• The state of your teeth post braces depends on how well you took care of them while they were still on.
  • Be diligent about wearing your retainer or your teeth could slip out of their pristine post-braces alignment.
  • Be aware that you may have to wait a little longer after removal before you indulge in all your ‘bad’ food cravings.

Whether you’ve been wearing braces for months or years, you’re likely dreaming of the day when you can finally have them removed. But when that day arrives, what can you expect?

Here we break down the removal process from the moment your orthodontist sets that long-awaited date to the weeks and months following the event.

Stay vigilant until your braces are out

As the date for the removal of your braces draws closer, don’t let your excitement distract you. Up to this point, you’ve carefully kept your teeth clean and avoided foods like popcorn and taffy.

It’s easy to lose sight of your dentist’s important instructions when you’re so close to the finish line. Remember that consistent dental care is what will give you the best results after the removal.

Also, your orthodontist might postpone the removal date if you need more time with the braces for optimal results — so, keep your expectations realistic.

The nitty-gritty of the removal process

The removal of braces itself will only take a few minutes. However, the appointment as a whole could take an hour or more.

Here we break down the steps for you so there are no surprises.

Bracket removal

Using special pliers, your orthodontist will cut the individual brackets in your mouth by squeezing them until they break away from the tooth. You may feel some pressure, teeth sensitivity and a little discomfort, but this is not a painful process and does not entail anesthesia.

You’ll hear some cracking and may get the sensation that your tooth is loose or exposed but this is simply the bracket snapping off the tooth, so no need for alarm.

Scraping away glue residue

Be prepared for a lot of scraping. The glue that held your brackets in place may still be clinging to your teeth. Your orthodontist will want to remove all of it to ensure that there are no chunks that could affect the quality of your retainer mold.

This could take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour, depending on how much residue was left behind. Expect to feel some tooth and gum sensitivity. Also, your gums might bleed during this process.

Retainer creation

Often, orthodontists make retainer molds on the same day that they remove braces. However, your orthodontist might make the retainer mold the week before you get your braces removed, depending on the type of retainer you’re getting.

Rest at ease knowing that you’ve already been through this process as a mold was made of your teeth prior to getting braces. Expect the mold material to feel especially strange this time around, however, given the sensitivity of your newly liberated teeth.

Follow-up fitting

Once the clay mold is taken, it will be used to create the new retainer. The final clear plastic retainer may also have wires around the edges that will fit to your teeth.

You won’t get the retainer on that same day. Instead, you’ll receive it at your follow-up appointment in about a week.

In some cases, you may receive a fixed retainer, which is a permanent installation. A metal wire is strung behind the teeth — as with lingual braces — keeping them in place. Some people have been known to keep it for decades while others may want to have the retainer removed after a few years.

If your orthodontist opts to give you a permanent retainer, the wire will be bonded to your teeth after the brackets are removed and before the mold is taken.

That’s right — you’ll still likely be instructed to wear a temporary retainer on top of the fixed one, especially in the first couple of months.

What to expect after your braces have come out

Immediately after your removal appointment, your mouth might look and feel a little strange. Certain side effects after having braces removed are completely normal.

Sensitive teeth

As mentioned, your teeth will feel sensitive after your braces are out. To minimize any pain, avoid eating foods that will put too much pressure on your teeth and take pain relievers as needed.

The sensitivity will go away on its own as your mouth adjusts. Unfortunately, you’ll need to avoid many of the foods that you’ve been looking forward to eating — at least for a little while. These include chewy, sticky and hard foods.

Swollen gums

If your orthodontist needs to scrape around the gum line to remove glue residue, then there could be some irritation and inflammation that follows.

Healthier gums are more likely to withstand this process and bounce back quickly. Significant gum inflammation or bleeding is more likely if you did not exercise proper dental care while wearing braces.

Keep up proper dental care after your braces are out but don’t brush too hard or you’ll risk further irritation. If gum inflammation is severe, your orthodontist may trim the affected gum tissue.

Calluses

These calluses actually develop when you first start wearing braces. As the brackets rub up against the inside of your lips, they chafe, causing the skin to become rough and calluses to form.

After weeks of wearing braces, you may forget they’re there but you’ll likely notice them once the brackets come off. But don’t fret as they’ll go away on their own.

Tooth discoloration

You might notice some discoloration on your teeth after the brackets are removed. Depending on how well you cared for your teeth while wearing braces, this discoloration could be more or less pronounced.

Tartar can easily build up around the brackets and once they’re removed, you might see yellow or white spots outlining where these brackets once were.

Otherwise known as “white scars,” these marks leave behind an impression even after cleaning. These too tend to fade away in the following weeks or your dentist might recommend a whitening treatment.

However, don’t jump to teeth whitening just yet. Your teeth will still be extremely sensitive so you’ll want to wait at least a month before taking on this process.

Wearing and caring for retainers

Immediately after being freed from braces, your teeth will shift and settle as your bones, gums and muscles adjust to the new shape. The retainer’s job is to limit how much movement takes place.

Here we provide some key tips for using and protecting this precious device.

Wear it as advised

Your orthodontist may suggest wearing your braces all the time except when eating, at least twelve hours a day, or only when you sleep. In general, the longer you wear the braces, the greater the transformation of your teeth and the more frequently you’ll probably need to pop in that retainer.

Over time, as your teeth settle, you can get away with wearing the device less frequently. However, you can expect to be wearing them for a long time, if not indefinitely.

If you miss a day or night with the retainer, don’t sweat it. Just make sure to pop it in the next time. If you miss several days, the retainer may start feeling a bit snug as your teeth have already shifted.

Contact your orthodontist for a new mold if the retainer no longer fits or feels uncomfortable.

Keep it clean

It’s essential that you take good care of your retainer. Keep it clean and protect it from bacteria. In other words, don’t eat with it, don’t swim with it and when you take it out, don’t place it on any unsanitary surfaces.

Brush the retainer once a day using a toothbrush and toothpaste. You can also try using a denture cleaner or mouthwash. Don’t use any cleaning agents that could erode the retainer. This means no tartar control toothpaste and only alcohol-free mouthwash.

Keep it cool

Don’t expose your retainer to anything that could change its shape. Extreme heat, such as from a hot dashboard, can irreversibly warp the retainer.

Keep it cool and dry when you’re not wearing it. If your retainer no longer fits comfortably, then call your orthodontist for a new one.

Don’t lose it

There’s a reason orthodontists give out retainer containers. Get in the habit of putting your retainer back in its container whenever you’re not wearing it.

Remember that it takes about a week to make a retainer and the first few months after your braces are removed are critical. If you do lose the retainer, let your orthodontist know as soon as possible.

Next steps to a new smile

Your journey toward a straight new smile does not end once you have your braces removed. Expect several follow-up appointments as your orthodontist checks to make sure your retainer fits and your teeth are settling well.

The first follow-up appointment — not including when you go in to pick up your retainer — will be about two weeks after the removal. Then, the appointments may get less frequent.

In the meantime, pay close attention to your mouth and how it’s healing. Any continued sensitivity, swelling or bleeding after the first few days could be a sign of gum disease and warrants an impromptu visit to the dentist.

Finally, wear and store your retainer as instructed. This can’t be stressed enough. Otherwise, you might find yourself back at square one having to start the process to adjust your teeth all over again.

» If you’re curious about Invisalign as an alternative or follow-up to braces, read more about it and see what others have to say about their experience on Zwivel’s forum.

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