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If you have braces, it’s very likely that at some point in your treatment, your orthodontist has prescribed the use of orthodontic rubber bands. These little rubber bands attach to hooks on your braces and apply extra force to help move your teeth into their correct positions.
Unfortunately, elastics can also cause a lot of pain and discomfort, leaving many patients wondering why their rubber bands hurt their teeth so much. In this article, we will discuss the reasons why orthodontic rubber bands hurt, whether they can cause TMJ pain, and some tips for managing the pain.
Why do rubber bands cause so much pain?
Rubber bands used in orthodontic treatment are designed to apply additional pressure to your teeth, much like the braces themselves. The difference is that the force from rubber bands is more focused on certain teeth, and as a result, the pain can be more intense. As a bonus, elastics are also stronger than your typical archwire, so you can truly say that elastics hurt more than getting braces.
Like braces, the pain from rubber bands is at its peak about 3-4 days after the bands are first applied and then subsides gradually over the following days.
The reason why rubber bands hurt so much is that they are stretching the fibers underneath your teeth – a gum-like tissue called the periodontium. These fibers are responsible for holding your teeth in place and the feeling of stretching it can be compared to a slow extraction.
Rest assured, though, no one is pulling your teeth out, but it might feel like it. The teeth you apply elastics to may become a little loose, and that’s perfectly normal. In fact, it’s the way your orthodontist can tell whether you’ve been wearing your elastics or not.
As the fibers are stretched, your teeth will become looser and eventually move into the correct position. The process of moving teeth involves melting bone on one side and adding bone on the other, which can be uncomfortable during the first couple of weeks.
Rubber bands also hurt because groups of teeth are being moved, not just individual teeth. This can create a greater sense of pressure and make the pain more intense.
Can rubber bands cause TMJ pain?
Yes, it is possible for rubber bands to cause TMJ pain. Too much force can cause additional stress to the TMJ, leading to discomfort or even irreversible damage. TMJ pain is different from elastic pain, though, so if you’re experiencing headaches and/or a locked jaw, go to your orthodontist immediately.
This might happen to you if you’ve been doubling up on rubber bands or wearing them longer than you should. Check this article on the dos and don’ts of wearing rubber bands.
If you’re worried about TMJ issues, it’s worth noting that this is not a common side effect of using orthodontic rubber bands. Your orthodontist will monitor your progress and adjust the amount of force applied to your teeth to ensure that it is safe.
Tips for managing pain caused by elastics
Okay, so now that we know why these rubber bands are causing so much pain, let’s talk about what you can do to make the pain more bearable.
1. Over-the-counter medication
Over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be effective in managing the discomfort caused by orthodontic rubber bands. Be sure to follow the recommended dosage and consult with your orthodontist before taking any medication.
2. Bite wafers
Bite wafers are small plastic devices that can be placed between your teeth to help distribute the pressure from the rubber bands more evenly. Your orthodontist can provide you with bite wafers and show you how to use them. Bite wafers are particularly helpful for individuals who have sensitive teeth or who find it difficult to tolerate the pressure from the rubber bands.
Another thing you could try is aligner chewies. They’re similar to bite wafers, just smaller, and you can put them in the freezer and squeeze your painful teeth on them to find some relief. I like these popsicle-shaped chewies for Invisalign, but they work with braces too.
3. Ice Packs
Applying an ice pack to your face can help to numb the area and reduce the feeling of swelling. You can also use a bag of frozen peas if you don’t have an ice pack on hand. Be sure to wrap the ice pack or frozen peas in a towel to prevent direct contact with your skin.
I like to recommend a smaller-sized ice pack, like this gel ice pack that stays flexible when cold. Ice packs should be applied for 20 minutes at a time, with a 20-minute break in between. This will help to prevent any damage to the skin.
4. Cold food and drinks
Consuming cold food and drinks can help to numb the area and provide temporary relief from the discomfort. Ice cream, popsicles, and smoothies are all good options. However, be sure to avoid anything that is too hard or sticky, as this can cause brackets to come loose. No chewing on ice chips!
5. Red wine
It may sound strange, but studies have shown that red wine can actually reduce the perception of pain. This is because red wine contains resveratrol, a natural compound that has anti-inflammatory properties. Be sure to drink in moderation – too much alcohol is never a good thing, plus, red wine can stain your ligatures.
6. Wearing the elastics constantly
The most important thing you can do to manage the pain caused by orthodontic rubber bands is to wear them as instructed. This usually means 22 out of 24 hours, with breaks for eating and brushing your teeth. Replace your rubber bands with fresh ones 3-4 times a day. It might feel like subjecting yourself to more pain, but old, stretched elastics won’t work as well on your teeth.
The biggest mistake patients make with rubber bands is to give up on them, only to start wearing them again once the pain has subsided.
Wearing elastics inconsistently will not only cause unnecessary pain every time you put them back on, but it can also hinder any progress that has been made in your treatment. For every day you skip wearing your elastics, you’ll set back your treatment time by at least two days.
I know wearing rubber bands isn’t easy, but the pain from elastics is a small price to pay to achieve that beautiful smile and stable bite. Yes, they’re inconvenient when you talk, and when you have to change them, and they’re the source of many tears the first couple of days, but I promise you’ll get used to them, and you’ll soon become a pro.
You only have to last one week, and then the pain will become a distant memory. So before you throw your elastic pouches away, try to do anything to alleviate your pain for 7 days. It will be worth it once you see the results. Good luck!
Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth (and your health) 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: