You’re excited about the big changes you’ll see in your smile once your braces come off. But until that day comes, living with the side effects of orthodontic treatment can be frustrating.
Braces are often uncomfortable and inconvenient. They’re highly visible and draw unwanted attention to your teeth. You have to stay away from certain beloved foods until your treatment is over.
But the worst side effect? The funky breath you seem to have developed since you got braces put on.
What is the connection between bad breath and braces? And what can you do to avoid the embarrassment of halitosis during your orthodontic treatment? Keep reading to find out.
What Are the Possible Causes?
Common causes of bad breath include:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Oral disease
- Dry mouth
- Medical conditions
People who wear braces can experience bad breath for the same reasons anyone else does. But if you never struggled with halitosis before getting braces, then you may naturally suspect that your braces have something to do with the new development.
Most bad breath cases are caused by smelly gases released by bacteria that live in your mouth. These fumes are called “volatile sulfur compounds,” or VSCs, for short. Most of these bacteria take up residence on your tongue, but some are found in the layers of dental plaque that grow on and between teeth.
A 2016 study suggested that because orthodontic appliances provide extra surfaces for dental plaque to grow on, braces can indeed contribute to bad breath.
With those study findings in mind, it makes sense that removable orthodontic appliances like clear aligners are less likely to cause bad breath than regular braces.
Although less conclusive, another study found that self-ligating braces are slightly better at preventing bad breath than regular braces. These braces straighten teeth using only brackets and an archwire and don’t require rubber bands.
To sum it up, you are more likely to have bad breath if you have braces because they make it easier for odor-causing plaque to grow in your mouth.
If you’re wearing braces right now, then this conclusion may sound like bad news. The good news, however, is that you can prevent bad breath from braces.
Preventative Measures: How to Avoid Bad Breath When You Have Braces
These tips will help you avoid the embarrassment of bad breath while you’re undergoing orthodontic treatment.
Keep up your oral hygiene
Excellent oral hygiene is the number one way to keep bad breath at bay. Even when you take braces out of the picture, oral hygiene is usually the main factor in determining how your breath smells.
Oral hygiene is especially vital during orthodontic treatment because letting plaque grow unchecked can lead to diseases like tooth decay and gingivitis. These conditions can then complicate or slow down your teeth-straightening progress.
Halitosis-causing plaque is sticky, so you need to remove it every day with these practices.
- Brush two to three times each day, carefully angling your brush around all sides of your brackets.
- Clean between your teeth with an orthodontic or water flosser.
- Scrape your tongue to remove the bacterial film that coats it.
Use an alcohol-free mouthwash
Although a rinse can’t substitute for mechanical plaque removal, it’s the perfect supplement to your bad-breath-fighting oral-hygiene routine.
Many mouthwashes on the market contain alcohol, which can be drying. Use an alcohol-free mouthwash to refresh gently while targeting the sulfurous gases produced by bacteria.
Consider your diet
If you have bad breath that persists despite your best efforts to up your oral-hygiene game, then consider your diet.
Foods that linger on your breath (or stay stuck in your braces) for hours can make you self-conscious about the way your breath smells.
You may struggle with bad breath if you consume a lot of certain foods such as garlic, onions, and alcohol.
Avoid these foods or time your meals to avoid these items when you know you’ll be socializing with others. With these precautions, you’ll be more confident that your breath smells fresh to others.
Interestingly, certain foods can help you combat bad breath. Researchers at Ohio State University discovered that consuming fresh mint leaves, fresh lettuce, or fresh apples along with garlic or shortly after eating garlic helped prevent garlic breath. Just slice the apple before eating it if you have braces!
Try oral probiotics
Remember those pesky VSCs we talked about earlier?
One way to prevent those smelly fumes is to prevent the growth of the bacteria that release them. In addition to removing germs with good oral-hygiene techniques, try balancing out the flora of your mouth by supplementing with an oral probiotic.
You may have heard about gut probiotics that help balance bacterial flora in the intestines. People usually consume them in capsules that deliver the beneficial bacteria directly to the gut.
Oral probiotics, on the other hand, typically come in a lozenge you chew or suck on to slowly release the good bacteria into your oral environment. As these healthful bacteria flourish, they crowd out the halitosis-causing bacteria.
In a review of multiple studies, researchers concluded that taking some oral probiotics may help prevent halitosis. They noted that further research is needed, but some small studies seemed promising. For example, a small study published in 2019 indicated that taking an oral probiotic lozenge for three months helped reduce volatile sulfur compounds in people with braces.
Bacterial plaque grows quickly in a dry mouth. Saliva naturally loosens plaque and helps to neutralize and wash away bacterial waste products. If you’re dehydrated or suffering from dry mouth, then your body can’t produce enough saliva to counter the effects of bacteria.
Keep your mouth hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Sip on plain water throughout the day to help your mouth feel comfortable and keep your breath fresh.
Visit your orthodontist for regular cleanings
See your orthodontist regularly during your treatment for regular cleanings and checkups. Don’t skip any appointments! These visits will allow your orthodontist to see how your treatment is progressing and identify potential complications before they can derail your treatment.
Each visit also gives you the chance to discuss your bad breath concerns with a professional who can help you discover if your braces or another factor are causing it.
At regular professional cleanings, the hygienist will remove or clean around the wire to get rid of plaque that causes cavities, tooth decay, and bad breath.
When To See Your Dentist
Halitosis is usually more of a social concern than a serious health problem. But it can also be just one of several indicators that something is wrong.
See a dentist if you experience other symptoms of oral disease like:
- Swollen and/or bleeding gums
- Loose teeth
- Cracked teeth
- A bad taste in your mouth
- A pimple or swollen bump on your gums
- Tooth sensitivity to temperature changes
- Dental pain when biting into or chewing food
Even if you don’t suspect that you have a serious oral health problem, the stress of bad breath can take a toll on your wellbeing. You don’t need to suffer in silence. Reach out to a dentist to get recommendations for safe and effective remedies if you feel your braces are making your breath stink.
Braces and Breath: A Summary
Bad breath is a common concern for people with braces, but fortunately, it’s easy to fix and prevent. If you wear braces, you can enjoy fresh breath if you practice excellent oral hygiene, avoid smelly foods, stay hydrated, use an alcohol-free mouthwash, give oral probiotics a try, and consult with your orthodontist or general dentist for cleanings and professional advice.