Types of Braces
There are currently many types of braces used in orthodontic treatment in the U.S. They all work using the same basic principles (applying pressure to gradually move teeth into proper alignment). However, the benefits and drawbacks are different for each material and method of installation. Here’s a look at some of the most common types of braces along with pros and cons.
Traditional Metal Braces
Metal braces with brackets, arch wires, and ties are typically the least expensive option and are most likely to be covered by dental insurance. They are approved for use in the widest patient age range – from young children to adults. Because metal braces come in so many different varieties, they can be used to treat most bite and tooth misalignments. The downside of these braces is that they are highly visible. Many patients also find them uncomfortable since there are many parts that can come into contact with the inside of the mouth, causing irritation. These braces make it difficult (but not impossible) to clean your teeth properly, and poor cleaning can lead to staining once the braces are removed. However, they are usually very effective at straightening teeth when installed and adjusted by an experienced orthodontist.
Self Ligating Braces
This type of braces uses brackets with a self-contained wire holding mechanism instead of ties. Some forms of self ligating braces are advertised as “speed braces” that are supposed to significantly cut down on treatment time. Proponents of self-ligating braces also claim that these braces are more comfortable, work using lower amounts of pressure, and require fewer adjustment appointments. So far, there is not enough evidence to say for sure if all these claims are accurate. It’s important to remember that there’s a lot of variation in treatment time and comfort level from one patient to the next even with traditional braces. In the end, picking a skilled orthodontist may have more of an impact on your experience than the type of braces you choose.
Ceramic and Plastic Braces
Tooth colored ceramic and clear plastic brackets can be attached to your teeth in lieu of metal brackets (the arch wire will still be metal). These are much less noticeable than metal braces. Some manufacturers claim their ceramic or plastic brackets are not susceptible to staining. However, this may depend on the specific material used and how many staining foods and beverages (like coffee) you consume. The elastic bands used to connect the brackets do stain easily, but these are replaced at regular intervals during treatment. Composite (plastic) and ceramic brackets are not as strong as metal and may tend to chip, crack, or wear out during treatment. Many orthodontists find the materials used in these types of braces more difficult to work with than metal. This can increase the cost of treatment compared to metal braces.
Invisible (Lingual) Braces
Lingual braces are metal braces that are fitted on the back surface of the patient’s teeth inside the mouth. They are not visible during everyday activities, making them a preferred option for patients who are concerned about braces negatively affecting their appearance. These braces are also less likely to interfere with activities such as contact sports or playing of wind instruments since they aren’t placed between the tooth surface and the lips. These braces are custom made and do cost substantially more than traditional metal braces. The installation is more complex than with standard braces and few orthodontists are trained in how to place them. These braces aren’t suitable for correcting all types of bite problems. Patients may also find they cause significant discomfort for their tongue, at least at first.
These clear plastic alignment trays cost about the same amount as metal braces and work at about the same speed. They are typically much more comfortable than other types of braces and can be removed for eating and tooth brushing. This makes it easier for patients to maintain good oral hygiene during treatment and allows them to eat a broader variety of foods. Invisalign trays are suitable for treating slightly to moderately crooked teeth and some (but not all) types of bite problems. They are the most truly “invisible” of all types of braces when viewed from any angle. The drawback is that this treatment will not work well for patients who fail to keep their braces in at least 22 hours per day. In addition, the course of treatment is set from the beginning when the orthodontist signs off on having the trays created. Any changes require a completely new set of aligner trays which will substantially increase the cost of treatment.