By: Dr. Kyle Fagala, DDS, MDS
Between school, sports practices, extracurriculars, homework, and hanging out with friends and family, teens tend to have a lot on their plates. They need healthy (and yummy) meals and snacks to keep them going. When you throw braces into the mix, weekly menus have to change a little bit. But, don't let that discourage you, because there are plenty of braces-friendly substitutes for most of teens' favorite foods.
To keep you motivated to eat right while you have braces, let’s first talk about why it’s important to avoid certain foods. You want your braces off as soon as possible to show off your smile, right? Then you'll want to avoid hard, crunchy foods that can bend wires and pop off brackets, slowing down the braces process. And when you do get your braces off, you wouldn’t want to find yourself with a splotchy smile from soda stains outlining where your brackets were.
The Top 7 Worst Foods for Braces
Some foods consistently cause issues for braces patients. From causing broken brackets to increasing cavity risk, here are the 7 foods that are least-friendly for patients wearing braces:
- Popcorn - It may not seem like it, but Popcorn is the single worst thing you can eat with braces. The reason? Popcorn kernels! For someone without braces, popcorn kernels can cause minor discomfort, but can be relatively easily taken care of with floss or a fingernail. However, with braces in place, kernels can get stuck for extended periods of time, leading to extremely painful swelling of gum tissue, requiring removal of braces and wires to clean out the area.
- Ice - So, I know ice isn't technically food, but teens (and adults) love to chew on ice. It's actually not good for teeth in general, but it's especially bad for braces. Kids who show up to adjustment appointments with multiple brackets broken oftentimes admit to chewing ice. #SayNoToIce #LetItMelt
Corn on the Cob - Corn on the cob is one of the hardest foods to eat with braces, and also one of the first foods people want to eat once braces are removed. Corn is actually perfectly fine, as long as you cut it off the cob first.
- Hard Candy - Hard candy like peppermints, jolly ranchers, and gobstoppers are a great way to break braces, especially when you bite down hard on the candies. If you can just suck on the candies until they dissolve, you won't break any brackets, but the sugar isn't particularly great for the teeth either, so I wouldn't recommend it.
- Beef Jerky - I've never been able to enjoy beef jerky because it's so salty and has an extremely strong smell, but some teens absolutely love jerky. Unfortunately, beef jerky requires a lot of effort to chew, and not surprisingly, is bad for braces.
- Sugary Gum - Gum is a somewhat controversial topic for orthodontists and patients. Some orthodontists (including me) allow their patients to chew gum. However, I only allow sugar-free gum. Sugary gum should honestly never be chewed as it can cause cavities. Sugar-free gum can dislodge the thin wires that are placed at the very beginning of orthodontic treatment, but the chewing forces can also make orthodontic tooth movement more comfortable, which is why I don't prohibit sugar-free gum.
- Raw Carrots and Whole Apples - These two usually surprise people, because they are such healthy treats. However, eating raw carrots and whole apples require biting with the front teeth, which often leads to broken brackets. Like with corn on the cob above, cutting up apples and carrots makes them more manageable and less dangerous for braces.
Honorary Mention: the spice turmeric (a yellow spice found in curry powder and masala) will stain braces and Invisalign aligners. It's best to avoid Indian and middle Eastern foods containing this spice.
Eating with Braces
So how is an orthodontic patient to know which foods will damage their braces or discolor their teeth and which foods are actually OK to enjoy? To help you keep it all straight, we’ve put together an easy to read infographic:
How to Eat With Braces
Almost as important as what you eat with braces is how you eat with braces. The number one rule of thumb is to chew slowly so you don’t accidentally bite down too hard on something. Another tip is to cut your food up as much as possible, especially apples, carrots, chewy bread, and spaghetti noodles (so they don’t wind around your braces). As you will probably also find, biting with the side of your mouth instead of your front teeth is typically easier. That also prevents you from getting your lunch stuck in your front brackets.
The First Few Weeks Can Be Tough
It’s possible that only soft foods like soup, mashed potatoes, and soft-bread sandwiches will be manageable right when you first get your braces on or tightened. But after the first few weeks, your gums will handle the braces better and you will become a pro at biting and chewing your food carefully, but effectively.
If you have more questions on eating with braces, feel free to ask us! We want mealtimes to be as easy as possible for you, and trust us when we say the end result from braces is totally worth it. If you or your parents have come up with a brilliant recipe that’s easy to eat with braces, we would love to hear it.
Helpful Resources for Eating with Braces:
If swollen gums become a major problem for you, even after going by these guidelines, or if you’re still considering braces and you’re worried about swollen gums, we can talk with you about alternative treatments. Invisalign or Invisalign Teen are options for avoiding swollen gums because Invisalign is removable, making it much easier to keep your teeth and gums clean.
If you’re a patient struggling with swollen gums, we want to hear from you. Contact us anytime for advice personalized to your situation. If you’re still thinking about braces or Invisalign, call our Memphis office today at 901.726.3878 to schedule a free consultation.
Love Your Smile,
Kyle Fagala, DDS, MDS