Tips & Instructions

Your braces are on. Now, how do you take care of them?

Dr. Haeger and the Haeger Orthodontics team will coach you every step of the way through your treatment, but here are answers to some of the most common orthodontic questions.

How long do I have to wear braces?

The length of treatment varies, but for most people orthodontia takes about two years. To finish as quickly as possible, patients need to play by the rules: follow instructions, keep teeth clean, stick with appointments and wear rubber bands.

How often do I need to be seen?

It takes a few appointments at the beginning to get treatment started. Once treatment is underway, appointments are usually 4 – 8 weeks apart.

Eating with braces

Yes, the rumors are true. For the length of your treatment, it is important to avoid foods that will damage (crack, break, tweak or “sprong”) your braces. The foods that damage the braces are often thought of as chewy, crunchy, sticky, and/or hard. Instead of biting into a whole apple, for example, cut it into easy-to-eat slices.

Official No-No Food List

While you are wearing braces, it is important to avoid food that will break brackets and loosen bands. Sometimes you may not discover something is broken until hours later. When in doubt, just say “no” and walk away.

Here are some of Dr. Haeger’s thoughts on No-No foods:

  • Ice: You’ve got to be kidding. Don’t even think of it.
  • Pizza Crust: Not a good idea. A non-pizza crust diet would probably do us all good.
  • Hard Pretzels: you might as well be eating rocks.
  • Rocks: you might as well be eating hard pretzels.
  • Doritos, Tacos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Fritos, etc.: Yes, these are favorites. But for now, they should be avoided.
  • Hard Rolls or Bagels: the last patient who ate these stayed in braces for 8 1/2 years (or close to it).
  • Beef Jerky, Slim Jims: does anybody really eat these anymore?
  • Suckers and Tootsie Pops: I will bet that the temptation will be too great and you will bite.
  • Nuts: what do you think?
  • Pencils and Pens: a deadly delicacy during test time. Think twice.
  • Popcorn: only if soaked in a soft drink for 20 minutes first and then each and every kernel dissected out.
  • Raw Carrots: these are fine — after they have been placed in a blender on high for about three minutes.
  • Caramel: give me a break!
  • Pop or any carbonated beverages: all carbonated beverages are highly acidic and lead to white marks on teeth — even for those who have good brushing habits.

Brushing and flossing with braces

Excellent care of your teeth is essential for improving your smile. Brushing three times per day and flossing at least once per day will really help make the orthodontic treatment successful.  The videos listed below demonstrate proper brushing and flossing technique. If you are a child and having difficulty, please ask your parent for help. For further instruction, please ask at your next appointment.

Do I need to continue seeing my general dentist while wearing braces?

The answer is yes. We require each patient’s teeth to be cleaned and all cavities filled before starting orthodontic treatment. We recommend seeing your family dentist at least every 6 months (sometimes every 3 or 4 months) for cleanings and cavity checks during the entire orthodontic treatment.

How will braces affect playing sports?

If you play sports, it’s important that you check in with us for special precautions. A protective mouth guard is advised for playing contact sports. Please ask us for a mouth piece. In the event of any accident involving the mouth or jaw area, check for any loose appliances immediately. If teeth are loose or the appliances are damaged, call us at once for an appointment. In the meantime, treat your discomfort as you would treat any general soreness.

Rubber Bands: Helpful Hints

If you have been prescribed to wear rubber bands, please understand they a very important part of your orthodontic treatment — especially if you would like to have your braces removed on schedule. Rubber bands move teeth in ways Dr. Haeger is not able to do very easily. With proper rubber band wear, your treatment almost always finishes on time, with superior results.

At your appointment, we demonstrate and give you a sheet showing how to hook up the rubber bands. If you have any concerns or questions, please call our office right away. We’d rather not wait until your next appointment to find out that the rubber bands may have been moving the teeth in the wrong direction.

Rubber bands will likely make your teeth sore. If necessary, gradually build up time over the first week until you’re wearing them 24 hours per day, seven days per week. If you take them out before eating, be sure to replace them right away after your meals. Rubber bands need to be changed approximately three times each day, because they lose their stretch as they are left in your mouth during the day. It’s a good idea to change your rubber bands after each meal.

Continuous wearing is important for success. Keep an extra pack with you at school, work, or anywhere else away from home. If you run out of rubber bands, call our office right away. We will gladly mail them to you.

You have been given a specific type of rubber band to use. Don’t use any other type of rubber band unless otherwise instructed. Also, “doubling up” the rubber bands (unless instructed) will not accelerate your treatment.

Many times when our patients have worn their rubber bands as requested, their treatment time has been significantly reduced. Our number one goal is for you to achieve your best possible smile.

