Getting braces means that in one to three years you’ll have the straight teeth you’ve always dreamed of. However, before that happy day, you’ll need to deal with the reality of braces: learning how to talk, eat, and clean your teeth with pieces of metal in your mouth.

Because food particles can easily get trapped in your braces and lead to staining and plaque buildup, you’ll need to be diligent about taking care of your teeth. You don’t want to have your braces removed only to find a mouthful of cavities.

While you have braces, you will need to alter your dental routine slightly to ensure you thoroughly clean your teeth. Most importantly, you will need to increase the frequency of your routine so you don’t let food sit between your braces and teeth for hours.

If you’re about to get braces and want to know how to keep your teeth clean, read through the tips below.

1. Choosing a Toothbrush

When it comes to brushing with braces, not all brushes are created equal. You’ll want a toothbrush that you can use comfortably and that will reach into your braces. You might also want to consider cost, as your braces can quickly wear out the bristles. One of the following may work for you:

Electric toothbrush. The small, rotating, circular head can get into the small spaces where food collects. You won’t have to rely on your own brushing skills, as the electric spinner does the work for you. Choose one with fairly cheap replacement heads in case the original brush wears down. One downside is that these brushes can be bulky and heavy, and you may prefer a slimmer toothbrush.

Orthodontic-cut brush. The middle bristles of these soft toothbrushes are cut down, allowing the longer bristles to clean your teeth while the shorter bristles clean your braces.

Interdental toothbrushes. Rather than simply brushing the surfaces of your teeth and braces, these brushes can get between the gaps in your teeth and the small gaps around the braces. Purchase at least two different sizes so you can thoroughly clean large and small spaces.

Above all, choose a toothbrush you can comfortably move around your mouth. A great toothbrush won’t help you if you don’t use it.

2. Brushing Tips

First, try to brush every time you eat something, even if it’s just a quick brush to remove food from your braces and between your teeth. You can use an interdental toothbrush or rubber-tipped toothpick to get rid of the food particles, and then thoroughly rinse your mouth with water.

When you brush, make sure to hold your brush at an angle to clean the top and bottom of each bracket. When cleaning the brackets themselves, use a circular motion that gets the bristles into every tiny hole. Remember to be gentle: brushing too hard can damage your brackets and cause you pain.

Make sure to brush the backs and tops of your teeth as you normally would and to brush your tongue and gums as well. Use a fluoridated toothpaste to strengthen your teeth against cavities.

It’s a good idea to rinse your mouth before and after brushing. Rinsing beforehand removes any loose food particles so you can focus on more difficult pieces. Rinsing afterward ensures all plaque-causing particles are completely removed.

3. Flossing

Using floss may seem impossible because of the metal wires crossing the gaps between your teeth, but it’s possible and important to floss with braces. You can either use traditional floss with an adapted flossing strategy, or you can choose a different tool designed to make flossing easier.

To use traditional floss, slowly push one end of the floss through the gaps between your teeth, above the wire. Move the floss back and forth and up and down, thoroughly cleaning the area without pressing down too strongly on the wire.

Other options for flossing include plastic flossers and water picks. Plastic flossers consist of a handle with a small length of floss running through two prongs at the top. The flosser is easy to manipulate and can reach difficult-to-floss teeth at the back of your mouth.

Water picks are similar to the small water jets dentists use to rinse your mouth during an appointment. Personal water picks are small tubes connected to a water reservoir. To use one, place the tip in your mouth as you lean over the sink with your mouth slightly open. Turn the pick on and allow the stream of water to push between each tooth.

For especially difficult areas you can’t reach through other means, use a thin interdental toothbrush to clean the spaces between teeth.

If you have any more questions about dental hygiene with braces, talk to your orthodontist. He or she can offer additional tips specific to your situation and let you know exactly what to do to take care of your braces.