Children used to spend years with a mouthful of metal as braces slowly repositioned crooked teeth. Today, kids have lots of options, and braces are even considered a fashion statement with brightly colored bands that complement the season or denote the colors of favorite sports team.

Adults, too, are finding that their teeth can be straightened more discreetly than ever. Clear brackets and Invisalign’s clear plastic aligners are popular options.

Yet the basic mechanics of moving teeth into proper alignment remain the same, and orthodontists continue to strive not just for cosmetic effect but for a properly aligned bite. “We’re looking for a functional, stable, healthy bite, regardless of the type of braces used,” says Dr. Nick Azar of Azar Orthodontics.

As teeth move, even a few millimeters, the bone surrounding them is remodeled. Pressure placed on a tooth causes the bone to break down and accommodate the tooth moving against it, while new bone cells fill in the tiny gap that forms where the tooth is moving in the opposite direction. Braces create the artificial force needed to sustain the pressure that results in bone remodeling around the tooth’s new position.

Because bone remodeling can’t be rushed, Azar says it’s unlikely braces promoted to speed the process are truly effective. “The underlying, basic component of how fast you can move a tooth is the cellular activity within the bones that hold the teeth,” he says.

Some ‘fast braces’ can change the position of the front few teeth in a few months, but ‘it has nothing to do with bite or health,’ says Dr. Jacqueline Demko of Demko Orthodontics. “Certainly it’s better than nothing when it comes to hygiene issues and appear-ance, but it’s purely cosmetic and not concerned with a healthy bite and its effect on long-term wear of the teeth.”

Although getting braces is no longer the ordeal it was a generation ago, kids (and adults) still need to adjust to the hardware in their mouth. Azar and Dr. Andrew Frost of Frost Orthodontics shared some tips for getting used to and taking care of braces.

  •  Teeth and gums may feel a bit sore when braces are first placed. Over-the-counter pain relievers, taken as directed, may help reduce discomfort.
  • Be patient. You will notice the braces against your lips at first, but after a while, you will adjust to the sensation.
  • Orthodontists can provide nontoxic wax for buffering any sore spots on the gums or cheeks caused by rubbing. If an area continues to be sore and irritated for more than a few days or causes extreme discomfort, visit the orthodontist for an adjustment.
  • Avoid gooey, sticky foods or very hard foods.
  • The main focus of ongoing care for braces is proper and regular brushing. Your orthodontist’s staff should review this thoroughly when braces are placed and will continue to emphasize the importance of removing food and plaque at regular appointments.
  • Floss threaders are like large plastic needles that allow floss to be passed under wires. Flossing is important for everyone, whether you have braces or not.