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Updated on October 3, 2022

Spacers for Braces

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What are Orthodontic Spacers?

Orthodontic spacers are appliances used to prepare the mouth for braces. Also known as orthodontic separators, they are placed in between the teeth to create space for your braces.

Your orthodontist will determine if you need spacers for braces and where to install them. The simple procedure involves a small, specialized tool that inserts the spacers between the teeth. 

Spacers for teeth are a temporary intervention, usually worn for about 1 to 2 weeks before braces. When it’s time to install your braces, your orthodontist will remove the spacers.

Types of Orthodontic Spacers

In recent years, orthodontists have primarily used two types of spacers: metal spacers, also known as springs, and rubber spacers, or elastomerics.1

  • Metal spacers – small metal rings inserted between two teeth. These may be used over more extended periods and are less likely to fall out.
  • Rubber spacers – small elastic loops resembling rubber bands that slide between two teeth. These are the most commonly used to create space for braces.2

Your orthodontist will determine which type to use based on your needs and your teeth. Both types are inserted in the same way, with a specialized tool that resembles pliers. The procedure is usually quick, involves just a little discomfort, and does not require anesthesia.

Who Needs Orthodontic Spacers?

Not everyone will need to wear spacers in preparation for their braces. Your teeth may already have enough space to install braces without using separators first.

However, most people need spacers before braces, especially in the quadrants of their mouth where the teeth are crowded

Your orthodontist will assess your teeth and determine which ones need spacers, which create the gaps required for braces. 

Pros and Cons of Spacers for Braces

Orthodontic spacers can be useful appliances that prepare your mouth for success before getting braces. There are many reasons to use them. However, they are not without their disadvantages.

The pros of spacers for braces include:

  • Highly effective – studies show that all types of separators result in a significant separation between the teeth, regardless of material.3
  • Improve the success of braces – spacers pave the way for braces and can help them produce even more impressive results. In addition, fixing crowded or misaligned teeth decreases the likelihood of cavities and gum disease since it makes oral hygiene easier. 
  • No additional cost – since they are part of your orthodontic treatment, spacers are typically included in the total cost of braces.

On the other hand, spacers have their downsides. The cons of spacers include:

  • Can cause discomfort – since they are applying constant pressure on your teeth and gums, it is possible to experience discomfort from your spacers.
  • Changing your diet – your orthodontist will advise you on which foods to avoid while you have spacers and braces. Some people may find it difficult to alter their diet. 
  • Potential damage to spacers – eating certain foods, such as candy or crunchy snacks, may damage your spacers, which your orthodontist may need to repair or replace.

Talking to your orthodontist is the best way to determine whether spacers are recommended for you. 

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Spacers Maintenance & Care

Though you will only wear your orthodontic spacers for a week or two, you must care for them adequately. Doing so can help train you to care for your braces. 

1. Do Spacers Hurt?

Orthodontic spacers can cause some discomfort. They apply pressure to your teeth and gums as they make space between them, potentially resulting in tenderness and aching. You may also experience some swelling or bleeding in the gums. 

Studies have observed that metal and rubber spacers cause a comparable amount of discomfort in most people.4 The discomfort is usually most intense in the first day or two, then steadily decreases over time.5

If your discomfort or pain persists while wearing teeth spacers, you can: 

  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Have cold drinks like water
  • Apply a paper towel moistened with cool water to the affected area

2. How to Take Care of Your Teeth With Spacers

It’s essential to care for your teeth properly while you have orthodontic spacers. This includes brushing and flossing your teeth daily, but you must do so very carefully.

Before you brush your teeth, rinse your mouth out with water. Brush your teeth slowly and gently, avoiding vertical movements that may dislodge the spacers. You should only floss those teeth that do not have spacers in between them. 

3. What to Do if Your Spacers Fall Out

Your spacers may fall out before your next scheduled visit with your orthodontist. Call your orthodontist to see if you need replacement spacers. 

If your next appointment is soon, you may not need replacement spacers since they’ve done their job and created adequate space between your teeth. It is important to call your orthodontist to discuss how to proceed.

4. Eating With Spacers

You will need to modify your eating habits when you have orthodontic spacers or braces. You should chewy foods like gum or caramels and crunchy foods like pretzels or even apples. 

Sticky foods and sugary foods are also best avoided. Their texture could damage spacers or pull them out from between the teeth. The sugar can also infiltrate the space between the teeth and cause cavities. 

Soft, easy-to-chew food is recommended, such as smoothies, steamed vegetables, and boiled chicken.6  These foods can also help reduce pain and discomfort.

Summary

Orthodontic spacers create gaps between crowded teeth in preparation for braces. Often made of either rubber or metal, they are inserted between the teeth and worn for 1 to 2 weeks. Your orthodontist removes them before braces are installed.

Orthodontic separators are highly effective in creating space between teeth. Though they may cause discomfort or temporary pain, they can also maximize the impact of your braces.

6 Sources Cited
Last updated on October 3, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Vallakati, A. et al. “Orthodontic Separators – A Systemic Review.” Journal of Orofacial & Health Sciences, Diva Enterprises Pvt. Ltd., 30 Mar. 2015
  2. Everything About Spacers (Orthodontic Separators) for Braces.” Diamond Braces, 2022
  3. Malagan, M. et al. “Comparison between efficacy of four different types of orthodontic separators.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, National Library of Medicine, 20 Aug. 2014
  4. Al-Balbeesi, H. et al. “Pain and distress induced by elastomeric and spring separators in patients undergoing orthodontic treatment.” Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry, National Library of Medicine, Nov-Dec 2016
  5. Bondemark, L. et al. “Separation Effect and Perception of Pain and Discomfort from Two Types of Orthodontic Separators.” World Journal of Orthodontics, Quintessence Publishing Company, Inc., Summer 2004
  6. McGuire, J. “14 Best Soft Foods for Braces.” ProSmiles Orthodontics, 13 Nov. 2019
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