What to do in an Orthodontic Emergency at Home and While Traveling

It’s exciting to be on the path to achieving your dream smile so, of course, it’s only natural to want orthodontic treatment to run smoothly. That’s why people occasionally get nervous about something going wrong, particularly in the very beginning. It might give you a little peace of mind to know that it’s extremely, extremely rare for a genuine braces emergency to occur. When the unexpected does crop up, it’s usually minor, such as a poking wire or broken bracket, both of which can be fixed quickly and easily. Dr. Sturgill and the team provide our Johnson City, TN Invisalign and braces patients with the information they need to care for their aligners or hardware. However, we thought we’d give you an extra boost of teeth-straightening confidence by putting together a reference guide containing orthodontic emergency information and tips for dealing with common issues at home or while traveling.

Invisalign and Braces Problems and How to Fix Them

If you’re away from home and your braces are in need of repair or you’re experiencing major irritation, no worries because Dr. Sturgill is part of an exclusive global study group of orthodontists. He’ll be able to get you in to see someone no matter where you’re traveling. Just call our office and we’ll help you make arrangements. As we noted earlier, an actual Invisalign or braces emergency is a pretty unlikely occurrence. The vast majority of the time, it’s simply a matter of comfort and making sure your treatment stays on course. Here are the more common issues and how to troubleshoot them:

  • Food Stuck in Your Braces – Getting food trapped in your brackets and wires is by no means an emergency with braces but it can be an annoyance, especially when you’re traveling or out and about and don’t have supplies handy. If you’re home, floss using an orthodontic flosser or floss threader or break out your interproximal brush and dislodge the food debris. Putting together a kit with disposable flossers and a travel toothbrush and taking it with you when you’re on the road, at school or at work will make your life a whole lot easier. However, if you forget to bring it along, you won’t need to walk around with spinach in your braces all day. Very carefully poke the piece of food loose with a toothpick and then rinse well with water.
  • Poking Wire – It doesn’t feel great when a wire sticks out and jabs you in the cheek but it’s an easy fix. First, gently push it out of the way with the eraser end of a pencil or a clean cotton swab. Then, dry off the wire and bordering bracket with a tissue or another cotton swab. Warm up a tiny piece of dental wax by rolling it in between your fingers, shape it into a ball and place it over the part that’s poking. Sometimes, when a bracket is loose, it causes a really long piece of wire to protrude. If this is the case, wash off nail clippers and sterilize them in alcohol before using them to carefully snip the excess wire. Call us so that we can schedule you for a repair appointment. If you’re on vacation, don’t stress because you can usually get by until you’re able to come in for a visit by running through the above steps. You can always contact us if you need some more guidance or you’d like to be put in touch with an orthodontist near where you’re staying.
  • Cheek or Lip Irritation – While your mouth adjusts to having braces, it’s totally normal for your lips and cheeks to feel a little irritated. Any discomfort is mild and will go away within a few days. During the acclimation period, whether you’re in a tropical destination halfway across the world or sitting in your bedroom, it’s super simple to address. Make a saltwater solution by mixing one teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water, stirring and then swishing it around in your mouth before spitting it out. Do this as many times as you’d like throughout the day. Dental wax can serve as a barrier and prevent brackets from rubbing the inside of your mouth. Stick a piece of it over the offending hardware.
  • Loose or Broken Bracket – Whether you chomped down on a Jolly Rancher, bit into a raw apple or got hit in the mouth during basketball practice when you forgot to wear your mouthguard, damaged appliances can happen. So, what do you do when one of your brackets for braces comes loose? First, figure out where the loose or broken bracket is. If it’s in the back of your mouth, you got lucky. Slide the bracket off of the wire. Then, take your sterilized nail clippers again and carefully cut any excess wire so that it doesn’t poke the inside of your cheek. If it’s not a back bracket, you can use sterilized tweezers (hey, we’re doctors, we sterilize!) to move the bracket back into position if necessary. Then, to avoid irritation and temporarily hold it in place, cover it with your trusty dental wax. Give our office a call so we can figure out if you should have it refitted before your next regularly scheduled appointment. If you’re traveling, try these bracket hacks and don’t be afraid to call if you have questions or need us to make arrangements for you to see an orthodontist at your destination.
  • Runaway Rubber Band – The wires that run through your brackets are held in place by ligatures, which are either tiny elastic bands or twisted wires. Every so often, a ligature can pop off. If a rubber band came off of your braces, try to find it. If you’re a patient who loves bold elastic colors, you’ll be pretty pleased with yourself when you spot it right away. Wash off the rubber band and then, if possible, use sterilized tweezers to gently try to put it back on. If you lose track of it or you’re unable to reattach it, be sure to contact us. For wire ligatures, you can use the eraser end of a pencil or a cotton swab and push it back into place if it’s sticking out. If it’s extremely loose, take it off with your tweezers and let us know one of your brackets is ligature-free.
  • Sensitive Teeth – For a few days after we put your braces on, following adjustments or when you start wearing a new set of Invisalign Teen or Invisalign aligners, your teeth might be mildly sensitive. For you jetsetters, try to schedule adjustments either after your vacation or at least a week before so that you can enjoy yourself without thinking too much about your teeth. To lessen discomfort, sip on ice water, smoothies or other cold beverages and stick to soft foods and the occasional cold treat for the first day or two. If you need some ideas for Johnson City restaurants with braces-friendly food to ease the sensitivity, check out last month’s post. You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever (follow the instructions on the package) or swish with your saltwater solution. 
  • Missing Separator – We don’t have any tricks up our sleeve for a lost separator. There isn’t really anything you can do except call us so we can decide if you’ll need to have it replaced before your next appointment.
  • Lost Aligner – The best way to avoid losing your Invisalign aligners is to always carry your case with you. When you take your aligners out to brush and floss or to eat, store them in the case. Remember, napkins are the enemy of aligners and retainers. We can’t count how many times a patient has put their appliance down on a napkin while eating lunch, forgot and accidentally threw it away.

