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Pain During Orthodontic Treatment Is Variable

One of the concerns many people worry about when considering braces or other orthodontic treatment is how much it will hurt. It’s a question we get regularly (almost as much as how much they cost!), but, unfortunately, it’s one we can’t answer.

That’s because the amount of discomfort people feel with braces depends not so much on the braces as on the person getting them. This may sound like we’re just dodging the question, but it’s true. And now there’s a published scientific study supporting our observation.

Predicting Pain in Orthodontic Treatment

Researchers wanted to be able to predict the level of pain a person will experience during orthodontic treatment. To do this, they hoped to calibrate their scale against a standard of discomfort so that they could compare pain levels across patients.

To do this, they subjected the 121 college students participating in the study to a standard pain sensation, what is called a cold pressor test. In a cold pressor test, the patient puts their hand in a bucket of ice water for a minute. The test is designed to investigate cardiovascular changes using a standardized stimuli, but it works for pain tolerance, too. After holding their hand in the ice water for a minute, subjects rated their pain level on a scale of 1-10.

Then patients were asked to rate their pain regularly after receiving their braces. Pain peaked on the first day after getting braces, then tapered off to normal by 7 days after. For patients, the pain level correlated strongly with their pain tolerance for holding their hand in ice water. In other words, the discomfort people feel is related more to their own nervous system response to pain than it is to the actual experience of braces.

So, if you’re the sort of person who is likely to experience discomfort more strongly, you’ll probably have more discomfort during braces. But if you’re the sort of person who tends to shrug pain off with little sense of pain, then braces won’t bother you.

Dealing with Discomfort During Braces

It’s important to note that braces-related discomfort is relatively brief. The pain peaks within a day of getting your braces on and tapers off within 7 days. And it tends to get to be less after each tightening visit.

For most people, discomfort is easily managed. First, you can take normal over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen. You can also try cold foods like ice cream. This can numb the pain, but some people experience more discomfort because it can rapidly change the temperature of the archwire and brackets, which will then chill your teeth.

Orthodontic wax can help avoid irritation, though it doesn’t usually help with the soreness associated with placing braces or tightening them. Some wax is medicated, though, and that might help.

As far as chewing goes, people have different experiences. Some people feel relief from chewing more, while others find that sticking to soft foods after a tightening is the best choice.

If you would like to talk about this or other questions about braces, please call (614) 848-5001 for an appointment with a cosmetic dentist at the Center for Family & Cosmetic Dentistry.