Using Wax on Braces

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: Often, orthodontists instruct their patients to place and press a wax-like material on their braces in order to prevent soreness, or to prevent the braces from cutting into the gums, cheeks or lips. Is it permitted to do this on Shabbos?

Discussion: Merely placing the wax on the braces and pressing it down is permitted. There is no Biblical prohibition being transgressed, nor does this procedure fall under the rabbinic prohibition against medicine, since the wax does not heal any condition. Rather, it protects the area from potential abrasions or cuts, which is permissible on Shabbos.

A problem could arise, however, if the wax-like material is smoothed down on the braces when (or after) it is applied to the braces. To smooth it down may possibly be a transgression of the Biblical Labor of Smoothing and would be prohibited. It is proper, therefore, to instruct those who need to use wax on Shabbos not to smooth it down. The wax should just be dabbed on the braces and then pressed down.

[It is possible to argue that smoothing down this wax-like material is not considered Smoothing at all. Natural wax, which is strictly forbidden to smooth down, is a drippy substance which needs to be smoothed down in order for it to harden and serve as filler.105 The texture of the synthetic, pliable wax-like material used in orthodontics, however, is altogether different and is meant to be pounded and pressed into a number of shapes and thicknesses. Smoothing may not apply to it at all.106]

The clumps of wax should be broken off before Shabbos, because it might be considered Tearing to do so on Shabbos.107

105. The natural wax described in the Shulchan Aruch is used to fill a hole in the wall of a barrel; see O.C. 314:11.

106. See a somewhat similar ruling in Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 14:45 concerning pliable ear plugs, where Rav S.Z. Auerbach rules that no Smoothing applies.

107. See Beiur Halachah 340:13, s.v. ein.