An orthodontist’s control over how a younger patient cares for their braces and teeth at home is limited, but here are five small steps you can take to help keep patients on track. 

By Clarke Stevens, DDS, MS

As orthodontists, we have a unique opportunity to meet patients wherever they are with their oral health and make improvements. Successful orthodontic treatment greatly depends on patient compliance and getting patients (especially kids) to keep their braces clean. I use these tips in my practice to encourage patients to stay motivated, achieve better outcomes after treatment, and promote a lifetime of good oral health. 

1. Show Don’t Tell

I stress the importance of oral hygiene the moment we put braces on. To help patients develop a healthy routine, I provide them with fluoride and show them how to use floss with a floss threader during their orthodontic treatment. Most people are visual learners and are more likely to repeat cleaning habits when you show them how it’s done.

2. Focus on the Bracket Shape

If the patient has WildSmiles braces, I teach them how to measure their brushing by looking at their brackets. These designer braces come in many fun shapes and have a larger pad, allowing plaque to build up around the bracket instead of on the tooth. When the bracket shape is not fully visible, they know that there is room for brushing habits to improve. This is an easy way to improve oral hygiene compliance at home because it’s a difference that patients can see for themselves.

3. Keep the Bracket Intact

Patients also need to know to protect their braces from damage. Most patients are eager to finish their orthodontic treatment, so I let them know that in addition to keeping their braces clean, keeping them intact by avoiding hard and sticky foods is the fastest way to get them off.

4. Start Healthy Habits Before Treatment Starts

Every patient is different and can have anywhere from poor to outstanding oral health when we first see them. Some patients arrive at the consultation with an abundance of plaque. When this happens, I refer them back to their dentist to start positive oral hygiene techniques before they get their braces on. After their dentist cleans their teeth and reinforces healthy habits, I can begin orthodontic treatment with positive measures in place. 

5. Talk to Kids Directly

At any age and stage, the way we communicate with patients has a powerful impact. When kids understand what’s going on in their treatment, they take more responsibility in keeping their mouth and oral appliances clean. I talk to younger patients directly and make sure to involve parents in the discussion about oral hygiene. That way, adults can ensure the child is brushing at home and can help out if needed.

As orthodontists, our control is limited when it comes to how well patients take care of their braces. We can, however, motivate patients to do their part. Providing support and educating your patients during treatment are small steps that improve compliance now and will contribute to better oral hygiene habits for life. OP

Clarke Stevens, DDS, MS, has been practicing the specialty of orthodontics in Omaha, Neb for many years. He graduated from the University of Nebraska Dental College before earning his master’s degree and certificate in orthodontics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he also did his orthodontics residency. Stevens was an assistant professor of orthodontics at the University of Nebraska for 12 years, where he was also the founder and director of the Dentofacial Program for patients needing orthodontics and jaw surgery. Stevens has also taught at the Creighton University Dental College. He  is the proud creator of the patented WildSmiles Braces and is always seeking to enhance the orthodontic experience for his patients.