Is Your Braces Wire Stabbing Your Cheek? Here’s What to Do

If you’re new to braces, and you’re just recovering from sore cheeks and painful teeth, you may run into a new problem: long, pokey wires that are stabbing your cheeks.

As an orthodontist, I have a lot of sympathy for my patients coming back with a pokey wire. When they open their mouth and I see the state of their cheeks, and how relieved they feel the second I remove the excess wire, I always feel sorry that I couldn’t help them sooner.

That shouldn’t be you, and there’s no reason for you to suffer in silence. Pokey wires are no joke, they will hurt until you do something about it, so in this article, I’ll explain exactly what to do next.

What Causes Braces Wires to Stab Your Cheek?

Pokey wires are a common issue that many orthodontic patients experience during their treatment, so expect you’ll be running into this problem too, every once in a while. Here are some of the most common causes of long wires stabbing your cheek:

Teeth Alignment. One of the main causes of pokey wires is teeth alignment. Crooked teeth will always use up more wire than straight teeth. When teeth are moving into their proper positions, the wire that connects the brackets can become longer than it needs to be because the distance between brackets shortens. This excess wire can poke the inside of your cheek, and can be very uncomfortable. Not all long wires will hurt braces patients, but when they do, it’s time to take action.

Closing Gaps. Another cause of pokey wires is space closure or closing gaps. When there is a gap or an extraction site between teeth that needs to be closed, the wire will naturally be longer to cover that space and run through all the braces. As the gap becomes smaller, the distance between braces shortens, and the excess wire can poke your cheek or gums.

Wire Sliding to One Side. Sometimes, the wire can slide to one side, usually because of chewing and strong jaw muscles. This can cause the wire to poke your cheek or lips, leading to pain and discomfort.

Bracket on One Molar Fell Off. If a bracket on one of your molars falls off, it can create a long, loose wire that can poke your cheek or dig into your gums. The wire is even harder to manage or cut off if you’re in your last stage of braces and have a thicker stainless steel wire.

Not Cutting the Wire Short Enough. Finally, not cutting the wire short enough can also cause pokey wires. At your orthodontist’s office, they will always check for pokey wires before you leave, but sometimes cheek damage can still occur if the wire is not cut short enough. Some patients are very sensitive to even the slightest amount of wire sticking out.

Always check how the wire feels before leaving the orthodontist’s office! You’re the only one who can tell if the wire is comfortable or not. Make several movements with your lips and cheeks, that you would do while eating or talking. If nothing hurts or pokes, you should be fine.

What to do if the wire is stabbing your cheek

First of all, how can you tell if the pain that you feel is really coming from a pokey wire or not? Since pokey wires mainly cause issues in the back of the mouth, they can also be confused with canker sores or even third molar issues.

When a wire is poking your cheek, you may experience symptoms such as redness and swelling in the area, desquamation, and pain. These symptoms can be very uncomfortable and can make it difficult to eat or speak.

Over-the-counter medications like Orajel can help numb the area and provide temporary relief, combined with orthodontic wax, but this is just a temporary solution. The best thing you can do is remove the excess wire that’s causing the issue.

Not sure what to do? Here are the top 3 actions you can take, in order of efficiency:

1. Go to your orthodontist’s office

If you’re experiencing a pokey wire, the first thing you should do is call your orthodontist. They are used to this situation, as it’s quite common during orthodontic treatment. Since it can be a painful situation for the patient, it’s considered an emergency appointment.

When you call your orthodontist, let them know if you have any broken brackets resulting in this extra wire, so they know how much time to allow for the procedure.

When you get to your appointment, your orthodontist will then examine your braces and identify the source of the discomfort or pain.

If it’s just a longer wire, your orthodontist will cut the excess wire using a distal end cutter. This is a specialized tool that is designed to be precise and easy to use, with a small, sharp cutting edge that allows your orthodontist to cut the wire quickly and accurately. This should be a quick and painless procedure.

Here’s an example of what a distal end wire cutter looks like. This tool is essential, especially when cutting thicker stainless steel archwires, which can cause brackets to break if not handled carefully.

YouTube video

If a bracket is missing, causing a piece of excess wire to hang in the back, your orthodontist will bond the bracket and make sure the wire is nice and comfortable.

