A rarely used but extremely useful if somewhat cumbersome device, lip bumpers are a good example of what kind of very highly specialized gear comes out of the orthodontic dental laboratories. It is essentially an archwire that has a piece of plastic attached to it. The archwire is attached to your molars only, and the plastic goes around the front teeth.
There are many ways in which a lip bumper (sometimes called a cheek bumper if the plastic is facing the cheeks) can help you. If you only need to correct the bite in your lower molars then there is no reason to receive full orthodontry, getting just a bumper will suffice. Sometimes the molars need to be kept in place, but they are likely to move because of wisdom teeth or second molars coming in. In these cases, the lip bumper will serve to hold the teeth back in their original place until full maturation, after which regular orthodontic treatment with full braces will usually take place.
Sometimes space needs to be created because the back teeth will be used as anchors. In these cases the bumper will hold the teeth back, even push them back to create the extra few millimeters of space needed. Bumpers also frequently help in aligning the molars together, so that they do not mess each other up when biting down. Molars that are misaligned may scratch the enamel off of each other when biting or chewing.
The other thing that bumpers do is keep the lips or cheeks off teeth. Sometimes during orthodontic treatment, especially if there is a lot of crowding or if there is not enough space in the oral cavity for all of the teeth, some space will have to be kept artificially between the teeth and the cheeks or lips.
The appliance can be painful at first, and usually patients complain of the bumper feeling way too tight. This is normal, and the pain will let up in about 2 to 3 days. In the meantime, some over the counter painkillers should be able to help with the problem, preferably Tylenol or some form of Ibuprofen. When wearing the device, remember that it is now part of your oral environment, and thus needs to be brushed and cleaned just like anything else. Make sure you brush the appliance, particularly the parts facing your gums.