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Spacers for Teeth: Do You Need Separators Before Braces?

Contributors:  Natalie Asmussen & Sukriti Taneja
Medically reviewed by:  Dr. Catalina Botero

For people with crooked or misaligned teeth, orthodontic braces are a great solution for straightening them out. And though most of us are familiar with what braces are, many don’t know that braces function properly with the help of spacers for braces.

Understanding intricacies like spacers can help you obtain a transparent picture of the procedure involved with getting braces. And that can make the whole process a little less daunting.

In this post, we’re going to fill you in on all there is to know about teeth spacers. We’ll offer the answers to questions like:

  • What do spacers do for your teeth?
  • Are spacers for braces painful?
  • Can you eat with them?
  • What happens if they fall out?

Let’s dive in.

What are spacers for teeth?

rubber dental spacers
These are rubber spacers

Orthodontic separators, commonly known as tooth spacers, are rubber bands or orthodontic metal bands measuring about a centimeter in diameter to make more room before getting braces. They are typically placed between the molars (back teeth), or between specific front or middle teeth, to create space before braces are fastened on. A patient may have one to eight spacers installed before braces are fitted.

More often than not, a tooth spacer is used if the patient’s teeth are too close together. To secure it in place, the orthodontist stretches it and presses it firmly between the teeth with a word of caution that it must not be picked at or it may fall out.

Typically, dental spacers are secured between teeth a week or two before braces are put in. This time is enough for the molars to move sufficiently far apart. The gaps, or spaces, that spacers create are required for brace appliances like molar bands or expanders to be fitted afterward.

In the following video, Dr. Williams explains why he uses spacers for his patients, and how they differ from molar bands.

Are orthodontic spacers painful?

Most people experience some pain or discomfort from spacers for teeth. After all, they're putting pressure on the teeth and forcing them to move quite quickly. Depending upon how much space a patient has between their teeth, the degree of discomfort that spacers cause may differ:

  • For people with relatively small or no space between their teeth, braces spacers can cause irritation in the nerves which may result in constant, but bearable pain.        
  • For some people, they may not hurt when initially applied but may start to ache after a while.        
  • Spacers can also become painful while chewing hard or chewy foods.        
  • In a few rare cases, spacers can dig into the gums causing swelling and occasional bleeding.

Usually there’s nothing to worry about if any of the above happens. Orthodontists suggest that it is perfectly normal. Discomfort can be minimized by drinking cold drinks, eating ice cream, and taking over-the-counter pain-relievers as prescribed.

are spacers painful
Your spacers might be painful

After having spacers installed, a patient may feel like there's something stuck between their teeth, (because there is!) and they may be inclined to remove it. But trying to do so isn’t advised.

Attempting to dislodge or adjust spacers might lead to their falling out, which, although may relieve patients from the discomfort at that moment, will make the next step in the process tougher and more painful, or you may need to have the spacers fitted all over again.

Keep in mind, this is no excuse to stop brushing your teeth! Brushing doesn’t lead to the displacement of spacers. In fact, regular brushing is encouraged while spacers are in place.

How long do spacers hurt?

The level of discomfort caused by spacers differs for each patient. However, any initial soreness or pain from dental spacers being placed should fade away after about four to six hours. You may feel an aching that can get worse over the following day or two. If it happens, take solace in the fact that it is normal, and the pain will dissipate.

Can you eat with orthodontic separators in your teeth?

what can you eat with spacers
Apples are not recommended

One of the most significant negatives of having spacers and braces is that you can eat only specific kinds of food once they’ve been put in place. Let's take a look at foods you should stay away from.

Which foods should be avoided?

  • Chewy, sticky foods like caramel, taffy, and gum can stick on and around the braces and spacers.         
  • Hard foods that need more strength while chewing, like nuts, corn on the cob, and raw hard fruits can lead to breaking of the wires in your braces. If you’re still on spacers, chewing hard foods can cause quite a bit of pain as well.    
  • If you eat something that’s exceptionally high in sugar and starch, it can cause plaque to accumulate around spacers and braces, increasing chances for decay.

This last reason is also why your orthodontist will advise you to continue a proper brushing routine once you get spacers or braces put in. It will not only help prevent staining and decay, but also make sure food particles don’t get stuck in the new space that spacers create. However, you may want to stay away from flossing between the teeth that have spacers. To be sure, ask your dentist.

The best kinds of food to stick to if you have spacers or braces are soft food like pasta, yogurts, mashed potatoes and soup.

What should I do if separators for braces fall out?

If you’ve been following your orthodontist’s advice carefully, there are minimal chances of teeth separators falling out on their own. However, it might happen in rare circumstances. If it does, it may be because there is already enough room between your back teeth.

