Smiling is one of the friendliest gestures you can make, and many people choose braces to help obtain a smile they're proud to flash. Even if you've had braces, you might not realize all the parts that make them function. Spacers for braces are just one of those parts.

Why Braces?

If your teeth are crooked or crowded, braces are an orthodontic solution to the problem. Braces can correct bite issues, also known as malocclusion, if the upper and lower jaws don't properly align when closed.

Braces also serve another function besides that sought-after straight smile. Uncorrected bite issues can result in various mouth health problems, including gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss and worn enamel, according to the American Dental Association. Correcting malocclusion and alignment issues with braces is another preventative measure against poor oral health.

The Parts of Braces

When you conjure the image of braces, you most likely picture a mouth full of metal. Bands are installed around the molars to anchor the structure of braces. Brackets are connected to bands and each other by arch wires and rubber ligatures, and sometimes by orthodontic rubber bands. But before any of this hardware can be installed, your orthodontist must insert spacers.

Spacers for Braces

Spacers aren't a part of braces, but they help prepare teeth for fixed braces to be fastened on, notes the Mayo Clinic. Before the orthodontic bands can be attached to the molars, space needs to be created between the teeth for the bands. That space is created by inserting small metal springs or rubber bands between the back teeth.

Fitting spacers (also known as orthodontic separators) is a simple procedure, but some patients feel a bit of discomfort. According to Braces Guide, the orthodontist stretches the elastic or metal spacer and firmly presses it between the teeth. Once the spacers are properly inserted, they'll stay in for the week before you get your braces.

The pressure created by the forced separation of your teeth can cause jaw, teeth and gum pain that typically lasts for a couple of days. However, it can be easily managed with over-the-counter pain relievers.

How to Protect Your Spacers

One of the drawbacks of wearing spacers and braces is that certain foods are off-limits. Some of the main culprits are sticky foods, such as gum, caramel and taffy, which can become stuck on and around the braces. Hard foods like corn on the cob, raw apples and nuts can break wires and loosen brackets. Finally, foods high in sugar and starch can cause plaque to collect around the brackets, so be extra careful to brush thoroughly to avoid decay and staining.

Reading up on the many steps and parts involved in braces can help you care for your smile while it's under construction. From the start of spacers to the day the brackets come off, remember to see your orthodontist and dentist regularly and maintain excellent oral care at home.

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