Do Spacers Hurt More Than Braces? And Other Spacer FAQs

You’re about to get spacers for your braces and you’re not excited. We feel for you, some of the worst memories about braces include surviving spacers. Your more experienced friends aren’t very encouraging, and neither is the internet. Yes, spacers hurt – but just how much, exactly?

Spacers hurt more than braces but the pain is of a different nature because it involves the gums. The pain from spacers doesn’t last as long as the one from braces, and over-the-counter painkillers usually help it subside. The level of pain also depends on the amount of crowding.

In this article, I’ll explain all there is to know about WHY spacers hurt so much, why they’re sometimes necessary, and how to make your life a little easier while wearing them. Let’s dive in!

What are spacers and does every patient need them?

Spacers, also called separators, are tiny rubber bands that get stretched and placed in between your back teeth, particularly in front and behind the 1st molars. Sometimes, spacers can be made out of metal and look like a spring. Most elastic separators are blue or purple.

The purpose of spacers is to make room for the metal bands that will be glued on the molars during the band-fitting appointment. You can get bands on all four 1st molars and sometimes 2nd molars too, or you could have a combination of bands and molar brackets (tubes).

Spacers aren’t always the first step to braces, because not all patients need them. These days, we’re moving away from bands, and bonding brackets on molars instead. However, there will be certain cases when other appliances need to be used, and they usually rest on molars and molar bands.

So if you’re about to get an expander, a TPA arch, a lip bumper, a headgear, or if you’re not a great candidate for brackets on molars, you’re going to get molar bands, and that means starting your braces journey with spacers.

Does it hurt to put spacers in? Do they hurt more than braces?

Your appointment for placing spacers will only last a few minutes, and it’s usually a little uncomfortable, but pain-free.

Your orthodontist or assistant will take each separator and stretch it out in between your back teeth. There are a couple of ways to do this:

1. Your ortho will use an instrument called a ‘separating plier’. This plier will stretch out the elastic spacer, and your doctor will push it down in between your teeth. One side of the elastic circle needs to sit below the teeth contact point, and the other side will sit on top.

2. The other method of placing a spacer involves two pieces of dental floss, or a piece of dental floss and a Matthieu ligature plier.

Your doctor will hold one piece of the floss (or the Mathieu plier) toward the lip, securing the spacer, and will run the other piece of floss through the contact point.

Next, by pulling on both sides, the spacer will stretch and go in between the teeth. At this point, both sides of the elastic circle will sit under the contact point, and your doctor will need to wiggle the top side of the spacer, so it sits on top of the contact point. (Check the video below to see how it’s done)

3. You will be able to see your separators as blue or purple pieces of rubber in between your teeth when you open your mouth. Check on them regularly to make sure they’re all staying put.

YouTube video

The appointment for placing spacers won’t be painful at all, you’ll just feel like something is wedged in between your teeth – because that’s what’s happening. But as time passes, this sensation will turn into pain.

Typically, about 4 hours after getting spacers, most patients will start feeling some pain. The pain feels dull and doesn’t go away, and your molars might ache when you press on them.

Have you ever had apple skin stuck under your gums? That little sucker can really hurt when it gets stuck in a tight spot. Have you ever wondered what makes it hurt so bad? It’s actually the gum fibers, blood vessels, and nerves that are responsible for this kind of pain.

The pain you feel with spacers is due to the pressure on the gums, not just the fact that the teeth are forced to move. Your gums’ circulation gets interrupted in that spot, and the tooth gets forced out of its normal position in a short amount of time.

While it’s all temporary, and everything quickly snaps back into place after the spacers are gone, it will lead to a considerable amount of pain. Spacers are also the first thing to move your teeth out of place, and the first time teeth move with braces is always the most painful. So, it’s safe to say that spacers do hurt more than braces, but the pain doesn’t last long.

How long do teeth hurt with spacers?

After getting spacers, you’ll start feeling pain after a few hours. The pain will typically peak during the night or early in the morning, the next day, and may continue for the following 24-48 hours. It should subside in a couple of days.

Don’t worry if the teeth are still tender to pressure. Some molars may even feel loose, and that’s perfectly normal.

The amount and duration of pain you will feel also depends on how crowded your back teeth are. If the contact points are really tight, it may take a while for your molars to push apart. If the spacer went in without much effort, the pain should go away quickly.

Your spacers should stay in your mouth for about 7 to 14 days, but don’t expect to feel pain the entire time. Metal spacers are left for only 3-4 days, but they’re thicker and may cause more pain. Metal spacers are also less commonly used, but it depends on your orthodontist’s preference.

What helps with spacer pain?

Regular pain medication that you have at home should do the trick with spacer pain. You can take Tylenol or Advil or alternate between the two. Take Tylenol as soon as the pain sets in, don’t wait for it to get worse, or it won’t have the same calming effect.

Keep painkillers on your night stand in case the pain wakes you up at night. Always check with your doctor before taking pain medication – it’s best to discuss what type of painkillers and what dosage is safe at the spacer placing appointment.

Aside from pain medication, you can try eating cold, soft food, like ice cream or yoghurt. You can also try warm salt water rinses. But for the most part, you’ll just have to live with the pain for a day or two.

Spacer FAQs

Do spacers fall out on their own?

The rubber spacers may fall out on their own, once enough space has been created. If they fall after 5-7 days, there may be no need to do replace them, but you should visit the orthodontist’s office immediately for band fitting, so the space doesn’t close.

If some spacers fall after just a few days, it might be because of something you ate, or the way you brushed or flossed. In this case, you doctor may need to put another spacer in.

What can’t you eat with spacers?

Sticky food, particularly gum, gummy candy or toffee can cause your spacers to come off. The same is true for hard crunchy food, like popcorn, pretzels, or nuts. Cold food feels great, but you shouldn’t chew ice. Your molars will hurt, so you won’t be able to eat food that’s too hard anyway.

Can you drink soda with spacers?

It’s best to stay away from soda when having spacers on. Remember that you won’t be able to floss in between those teeth that have spacers, so any sugary residue will stick to those surfaces. It’s best to avoid sweets and soda while you have spacers on.

How to clean teeth with spacers?

Brush your teeth as you normally would before getting spacers. When you get to the spacers, avoid brushing vertically so you don’t displace them. Instead, move your brush horizontally on the sides of your molars.

Floss all teeth except the contacts that have separators. Flossing that area would cause the spacers to come off.

If you’re using a water flosser, avoid the spacer area just to be safe. It’s just for 1 to 2 weeks, and then you’ll have braces to worry about.

Can spacers get stuck in gums?

Remember how the top part of the spacer circle needs to sit on top of the contact point? Sometimes, that part can slip underneath the contact point and get wedged inside the gum. This might feel more painful than before, and the gum may even turn purple and bleed.

If you can, try to thread a piece of floss through both sides of the spacer – the side from the tongue, and the one from the lip. Stretch the spacer by pulling on both sides and try to pull some of it up, without removing it altogether. This might prove to be difficult, because the spacer is small and tight, and there might be some bleeding.

Your orthodontist’s office will surely help you if you can’t do this on your own. It’s not healthy to leave your spacer underneath the gum for too long.

What happens if you swallow a spacer?

If you swallowed a rubber spacer, don’t worry, it’s harmless. Swallowing metal spacers may seem more threatening, just like swallowing brackets or pieces of ligature or wire. But in most cases, it’s nothing to worry about.

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