Techniques for reducing pain during orthodontics without using painkillers

Review question

Orthodontic treatment (teeth braces) can be painful, particularly following initial brace placement and later adjustments, for a week or more. We examined the merits of methods to reduce pain during orthodontic treatment without the need for painkillers.


Pain is usual during orthodontic treatment and may make some people stop treatment early, meaning that planned benefits do not occur. Painkillers are recommended to reduce pain during orthodontic treatment, but an effective non-drug solution would lower risks of side effects and help people to continue for the full course of treatment.

Search date

We included studies published before 6 October 2016.

Study characteristics

We included 14 studies that involved a total of 931 teenagers and adults. The studies investigated the effects of using laser irradiation provided by the orthodontist, vibratory devices, changing chewing patterns (patients chewing gum or wafers), brain wave music, cognitive behavioural therapy, and text messages to support people after braces were fitted. The main outcome measured was the intensity of pain over the short term as reported by patients.

Key results

We found insufficient evidence to assess the effectiveness of the interventions, although the available low-quality evidence suggested that laser irradiation may help to control short-term orthodontic pain. None of the studies considered side effects of the treatments. We identified relatively few studies, some of which used flawed methods or were not well reported. More research to look at the possible merits of non-drug methods of pain control would be helpful. Future studies should measure pain over longer time periods and should measure side effects and costs.

Quality of the evidence

The quality of the evidence on the effectiveness of non-drug ways to ease orthodontic pain was low to very low, so we are not able to rely on the findings.

Authors' conclusions: 

Overall, the results are inconclusive. Although available evidence suggests laser irradiation may help reduce pain during orthodontic treatment in the short term, this evidence is of low quality and therefore we cannot rely on the findings. Evidence for other non-pharmacological interventions is either very low quality or entirely lacking. Further prospective research is required to address the lack of reliable evidence concerning the effectiveness of a range of non-pharmacological interventions to manage orthodontic pain. Future studies should use prolonged follow-up and should measure costs and possible harms.

Read the full abstract...

Pain is prevalent during orthodontics, particularly during the early stages of treatment. To ensure patient comfort and compliance during treatment, the prevention or management of pain is of major importance. While pharmacological means are the first line of treatment for alleviation of orthodontic pain, a range of non-pharmacological approaches have been proposed recently as viable alternatives.


To assess the effects of non-pharmacological interventions to alleviate pain associated with orthodontic treatment.

Search strategy: 

Cochrane Oral Health’s Information Specialist searched the following databases: Cochrane Oral Health’s Trials Register (to 6 October 2016), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (the Cochrane Library, 2016, Issue 9), MEDLINE Ovid (1946 to 6 October 2016), Embase Ovid (1980 to 6 October 2016) and EThOS (to 6 October 2016). We searched and the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform for ongoing trials. No restrictions were placed on the language or date of publication when searching the electronic databases.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing a non-pharmacological orthodontic pain intervention to a placebo, no intervention or another non-pharmacological pain intervention were eligible for inclusion. We included any type of orthodontic treatment but excluded trials involving the use of pre-emptive analgesia or pain relief following orthognathic (jaw) surgery or dental extractions in combination with orthodontic treatment. We excluded split-mouth trials (in which each participant receives two or more treatments, each to a separate section of the mouth) and cross-over trials.

Data collection and analysis: 

At least two review authors independently assessed risk of bias and extracted data. We used the random-effects model and expressed results as mean differences (MD) with 95% confidence intervals (CI). We investigated heterogeneity with reference to both clinical and methodological factors.

Main results: 

We included 14 RCTs that randomised 931 participants. Interventions assessed included: low-level laser therapy (LLLT) (4 studies); vibratory devices (5 studies); chewing adjuncts (3 studies); brain wave music or cognitive behavioural therapy (1 study) and post-treatment communication in the form of a text message (1 study). Twelve studies involved self-report assessment of pain on a continuous scale and two studies used questionnaires to assess the nature, intensity and location of pain.

We combined data from two studies involving 118 participants, which provided low-quality evidence that LLLT reduced pain at 24 hours by 20.27 mm (95% CI -24.50 to -16.04, P < 0.001; I² = 0%). LLLT also appeared to reduce pain at six hours, three days and seven days.

Results for the other comparisons assessed are inconclusive as the quality of the evidence was very low. Vibratory devices were assessed in five studies (272 participants), four of which were at high risk of bias and one unclear. Chewing adjuncts (chewing gum or a bite wafer) were evaluated in three studies (181 participants); two studies were at high risk of bias and one was unclear. Brain wave music and cognitive behavioural therapy were evaluated in one trial (36 participants) assessed at unclear risk of bias. Post-treatment text messaging (39 participants) was evaluated in one study assessed at high risk of bias.

Adverse effects were not measured in any of the studies.