If your mouth spacers fall out on their own, or due to your attempt to alleviate pain, call your orthodontist immediately. They might want to call you in to check whether the spacers should be replaced.

Spacers for baby teeth

Although they have the same name, the spacers that your child might get when they begin to lose their baby teeth are quite different than orthodontic spacers.

Also called space maintainers, spacers for baby teeth are used when a child's baby tooth is lost prematurely, from being knocked out or from decay. These devices are used to stop the adjacent teeth from moving into the empty space and causing permanent teeth to come in crooked.

This is just one of the many reasons why it's so important to start bringing your child to the dentist at a young age, as early as their first birthday, or within six months of the first tooth eruption. You can read more about caring for your baby's teeth.

Ask a dentist: What are the benefits of spacers?

Losing baby teeth too early can put future smiles at jeopardy.  This is why space maintainers serve such an important role. Space maintainers are dental devices for children that lose baby teeth before their adult teeth have erupted. Spacers help safeguard your child’s dental health as they grow. They also ensure that their future smile results as it should.

Not all space maintainers are the same. There are both removable and fixed devices. Removable devices are similar to an orthodontic retainer and can be removed for eating and cleaning. A fixed space maintainer is affixed to the teeth or gums around the vacated tooth space. They are often used for small children not quite old enough to care for a removable device. Choosing the right fit for your child’s needs is handled specifically by your dentist.

Dr. Catalina Botero, Li'l Sunshine Smiles Dentistry


What are they for?

What are the different types?

How long are they worn for?

Diet restrictions

Do they hurt?

Creating space between teeth when there isn't enough space between your molars for molar band placement

Metal and rubber

1–2 weeks before braces

Avoid foods that are chewy, hard and sticky

They can cause some pain or discomfort. To manage, apply cold and take OTC pain-killers

To recap, spacers for braces create small gaps between teeth, usually molars, so that a molar band or other appliance can be placed as part of orthodontic treatment. Orthodontic separators are only in place for a week or two, but they can be quite painful, especially to begin with. It's a good idea to stock up on painkillers and soft foods to get you through the first few days.

Getting braces can be inconvenient, but knowing that your teeth will look more beautiful afterward makes it all worthwhile. Spacers form an essential initial step for many in completing the application of braces, and the more you know about them, the more you can anticipate what’s in store. We hope this article has helped you feel more prepared for your teeth straightening journey.

spacers for braces
Spacers are part of the teeth-straightening process


How long do spacers stay in?

You should wear spacers for your teeth at least three to five days, or even up to a week. This allows enough space to be formed between your back teeth so that you have a smooth transition to molar bands when the time comes.

What's the difference between a molar band and spacers?

Molar bands and spacers may seem similar, but their functions are different. A spacer for teeth is placed around the molars before you get your braces to create more space for the braces to do their job. Then, when it's time to get braces, your spacers come out and a molar band will be placed around each of your back molars, in order to anchor your braces.

What happens after dental spacers are removed?

You will only have your separator for braces for 1-2 weeks before it's time to get them taken off. After your spacers are removed, they'll typically be replaced with a molar band for braces. Molar bands act to anchor your braces in place.

What does spacers for teeth cost?

Spacers for teeth can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 depending on the number of checks required and the type of expander you need.

Can spacers damage your teeth?

Spacers hurt little during the application; however, you may feel some sensitivity or experience inflammation. This is a sign that they are doing their work. You may feel like there's something stuck in your teeth and you may feel some soreness.

Do I need spacers before braces?

If your teeth, especially your molars, are very close together, you may need spacers. That's because when you get your braces, molar bands will need to be placed to anchor the braces in place. Rubber or metal braces spacers will help make room for those molar brands. Your orthodontist will be able to let you know if you need a spacer before braces.

Spacers for Teeth: Do You Need Separators Before Braces?
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Natalie used to work as a Community Health Worker and Health Insurance Navigator. She continues to follow her passion for connecting people with the healthcare they need by writing informative content about dentistry and medicine.
Sukriti is a content writer specializing in the healthcare niche. She is an ex-software engineer who's given up IT for writing full-time. She's been writing for 7 years and regularly creates optimized and targeted content for multiple domains including health, technology, education, entertainment, and more.
Medically reviewed by:
Dr. Catalina Botero (her patients call her Dr. Cat) was born and raised in Medellin, Colombia. First receiving a dental degree in Colombia, she then moved to the United States to be closer to family. After moving to Florida, she first worked as a dental assistant, later on obtaining her license as a registered dental hygienist. Two years later, Dr. Cat went to the University of Colorado where she received her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. This means Dr. Cat has two different dental degrees from two different countries, and on top of that, is a registered certified dental hygienist. Dr. Cat now lives in the Tampa Bay Area maintaining her practice Li’l Sunshine Smiles Dentistry and is grateful to have the opportunity to work with kids everyday.