Making Choices Your Orthodontist Will Approve
Wearing braces doesn’t mean eating a bland diet of soft foods. However, some restrictions and precautions will prevent damage to brackets and wires. By following these guidelines of foods to eat and avoid with braces, patients will avoid emergency visits to their orthodontist and ensure a beautiful smile once the braces come off.
These guidelines apply to all types of braces, including self-ligating braces, which include: clear ceramic, metal braces, and Damon braces. Since Invisalign clear aligners can be removed for eating and brushing, Invisalign® patients don’t need to follow any particular dietary guidelines.
At Burke & Redford Orthodontists, we want our patients to enjoy a variety of food while wearing their braces. Although some foods are off-limits when wearing braces, most other foods can be eaten if they are correctly prepared.
Foods To Avoid: Hard, Sticky, Chewy
Three main categories of food must be avoided while wearing braces—hard food, sticky food, and chewy food. Examples of each type of food, how it can cause problems, and some preparation tips are provided below.
Hard foods are an orthodontist’s nightmare. Because they require so much force to bite through, a single bite can crack or dislodge a bracket, bend a wire, or chip and even crack a tooth. The following hard foods are off-limits while wearing braces.
- Ice. Although ice in a drink is fine, do not bite or chew ice. Biting and chewing ice is one of the most common causes of damaged braces.
- Hard candy and lollipops, especially jawbreakers. Although patients may feel they can suck on such items without biting them, the temptation to bite or chew (particularly for younger patients) may prove too strong.
- Hard fruits/vegetables (such as raw carrots, apples, pears). However, these items can be eaten when prepared properly. For example, steam carrots until they are soft or cut apples into slices so they can be chewed with the back teeth.
- Nuts and seeds (including candy containing nuts such as Peanut M&M’s).
- Thick chips, taco shells, or hard pretzels. Consider soft tortillas as an alternative.
- Popcorn (especially unpopped kernels). Although the kernels may appear to be fully popped, popcorn often contains hard pieces in the center that can damage braces.
- Corn on the cob. However, feel free to cut the corn off the cob and eat it separately.
- Non-edible items (such as pen caps, pencils, and fingernails). If biting fingernails or chewing on a pen cap is a difficult habit to break, use a bitter-tasting spray as a deterrent.
Sticky foods are not good for braces. They can pull brackets and ligatures loose, bend or break wires, and can easily get caught in braces—making cleaning a nightmare. The following sticky foods are off-limits while wearing braces.
- Caramel, taffy, and toffee.
- Chewing gum or bubble gum. If you use gum to freshen your breath, consider using dissolvable oral care strips or breath sprays as an alternative.
- Sticky or gummy candy or candy bars (such as gummy bears or candy bars containing caramel).
- Dried fruits or fruit roll-ups.
If you have a sweet tooth, consider alternatives such as ice cream, frozen yogurt, milkshakes, smoothies, protein shakes, Jell-O, or pudding.
Chewy food that requires lots of chewing and gnawing to eat can be surprisingly damaging to braces—easily loosening wires and brackets. Also, these types of foods can easily get caught in brackets and wires, which are challenging to clean. Even though some of these foods might seem soft, they cause all types of problems for people with braces and can extend the patient’s time wearing braces. The following chewy foods are off-limits while wearing braces.
- Thick and chewy bread (such as pizza crust and bagels).
- Jerky snacks.
- Fibrous (stringy) meats (such as steak) and meat on the bone (such as chicken wings and turkey legs).
- Licorice and chewy candy (such as Starbursts and Skittles).
Preparing Food for Braces
Generally, the softer the food, the better it is for braces. The goal is to prevent food from damaging or pulling on brackets/wires and getting stuck in the braces. Luckily, there are a wide variety of ways to prepare food from all the major food groups so they are safe. Here are some additional foods to eat and avoid with braces.
- Fruit. As mentioned earlier, biting into hard fruits (such as apples) can be damaging to braces. However, cutting apples into slices or opting for unsweetened applesauce are good alternatives. To eat a harder fruit, cut it into smaller pieces and chew it with the back teeth. Softer fruits (such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and bananas) are great alternatives. Another way to enjoy your favorite fruits (and veggies) is to mix them into a smoothie.
- Vegetables. Raw vegetables that are hard (such as carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli) can be challenging to eat with braces. Biting into them can easily pop off a bracket or loosen a wire. The best option is to steam, boil, or roast them to make them softer and safer to eat. If raw vegetables are the only option, cut them into small, bite-sized pieces that can be chewed with the back teeth. Some great vegetable options are mashed potatoes, beans, steamed spinach, and soups. Also, consider incorporating veggies into a smoothie.
- Grains. Although most grain products are soft and can be eaten with braces, beware of hard, crusty bread (such as bagels, pizza crust, and croutons) that can cause undue stress on wires and brackets. Also watch out for un-ground whole grains or breads with seeds, which can become stuck between braces and teeth. Some braces-friendly grain options are pasta, rice, muffins, and pancakes.
- Dairy. This is the most braces-friendly food group, as most dairy products (such as milk and yogurt) are soft and require minimal chewing. Plus, the calcium is great for strengthening teeth! Just be sure to clean and floss carefully after eating soft cheeses.
- Meat. People wearing braces should opt for lean, tender cuts of meat that are cut into bite-sized pieces that can be chewed with the back teeth. Tougher and more fibrous cuts of meat can become caught in braces and teeth and become difficult to remove. Also, the extra chewing can loosen bands (if present) around molars. Eating meat off the bone can also be dangerous, since biting or rubbing a bracket near a bone can easily remove or cause damage. More braces-friendly options are eggs, fish, chicken, meatballs, meatloaf, deli meat, and lean beef or pork.
- Nuts and Seeds. Nuts and seeds are hard and small—two characteristics that can bend/move wires or get easily caught in and around brackets. Whole nuts and seeds should be avoided entirely. Instead, choose nut spreads such as peanut or almond butter as an alternative.
Additional Restriction for Ceramic Braces
Patients that have brackets made from ceramic (such as clear Damon braces) have another restriction to consider. The material for clear braces can stain, and certain foods make it worse. Therefore, avoid foods that are high in acids (such as lemon, limes, sodas) and anything that can easily stain (curry, tomatoes, coffee, mustard, red wine, beets, pomegranate juice). The general rule of thumb is that if it can stain the tongue, it can discolor clear ceramic brackets.
If you have questions about foods to eat and avoid with braces, contact our office to schedule a free consultation with Dr. Redford or Dr. Burke at (951) 699-8011, and our friendly office staff will be happy to answer your questions. You can also contact us using the form on our website.