Just decades ago, almost all braces looked the same -- large metal brackets attached to the exterior of the teeth, with some braces secured on by a metal band that wrapped entirely around each tooth. Glue held individual brackets in place and wire stretched through the brackets, pulling and pressing teeth into alignment with each screw of the orthodontist's tightening tools during frequent office visits.
Braces today come in all shapes, colors, sizes and degrees of invisibility, and even though the stainless steel and metal alloy varieties are still wrapped and glued on, the materials and sizes can be a lot less clunky than those from days past [source: Colgate].
Whether you're wearing removable, clear appliances that go over the teeth -- such as those made by the brand Invisalign -- or sporting metal, ceramic or acrylic brackets on the front or even backs of teeth, tooth and gum care has to be stepped up and is more involved during orthodontic treatment. And although one outcome of wearing braces is that it will be easier to clean and care for your teeth once they are less crowded, braces and other dental appliances get in the way of flossing and brushing.
Removable braces offer some advantages in that they can be rinsed and cleaned frequently -- and they provide access to the whole mouth and all the teeth surfaces. But if wearers aren't keeping up on brushing and flossing, the 22-plus hours these braces are worn can create a lot of bacterial growth, as well as gum irritation.
Attached braces utilize horizontal wires, which make it difficult to floss. And the brackets are applied with glue, which adds spots where plaque can build up on teeth and more places for food to collect and breed acid, which damages enamel. Problems may intensify if mouth sores develop from sharp brace edges or if brushing habits worsen because of mouth pain.
But what about the tooth surface underneath brackets? Is that staying clean and free from stains while braces are in place? Changes in a tooth's color and appearance isn't noticeably different day-to-day, and unfortunately, braces can cause a dramatic before and after in your tooth's enamel.
So what about whitening? Can gradual or intensive whitening while wearing braces change teeth for the better?