When you took your teen to the orthodontist you may have expected that you would be told they needed dental braces. What you were not prepared for was their being fitted with a hydraulic-like metal attachment known as a Herbst appliance.
The Herbst appliance has revolutionized the way orthodontists treat an overbite: It uses a tube and rod mechanism to put pressure on the lower jaw to help it grow forward and on the upper jaw to help it grow backwards.
The device is attached to the back molars on both sides of the upper and lower jaws and looks like a shock absorber. The appliance does not interfere with the opening and closing of the mouth, so eating is not a problem. Dental braces are usually fitted on the front teeth to straighten them, and after the Herbst appliance is removed, dental braces may also be placed on the molars to make final adjustments.
What to Expect with the Herbst Appliance
A Herbst appliance is usually worn for around 12 months. Right after your teen begins wearing the appliance, they may experience some tenderness and soreness to the teeth, cheeks and jaw. This is normal and should disappear within a week.
To help your teen get used to their new Herbst appliance quickly and make them comfortable while they adjust, it is a good idea to have soft foods for them to eat. They can also rinse with warm salt water to relieve pain and tenderness. Your teen can also cover parts of the appliance with dental wax if it is causing soreness or pain.
The rod and tube may become disconnected if your teen opens their jaw too wide. If this happens, just have them open their mouths until they are able to slide the rod back into the tube. It is also a good idea for them to avoid popcorn, sticky and hard candies, ice, gum and nuts to keep from damaging the appliance.
It is important that you encourage your teen to brush their teeth thoroughly at least twice a day, to make sure that no food is trapped around the appliance. Using a fluoride rinse after brushing can also help protect teeth.