Orthodontic headgear is commonly used for younger patients who are still growing. Its primary use is to correct problems with a patients bite (occlusion) by stalling the growth of the upper jaw and giving the lower jaw time to catch up. You'll be required to wear headgear for at least ten hours a day to achieve results and the entire course of treatment can take from 6-18 months, depending on the extent of the bite problem and the rate of the patient’s growth.
Orthodontic headgear can also be used with adult patients, but not for the same reason. In some cases of tooth extraction, the nearby teeth can lean forward into the space where the tooth used to be. Your orthodontist may recommend headgear to prevent the back teeth from coming forward and upsetting your bite. In this situation, headgear is used to hold them back and prevent any tooth movement. Adult patients will also need to wear the orthodontic headgear as much as possible as the more the headgear is worn, the quicker and more effective the treatment will be. As such it's advised that adults wear their headgear for a minimum of 8 hours a day at the very least.
Living with Orthodontic Headgear
Many patients using headgear will experience some soreness in their teeth whenever the teeth connect, like when you're chewing. Fortunately, this is usually temporary although it may continue for several days after the headgear is fitted. You should find the discomfort peaks on the second or third day and then gradually reduces. To combat any pain and discomfort, over the counter painkillers such as Ibuprofen are commonly recommended. Many patients also find it useful to stick to a soft diet for the first few days, so that no unnecessary strain is put on their teeth. Some orthodontists will also prescribe a 'bite wafer'. This device is similar to a mouth guard which patients with headgear bite down on with their teeth and can help encourage blood circulation around the mouth as well as helping with the pain.
In some cases, the discomfort and pain of wearing the headgear can take weeks to disappear but cases where soreness persists throughout treatment are very rare. Even after the original discomfort has dissipated, it's normal to experience small bouts of soreness, involving just a few teeth. Bouts of soreness will tend to jump from tooth to tooth as the headgear corrects their movement. It's important that you don't stop wearing your headgear, as the fastest way to relieve the soreness is to carry on with the treatment. Although your teeth might feel better temporarily if you remove your headgear, the soreness will typically flare up again as soon as you resume wearing it.