Updated: Oct 5
This is probably the most common question asked by our patients. Why does treatment sometimes hurt, what causes the pain, and how do you get rid of it?
Isn’t it amazing that orthodontists are able to move and straighten teeth even though those teeth are anchored to our jaws? Fortunately for us, our teeth are not directly attached to the bones in our jaws, but instead they are held in place by something dental professionals call the attachment apparatus. This apparatus is composed of several types of connective tissue but the most important one for moving teeth is called the periodontal ligament (see picture below). This ligament bundle acts as tiny bungee cords and attaches from the roots of our teeth to the bone lining the tooth socket. Everytime we bite down, our teeth actually bounce up and down just a little bit because these ligaments temporarily stretch and compress. When pressure is applied to our teeth for a short amount of time (ie., when we eat, chew gum or smile) we rarely feel any pain. But what would happen if you clenched your teeth for a long period of time? If you clench or grind your teeth when you sleep then you already know the answer. They hurt!
The reason they hurt is that applying pressure for a long time will compress those periodontal ligaments too much and begin to trigger pain receptors in the area. The same thing happens when your teeth are moved with braces or clear aligners. Although compressing the ligaments has the negative side effect of pain and discomfort, this compression is crucial to tooth movement. After 4-6 hours of compression, the cells responsible for bone remodeling receive the signal that they need to get to work and start making changes to the bone surrounding the teeth. Once that bony remodeling starts, less pressure will be felt by the periodontal ligaments and the pain will go away.
But what about those 4-7 days when your teeth are killing you?!? The best way to relieve the pain is by eating soft foods and taking a mild over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). If you have braces, cold water can also help because it will temporarily soften the wire and decrease the pressure applied to your teeth.
Do you have any questions about orthodontics? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!