Why You Need Spacers For Braces (Very Important)

What You Need to Know Before Getting Spacers 

What You Need to Know Before Getting Spacers 

Updated: June 2017

You may have just heard that you’ll need to get spacers before you get your braces.

You are probably curious about what this means, what they feel like, and if they’ll hurt. Knowing these things is a good idea before you go in for your next appointment and will make things much easier.

In this article, we’ll answer your questions in detail and go over the whole process. Having this knowledge will enable you to come to the orthodontist appointment better prepared, so you can feel more comfortable during and after the procedure.

What exactly are Spacers for Braces?

When there is not enough space between the teeth, braces cannot be put on. So when you go to the orthodontist for your first visit, the orthodontist will determine whether or not you need spacers.

Spacers for braces are used by most orthodontists on patients who are getting braces and need more space between their molars. Spacers literally create the “space” needed so braces can be properly attached.

They can be thought of as the prelude to braces because they are so often needed to properly prepare your teeth. You may have heard the term ‘Orthodontic Separators’ – this is basically a fancier term for spacers.

Most practitioners use small, elastic rings that they insert between the teeth as spacers. They look a lot like the colored bands you can get for braces, and you can sometimes choose the colors for your spacers as well.

In general, most orthodontists will have you wear spacers for between 7 – 10 days prior to getting your braces. The time frame can be as little as 3 days in some cases. However, some orthodontists may require that you wear spacers for the entire duration of wearing your braces. This is less common but may be necessary depending on your teeth and alignment issues.

The Procedure

In most cases, your second visit will be used to place the spacers. You would normally not need to go back until the spacers are ready to come out, and the braces are put on.

Depending on the patient, between one and twelve spacers are placed. Because the teeth move so rapidly, it is only necessary to wear rubber type spacers for between one and two weeks. But like we mentioned before, in some cases, your orthodontist may want you to leave the spacers in while you are wearing your braces.

If this is the case, metal spacers may be used. Metal spacers are usually worn for longer than the rubber spacers, and they are not as commonly used as rubber-type spacers.

dentist inserting spacers
Getting spacers is relatively quick and painless

In most cases, the orthodontist will string floss through the rubber spacer. He or she will then stretch the elastic spacer until it is thin enough to insert between the teeth. Once the spacer is in the proper position, they will release the band and let it squeeze into place.

Typically the bottom of your spacers will rest just above the gum line, and the top of the spacer will be level with the lowest point on the crowns on each neighboring tooth.

You will typically feel just a mild discomfort when the spacers are placed. Only afterward will the be a dull ache or minor pain as the spacers move your teeth. The amount of pain or discomfort you feel relates to how big the space is between your molars.

If there is little to no space between the molars where the spacers are inserted, then you will feel discomfort from your teeth shifting slightly or discomfort from irritated gums.

In some cases, there is no pain or discomfort when the spacers are first put in, and they begin to hurt after a day or two. You may find that the spacers cause more pain when chewing as well.

This can make eating tough foods or crunchy foods very difficult. When the jaw is especially crowded, the pain caused by the spacers may be more severe or constant. It’s worth noting that because of their rigidness, metal spacers are generally more painful to wear than rubber spacers.

In some cases, the orthodontist will place metal spacers which have a key or a string that tightens the spacers when necessary.

To get some relief from the pain that the spacers are causing, an over the counter pain medication is an effective remedy. Also, eating something cold, such as ice cream or a popsicle can help to relieve some of the discomfort.

The pain will most likely not be severe enough to warrant a prescription painkiller. The most important thing is to avoid difficult food to chew or foods that may get stuck in your teeth such as candy and popcorn.

Once the spacers are placed, it is important not to pick at them or pull at them. This can cause added irritation or cause them to come out before they are ready. If this happens, you will not have adequate space between your teeth on the day that your braces are being put on and you may need to wear spacers for an extended period.

Why Do I Need Spacers?

teen smiling with braces
You will probably need spacers before getting your braces

When braces are fitted to your teeth, it is important that there be a small amount of space between your back molars.

Braces may tend to move your back teeth more snugly against each other, so you need enough room between your teeth to allow for this process, otherwise, it can be very uncomfortable and cause bite problems.

The result achieved by using spacers is to force a little bit of space between your teeth so your braces can do their proper job.