Headgear: Helpful Hints

If you have been prescribed to wear headgear as a part of your orthodontic treatment, it is usually for one of two reasons. First, headgear can slow down the growth of the top jaw so that the lower jaw can “catch up” in growth. Second, headgear can move the top teeth back so they will fit better with the lower teeth.

When hooking up your headgear, slide one side into a molar tube, then slightly pinch the headgear bow before placing the other side. While holding the face bow with one hand, hook up your strap to the hole, as demonstrated at your appointment. When removing your headgear face bow, remember not to pull both sides out at once. This will usually bend the face bow and make it difficult to place in the molar tube the next day. Also, do not rock the face bow up and down when removing it. This can loosen bands.

Headgear should be worn 12-14 hours per day. This is often difficult to achieve but necessary for the headgear to work properly. At first, “build up” time wearing the headgear by using it for shorter intervals. You may also loosen the strap on both sides for a limited time. When you first begin wearing headgear, your molar teeth may become sore. This is normal. As you get used to your headgear, you’ll notice your teeth will not be nearly as sore as they were at first.

We do not recommend wearing headgear to school. Headgear can be worn in the late afternoon and when sleeping. It can be removed for meals. Most importantly, headgear should be worn every day. Inconsistent headgear wear is like not wearing headgear at all. If you have trouble fitting your headgear, please call our office for an appointment. And don’t forget to bring your headgear to your orthodontic appointment for adjustments.

Tips for a removable expander:

  • Please wear your expander all the time: during meals away from home, and also while sleeping
  • Remove your expander only to brush your teeth and while eating at home
  • Brush your expander at least twice a day with a toothbrush and toothpaste

Tips for a fixed expander:

  • Turn your expansion screw as instructed
  • Insert the key into the hole and turn toward the arrow
  • Hint: Push the upper expander key as far back as possible, which will make the next turn easier
  • If you are unable to keep your scheduled appointment, you should stop turning the expander
  • If you have any additional questions or concerns, please call us


Congratulations! Your braces have been removed and it is now time to wear retainers.

Please follow the retainer timeline below to keep your beautiful teeth on track and in position for the rest of your life.

Initially, you may find it difficult to talk with a retainer. You might want to practice speaking, reading, or singing out loud to get used to them faster.

Retainer timeline

  • Retainers are often tight for the first few days — that is normal
  • Invisible (clear) retainers: wear 24 hours a day for one week and then every night the next year
  • Wire retainers: wear 24 hours a day for six months and then every night for one year
  • Both styles of retainers should be continually worn as follows:
    • Every other night the second year
    • Two or three times a week the third year
    • One or two nights a week thereafter

Please note: if you cut back on the time you wear your retainers and they feel tight when you put them in, it means you need to wear them more often.

Retainer care

With proper care, retainers will last for years.

  • Retainers are breakable, so please treat them with care. If retainers are lost or broken call us right away for an appointment to replace or repair your retainer. Although there may be a charge for replacement or repair, it is a relatively inexpensive way to protect the investment you have made in your great new smile.
  • Clean them every day with your toothbrush and toothpaste
  • You can also soak them in white vinegar for 1 hour to remove the white tartar. If the retainers start to smell, use a bleach solution of 1 oz bleach/8 oz water for 15 minutes.
  • Efferdent or other orthodontic appliance cleaners can be used, but they don’t take the place of brushing
  • When retainers are not in your mouth they should be in a retainer case

Cemented wire retainers

These can be left in place indefinitely, provided your dentist inspects them at your twice yearly visits. It is common to see patients 10 – 20 years later with their cemented wire still intact. We will repair or replace your cemented wire at no charge for two years. If you decide that you would like to switch to a removable retainer, there is no charge to do so within the first two years.

If you have any questions or concerns about your retainers, or your retainers need adjusting, call us. Please do not try to adjust them yourself. And don’t forget to bring your retainers to your appointments so we can ensure they are fitting properly.

Retainer tips

  • Take your retainers out when eating
  • When retainers are not in your mouth, put them in a protective case to avoid problems (such as dogs crunching retainers like chew toys, or accidentally throwing them away in a used napkin, or leaving them sitting on a plate at school or a restaurant)
  • The most common reason we replace retainers is because they are wrapped in napkins and thrown into the garbage. The best way to avoid this is to use the provided case whenever the retainers are outside your mouth.
  • Remove retainers when swimming
  • Keep retainers away from hot water, hot car dashboards, pockets, the washing machine, and napkins
  • Bring your retainers to every appointment
  • Never completely stop wearing your retainers. They are your insurance policy to keep your teeth straight.