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With Invisalign, Dr. Sturgill maps out the movements of every individual tooth before you start treatment. Each set of aligners is designed to shift the teeth in a certain prescribed way, so if you do lose an aligner, there are a couple of guidelines you’ll want to know before automatically jumping ahead to your next tray. If you’ve worn the tray for more than five days, since our practice is one of the few that follows a weekly aligner changing schedule, go ahead to your new set. However, if you’ve been wearing your aligners for less than that, call us, so we can get a replacement for you. In the meantime, go back to your previous tray – this is why we always want you to keep your old aligners at home – to hold your teeth in place. Invisalign Teen includes several free replacement aligners so parents don’t need to worry too much. If you’re away when the aligner disappears, put in your last tray and call us so you’ll have a new set waiting when you get back.

Handling Orthodontic Emergencies

So far, the braces and Invisalign problems we’ve covered are things that are more of a nuisance and less of an actual concern. They can almost always be dealt with temporarily until you’re able to stop by the office for a visit. However, though unlikely, there are instances where a patient has to receive emergency orthodontic care. These are two more serious scenarios:

  • Swallowing a Piece of Your Appliance – If a bracket or other piece of your appliance breaks off and you swallow it, stay calm. For younger patients, be sure to try to find an adult to help you. If you’re having trouble breathing and coughing a lot after swallowing it, ask someone to look into your mouth and throat using a flashlight. If they don’t see the piece, it could have been aspirated. Go to the nearest emergency room right away.
  • Traumatic Injury – When playing sports or any activity that could result in a dental injury, we can’t stress the importance of protecting your smile with a mouthguard enough. Even when your braces come off, you should still wear one. If you do get hit in the mouth and you’re bleeding a lot and think stitches will be necessary, head to the emergency room. If a tooth is fractured, chipped, loose or knocked out, call your general dentist immediately. If you lose a tooth, a dentist can usually re-implant it if it’s within an hour of the injury, so don’t delay. Make sure you pick up the tooth by the chewing area and not the root, rinse it with water carefully and, if at all possible, put it back in the socket right away, either biting down or using your fingers to hold it in place. If you can’t get it back in the socket, keep it moist by storing it next to your cheek in your mouth or by placing it in milk (never use tap water). If it’s after regular office hours or you’re traveling, find an emergency dentist. There are some places that are open 24 hours a day. Once you’ve been treated by the hospital or dentist, call our office so that we can get to work repairing your hardware.

Now that you have all of the information you need to take on orthodontic mishaps, we hope you feel comfortable and confident about caring for your appliances even while traveling. Remember, thanks to Dr. Sturgill’s international relationships, we can hook you up with a local orthodontist wherever you’re at. We’re here to help at Sturgill Orthodontics, so if you have questions or concerns, ask away! In fact, if you need us and it’s not during our regular office hours, you can still call us to be connected with an on-call team member. Or, message us through Facebook since we check it routinely. We just kicked off our on-call system in order to be available all of the time. We even come in on weekends to give the highest quality of care to our patients. You can rest assured that if something does happen to your braces or Invisalign, we’ll keep your smile makeover on track.