellent oral hygiene by brushing twice a day and flossing daily. Use interdental brushes to clean around braces and under wires.
  • Regular Cleaning of Removable Appliances: If you have appliances like retainers or aligners, clean them as instructed by your orthodontist to prevent buildup that could cause them to fit improperly.
  • Protective Gear: Wear a mouthguard during sports or recreational activities to shield your orthodontic appliances and prevent trauma.


Foods to avoid:

  • Hard Foods: Avoid nuts, hard candies, and popcorn kernels that can break brackets and bend wires.
  • Sticky Foods: Steer clear of caramel, gum, and other sticky sweets that can adhere to and damage braces.
  • High-Sugar Foods and Drinks: These can increase the risk of cavities around your braces, leading to more complications.


When to Contact Your Orthodontist

While many minor orthodontic issues can be addressed at home, it’s crucial to know when professional intervention is required. 


Contacting your orthodontist isn't just about solving an immediate problem—it's about ensuring that your overall treatment remains on the right path. Here's when you should pick up the phone and schedule a visit for expert care.


  1. 1. Significant Pain or Discomfort: If you experience pain that is not alleviated by over-the-counter medication or if the discomfort persists for more than a couple of days, it's time to call your orthodontist.


  1. Damage to Orthodontic Appliances: Any breakage or damage to your braces, wires, retainers, or other appliances that you cannot temporarily fix on your own warrants a call. Ignoring these issues can lead to delays in your treatment or, worse, to injuries or setbacks.


  1. Repeated Issues: If the same problem keeps occurring, such as a wire that frequently protrudes or brackets that continue to come loose, these recurring issues need professional attention to prevent ongoing discomfort and potential oral damage.


  1. Infections or Significant Swelling: Any signs of infection around your gums, teeth, or inside your mouth should be treated as urgent. The same goes for any unusual swelling, with or without pain, which could indicate an underlying issue that requires immediate attention.


  1. Post-Adjustment Issues: Some pain and discomfort are normal after an adjustment, but if you notice something feels excessively painful or wrong—such as a sharp pain when biting down—contact your orthodontist.

At Sandy Smiles Orthodontics, we understand that orthodontic issues can arise at the most inconvenient times. That's why we're committed to providing timely and effective care to address your concerns and keep your treatment on track. If you're experiencing any of the above issues, don’t hesitate to reach out. 


You can schedule a visit with us for professional orthodontic care tailored to your needs. Our team is dedicated to ensuring that your journey to achieving a perfect smile is as comfortable and efficient as possible.


Remember, when in doubt, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and consult with your orthodontist. It’s not just about one problem; it’s about safeguarding your orthodontic health as a whole.

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(850) 244-3880

Fort Walton Beach, FL
824 Eglin Parkway NE

(850) 244-3880

DeFuniak Springs, FL
746 Baldwin Ave.

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