When Is Emergency Orthodontic Care Necessary?

More than 4 million people in the United States have braces, and about a quarter of them are adults. And that stands to reason, because wearing braces is one of the best treatments for your smile and your overall oral health. 

Of course, every once in a while, things can go wrong. But even though broken braces may seem like an emergency, it's actually not as urgent a problem as you might think.

To explain the difference between minor issues and legitimate orthodontic emergencies, our team at LM Orthodontics in McLean, Virginia, offers some guidelines so you know how to handle common problems and what to do in a real emergency. 

Orthodontic issues you can handle at home

Whether you’re wearing traditional metal braces or clear braces, you’ve chosen an excellent way to bring your teeth into proper alignment. This method is a tried-and-true treatment that has proven successful for countless people over the years. 

Along with the many benefits of braces come a couple of potential problems, but you can handle most of them at home until you can make an appointment to come see us. 

Here are the issues that require a phone call and a visit, but are NOT emergencies:

Along with these occasional problems, it’s normal to feel some discomfort when wearing braces as the appliance works to move your teeth. Over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol®) work well to alleviate minor aches and pains.

As you become accustomed to wearing your new braces, your gums, lips, tongue, and cheeks may sustain some microabrasions. To ease any soreness and to clean the area, we recommend rinsing with warm salt water (about a teaspoon of salt per eight ounces of water). 

Orthodontic emergencies

When your orthodontic issue is more complicated than a few loose or poking brackets or wires, you may need immediate attention. 

Here’s what constitutes a true orthodontic emergency:


If your gums or inner cheek show signs of infection, you need to come in right away. Look for white ulcers, pimple-like abscesses, and inflamed or oozing tissue, as these are clear indicators you have an infection. Rinse with the warm salt water solution we mentioned and call us immediately.

Severe pain

While mild soreness is normal when you wear braces, severe pain is not, and it doesn’t happen very often. If you do feel extraordinary pain, it may point to another issue, such as infection or other dental problems. It’s best to call us immediately so we can get to the bottom of what’s causing your pain.


If you’ve been in an accident or have taken a blow to the face and are bleeding profusely, get emergency medical care. Then, as soon as you’re safe and stable, call us so we can take immediate action and either repair or remove your braces so you can heal. 

How to prevent orthodontic emergencies

Most orthodontic emergencies are preventable. Wearing your seatbelt while traveling in a motor vehicle and wearing a helmet and mouth guard while playing sports are key to keeping your braces intact and your mouth free from harm.

Wearing your headgear for the prescribed number of hours is also important, because the more you wear it, the faster you’ll get used to it and get past the uncomfortable stage.

Avoiding hard, sticky, chewy foods is also a must, as these items can easily break your braces and cause injury, not to mention delay your treatment. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your braces or think you’re experiencing an orthodontic emergency, call us at 703-498-2047 or book an in-person consultation online today. 

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