Braces and clear plastic aligners create new pockets that collect food and bacteria, raising the risk of cavities and ugly stains. "The best results occur when patients become active participants during orthodontic treatment," says Dr. William Harper, a dentist in Poquoson, Va.
Consider more cleanings. Seeing a dentist every three or four months -- compared to the usual six months -- helps avoid gum inflammation, bone damage and pricey follow-up treatments.
Supplement regular brushing. At home, follow brushing with an electric water flosser. Also carry small, disposable brushes or picks -- Proxabrush or Soft-Picks are popular brands -- in your pocket or purse.
Invest in an electric toothbrush. These are better at dislodging food and bacteria from hard-to-reach spots. Whatever type of brush you use, be aware that bristles will wear out more quickly than normal from rubbing against wires.
Add fluoride. Extra bacteria create a more acidic environment in the mouth, a risk factor for cavities and brown, gray or white spots on teeth. Using fluoride toothpaste and rinses after meals will help keep your enamel strong; prescription-strength fluoride toothpastes also are available.
Limit acidic drinks. These include diet sodas, fruit juices and sports or energy drinks.
Try hydrogen peroxide. Pharmacies often carry these mouth rinses, designed to fight bacterial inflammation and prevent stains. Prescription bleaching agents also can help in some cases.
Avoid hard and chewy foods. High on the list of items that can damage braces: nuts, crusty bread, caramel, licorice and gum. Also don't chew on ice, pencils or your fingernails.
Follow directions. Whether it's cleaning your teeth or wearing retainers or rubber bands as instructed, remember that your orthodontist isn't bugging you -- just trying to spare you future troubles.