If you have ever had braces, there’s a good chance that you’ve had the immense pleasure of wearing rubber bands on these braces. Contrary to popular belief, these little elastic beauties serve a greater purpose than holding pony tails and annoying friends by flicking them in their direction (preferably coated with saliva). In this blog, you will find out why we use them, how often and how long they have to be worn, and what happens if you opt not to wear them and instead make a fun bracelet out of the piles of rubber bands you have stashed in your bathroom drawer.
While braces and Invisalign can move teeth into perfect alignment and give you that smile that makes you wish Snapchat wouldn’t erase your selfies after 20 seconds, neither one is able to bring your upper and lower teeth into the ideal relationship (a.k.a. the “perfect bite”). There are several different “accessories” that are used in orthodontics to achieve this perfect bite, but elastics are by far the easiest and most convenient. By hooking them to certain upper and lower braces, they are able to achieve such movements as bringing a lower jaw forward or back and pulling upper and lower teeth together into ideal contact with each other.
As effective as elastics can be in achieving that perfect bite, there is one catch: they have to be worn!! Several of my teenage patients have developed some interesting theories regarding their rubber bands, a few of which I have compiled into a fun little True/False Quiz:
True or False: If I double up on my rubber bands at night, I don’t have to wear any during the day
True or False: If I wear my rubber bands REALLY well one week before my appointment with Dr. Wing, I don’t have to wear them the rest of the month — he won’t know!
True or False: I don’t have to wear my elastics on vacation — if I get a break, my teeth get a break, too!
True or False: If I swallow a rubber band, my stomach won’t digest it for 7 years
If you are really smart, you guessed that the answer to all of these questions is FALSE! With elastics, consistency is the key. I like to tell my patients of a legendary 13th century tale of a man who embarked on a quest to push a large boulder up a hill. On his first few attempts, he grew tired on his ascent and decided to take a break (probably to go hang out with friends). Upon his return to the boulder, he discovered much to his dismay that instead of being in the place where he last left it, the rock had rolled back down to the bottom of the hill. He had lost what valuable progress he had previously made, and he had to start completely over on his arduous quest. He finally discovered that in order to get the boulder to the top of the hill, he had to put his shoulder to it — and just…keep…pushing until his goal was reached.
There is a remarkable similarity with elastics to this captivating boulder story — if frequent breaks are taken or they are only worn 1/2 time, whatever progress that has been made while wearing them is quickly lost and the teeth and/or jaws move back to their original position. Constant forces are required for teeth/jaws to move where we want them to go in the first place, after which these constant forces are further necessary to allow the bone that supports the teeth to remodel in this new position and provide long term stability.
After 3 round of braces, I am the first to admit that the first few days of wearing elastics are tough! Leaning over the bathroom counter until your face is 2 inches away from the mirror, with what seems like your whole hand in your mouth and a small stream of saliva dripping down your arm — it can get frustrating! And very much like braces, rubber bands can make your teeth sore! Several of my patients take them off because of this soreness, but the best way to help the teeth feel better is to keep the elastics ON and let the teeth get used to the force. Don’t worry…by day 3 or 4 you’ll be able to put those rubber bands on blindfolded while riding a bike and posting your latest selfie to Instagram.
The good news about elastics is that most patients do not need to wear them for the entire time they are in braces — most bite correction is accomplished during the second half of treatment. And although full-time wear is encouraged, you can take them out to eat and to brush. Once again, my clever teenage patients think they have found a loophole to the system by sticking to a strict snacking plan of eating something every 30 minutes. However, for those avid snackers out there, we recommend that you keep the elastics in for snacks and only take them out for actual meals.
The moral to this stretchy story is that elastics are a crucial part of your orthodontic treatment. Without them you may achieve the perfect smile, but your perfect bite will be left on the table. Although a perfect bite lacks the glitz and glamour of a dazzling smile, it is equally important as straight teeth for the long-term health of your teeth and jaw. So…when your mom, spouse, or orthodontist asks if you’re wearing your rubber bands, follow the immortal mantra of Nike and JUST DO IT!