Spacers may be worn until they fall out on their own (which shows enough space has been allowed between the teeth), or until your dentist removes them. It is a problem if you pull the spacers out by yourself. If your spacers last long enough for the orthodontist to remove them, they will be removed immediately before the braces are put on.

While they may be extremely painful at times, fear not. You will likely only need to wear them for a week or two. After spacers for braces are removed, the pain will go away with them.

Discomfort or Pain From Spacers

For some, the process of fitting and wearing spacers only produces mild discomfort.

But it is not uncommon to experience tooth, gum, or jaw pain a few hours or days after the procedure. Initially, you may feel like you have a large piece of food stuck between your teeth, and this can be annoying or uncomfortable to deal with.

The pain you feel during the first 24 – 48 hours after the procedure mainly depends on the sensitivity of your gums and your personal pain tolerance levels. It also depends on the amount of space already present between your teeth – in general, the less space you have, the more discomfort you’ll experience.

If you start feeling a constant dull ache from your spacers, taking over-the-counter pain medicine will help alleviate the problem.

First Day: At first, you may feel like a piece of food is stuck in between your teeth where the spacers were placed. After a few hours, your mouth may begin to get irritated or very sensitive. Most of your teeth may hurt during the first 24 hours.

Day After Fitting: The day after your appointment your teeth may be very sensitive.

2 Days Later: The day after your pain should be diminishing and less noticeable.

1 Week Later: Pain should be nonexistent or still be diminishing.

Your teeth may hurt because the spacers are making room in between your molars by putting pressure on them. This is turn irritates the roots of your teeth, which are connected to nerves. When your nerves become irritated, you’ll feel pain and sensitivity in that region.

If you can’t get a prescription painkiller, over-the-counter medicines such as Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, or Naproxen in proper dosages will work to block the pain.

A few other tips can help you manage the discomfort and avoid making things worse:

  • Biting down with a lot of force can exacerbate the discomfort by adding pressure to teeth that are already under a fair amount of stress. It’s highly recommended that you avoid doing this for the week or so you’ll be wearing spacers.
  • Avoid eating tough or hard foods (such as popcorn, nuts, taco shells, sticky or hard candy, gum, ice, corn chips, pretzels, hard cookies or crackers, and sticky or hard chocolate) because these foods can also increase your discomfort.
  • Instead try to eat mostly soft foods like mashed potatoes, yogurt, smoothies, or hot cereal to help to minimize the added irritation caused by chewing.
  • It’s perfectly okay to brush and rinse your teeth as normal, but make sure to avoid flossing between teeth as this could dislodge the separators.

Will I Need To Get Bands?

Either before or during your first brace-fitting appointment with your orthodontist, you may be recommended metal orthodontic bands.

These metal bands work in the same way that spacers do, but they may be adjusted with a small tool to increase the amount of space between molars. The metal band surrounds the tooth and is generally less comfortable to wear.

Metal bands are becoming an outdated practice in dentistry as more orthodontists prefer to use more comfortable elastic spaces on their patients. The chances of cavities developing with an elastic spacer are generally much lower compared to metal spacers because they do not surround your tooth.


Spacer Removal

This process involves much less discomfort than your initial spacer fitting.

If the elastic separators loosen or fall out a couple days before your next appointment, this is normal and shows that the spacers have done their job, and your teeth have moved appropriately to allow room for braces.

If you still have your spacers, your orthodontist will easily remove them right before your braces are attached. Most often, they will be removed and a metal orthodontic band will be affixed to the second-to-last molar on each side of your mouth, using a special kind of dental cement.

If your orthodontist suggests that spacers be used instead of a metal band for your braces, then they will be left in place or readjusted slightly.


A Final Word

dentist in her office

It may seem daunting to think about getting spacers and braces, but the results will be well-worth the discomfort. If you have any more questions about the procedure, talk to your orthodontist beforehand and make sure you know what to expect going forward. The more you know beforehand, the less stress you’ll experience and the smoother things will go.

If you haven’t yet committed to braces, talk to your orthodontist about other options, such as Invisalign. The dental problems you have may be just as easily corrected with Invisalign as with braces. Plus – you can take them out if you need to, with braces, you don’t have any choice in the matter!

Many people have remarked that spacers were the worst part of the the entire process of getting braces. That may not help prepare you for your next appointment, but it’s good to remember that they are most likely just a temporary thing you need to do in order to have the great teeth you want. A few days of discomfort is usually the worst part of your journey to a better smile.