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Guide to Spacers

crowded teeth in a mouth

If your teeth are crowded, your dentist may consider fitting you with orthodontic separators, more commonly called spacers. They are used in the beginning stages, usually during your second appointment, of your journey to a straighter smile.

Purpose of Spacers

Spacers are used to slowly widen the gaps between your molars.  If your teeth are crowded or overlapping, the orthodontist needs to create space where there is none.  You can have between one and eight spacers put in place depending on how much space your teeth need to readjust.  Spacers are used before your braces are put on to prepare your bite for reshaping.  When your teeth are ready, the orthodontist will place a tooth brace, a molar band, or an expander, depending on what type of treatment you need.

Photo from Braces Haven

Types of Spacers

There are two types of spacers: Metal and rubber.  They’re both used to space your teeth, but for different periods of time.  They’re typically about a centimeter in diameter.

Typically, rubber spacers are used in the short term, as they usually fall out after the appropriate amount of space has been achieved.  This process takes between one and two weeks.

If your orthodontist feels that you need to wear spacers longer, then he may opt for the metal variety.  They are pliable metal rings that fit around the molar.  These are more durable and can be used for between one to six weeks, and unlike rubber spacers, they are not as likely to fall out.  Metal spacers are often seen as the more convenient option to rubber ones because the patient doesn’t need to be seen in the office as frequently to have them replaced.

Fitting Spacers

Spacers are put in place by applying firm but gentle pressure for a few seconds between the designated teeth.  Other times, your orthodontist may use floss to pull the spacers between your teeth. It’s a quick and simple process. 

Timeline of Treatment

The length of time that you need to wear your spacers is dependent on how much space your orthodontist feels is going to be the most advantageous.  If your teeth are overlapping, you may need to wear them a little longer.  Generally, you don’t need to wear any spacer for longer than about 6 weeks.

The Feeling of Spacers

If you’ve ever had food stuck between your teeth, then you can predict how spacers are going to feel. Spacers are typically larger than a piece of food, and most patients report some level of discomfort. The larger the space needed and the more tightly packed your teeth are, the more likely you are to experience tenderness or soreness.  In some severe cases, the spacers may irritate your gums. Most commonly, spacers cause pain while chewing — after all, they’re designed to force your teeth apart

Pain Management

In the event that you do experience pain, your doctor may prescribe pain medication.  However, over the counter pain medication has been proven to be effective at managing the tenderness and jaw pain you may experience from having spacers placed.

What To Avoid While Wearing Spacers

When wearing your spacers, be sure to steer clear of sticky foods like gum, taffy, caramel, etc.  If you consume these foods while fitted with spacers, you’re likely to dislodge them.

Loose Spacers

In the event that your spacers fall out, call our offices and let us know.  It’s important that this is done as soon as possible.  If you forgo your spacers, even for a few days, your teeth may backslide into their original position, and you’ll have to start again, which isn’t ideal!  If your spacers have been in a few weeks and fall out on their own, it’s still a good idea to contact the orthodontist to get instructions on how to proceed.

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