Some patients are quite sensitive to longer wires, especially when the second molars are bonded, which is why they feel even 1-2 mm of excess wire. However, in time, the area in the cheeks becomes a little calloused and less sensitive.

2. Go to a dentist’s office

If you can’t get to your orthodontist’s office, going to a dentist’s office is another option. Any dentist can cut excess wire, either with pliers or with a high-speed burr. As we mentioned, even a tiny bit of excess wire can be uncomfortable for some patients, so using a burr to file the wire all the way to the back of the bracket is sometimes a good solution.

However, keep in mind that dentists may not have the same level of experience and expertise with orthodontic procedures as your orthodontist, so ask them to keep braces procedures to a minimum and focus on fixing your emergency.

3. Attempt to fix the wire at home

If you’re experiencing a pokey wire, it can be tempting to try to fix it at home. However, this is not recommended, as it can be dangerous and may cause more harm than good.

Orthodontic wax is a popular solution for pokey wires. Orthodontic wax often falls off, so if it doesn’t stay on, try to dry the area first to make it stick better. You can also try using blu tack, Ortho Dots silicone or bubble gum, but if the wire is long, these tricks won’t help much.

Another popular solution online is to use pencil erasers to bend the wire. However, pencil erasers don’t really bend wires, because the wire is either flexible NiTi which doesn’t bend permanently, or hard stainless steel. Pushing too hard with an eraser can make your last bracket come off, so it’s best not to try it.

Tweezers may be helpful if what’s causing the issue is a wire that’s sliding from one side to the other. Tweezers may help center the wire so there’s not as much wire excess left in the back. Try to gently pull the wire in between braces, from one side to the other.

Nail clippers are another popular solution, but they have difficult access in the back of the mouth and you could potentially break the molar tubes. Generally, nail clippers are okay if you want to cut a small NiTi wire that’s used at the beginning of treatment.

YouTube video

For harder wires, small wire cutters are the best option. Cut in between the last two brackets so you don’t risk still having a pokey end of the wire hurting your cheeks, and you don’t risk debonding the last bracket. Keep in mind that a harder, stainless steel wire may dull the blades on your cutter, as they’re meant to handle softer metal.

What to do if the wire near an extraction site is digging into your cheek?

Another situation where the wire can get really uncomfortable is when the wire corresponding to an extraction site starts digging inside the cheek.

Extraction sites, especially when a molar is missing, can get quite large – up to 10mm. As a result, the distance between brackets can be 10-15mm long, which means you’ll have a long piece of wire that’s not supported by anything.

During the first stage of braces, these extraction site wire segments can get really annoying, as they often bend or come out of the last brackets due to the pressure exerted on them by food. At the same time, such a sharp, thin wire can easily dig into the cheek and cut it while speaking or chewing.

The best thing you can do about this situation is simply let your orthodontist know about your discomfort. There are certain archwire rubber sleeves that we can place on top of free sections of your wire to make it more comfortable for you.

Some orthodontists don’t use the wire tubing upfront because they can create friction and delay treatment time, but it’s worth the trouble if the wire is really bothering you.

Conclusion

Experiencing a pokey wire that’s stabbing your cheek can be uncomfortable and painful, but it’s usually a short-lived problem that won’t cause too much damage if you address it quickly.

Ideally, you should go see your orthodontist as soon as you can, but if that’s not possible, at least give them a call and let them know what’s going on. Don’t treat yourself at home without your doctor’s knowledge. Any dentist in the area will be able to provide you with fast, efficient relief.

Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth and gums during orthodontic treatment is crucial. That’s why I’ve put together a list of orthodontist-recommended tools that will make caring for your braces a breeze:

  • An awesome mid-range electric toothbrush. Rotating electric brushes are much more effective, in my opinion, than sonic ones. You can keep your teeth white by using whitening replacement heads.
  • A countertop water flosser to blast out food debris between teeth. I know handheld models are tempting, but you’ll need a lot of water. You can almost replace flossing with this and your gums will be healthier.
  • Braces accessories to get into all the nooks and crannies: straight or angled interdental brushes, floss threaders, orthodontic wax or silicone. For pain management, have gel ice packs handy, Orajel, and Mouth Magic (a cool soothing solution for mouth sores).
  • For clear aligner patients, a tool like PUL helps both remove and seat your aligner or retainer. Don’t forget to use a cleaning product like crystals to keep your trays fresh and hygienic.

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