Proper oral hygiene is essential for people of all ages, but it’s especially important when you have braces on your teeth. The reason is that braces, a metal fixture attached to the front of your teeth, can make it harder to keep plaque and bacteria off the surface of your teeth; if left untreated, this plaque and bacteria can cause discoloration, decay, and more. Here are the things you should be doing regularly if you have braces.

1: Brushing Twice a Day

Just like everyone else, a person with braces must brush at least two times a day. Brushing with a fluoride toothpaste is one of the best tools to remove plaque buildup from the surface of your teeth. If you’re not brushing regularly, this plaque will eventually become tartar, a calcified (hardened) version of plaque that continues to eat away at tooth enamel. Be sure to brush all three visible surfaces of your teeth, focusing on the area around the braces to prevent plaque and tartar buildup around the metal fixtures.

2: Flossing Daily

Like brushing, flossing is a daily activity that can help prevent plaque buildup in and around your teeth. Flossing helps remove small deposits (and sometimes larger pieces) of food that lodges between teeth. Your toothbrush may not be able to reach between teeth, so flossing is the only way to remove these things. Flossing can also help remove small food and other deposits from the metal braces, which could cause decay if your toothbrush didn’t remove it. Both brushing and flossing can also prevent gum disease, helping your whole mouth remain healthy throughout your orthodontic treatment.

3: Use Mouthwash

Another option to help you reduce plaque in some harder-to-reach places around your metal braces is mouthwash. Talk to your dentist or orthodontist about the best kind of mouthwash that will help maintain optimal tooth and gum health without being overly harsh or painful to use. Swish it around your mouth for 30-60 seconds after brushing and flossing about once a day.

4: Eat the Right Foods

Eating a healthy diet is just as important for keeping your teeth and gums healthy as it is for keeping your body healthy, but beyond simply eating plenty of fruits, veggies, lean meats, and whole grains, you should also talk to your orthodontist about what types of foods you should avoid. Foods like sticky candies, gum, caramel, those with excess sugar such as soda and ice cream, and even some harder fruits and veggies such as apples or carrots, could harm your braces. Some might even cause the metal fixtures to break, landing you back in the orthodontist chair to get it fixed.

5: Regular Checkups

The final step in oral health care is getting regular checkups from your dentist and orthodontist. The dentist can clean your teeth while your orthodontist will focus on ensuring your teeth and jaw are coming into proper alignment. It’s a team effort to help you get the most beautiful, healthiest possible smile.