What are braces?
Dental braces straighten your teeth and correct a wide range of orthodontic issues, such as:
- Crooked teeth.
- Crowded teeth.
- Gapped teeth.
- Malocclusion (issues with the way your teeth fit together).
Many children and teens wear braces, but adult braces are common, too. In fact, about 20% of all orthodontic patients in the United States are over the age of 18.
In most cases, orthodontists place braces. But some general dentists offer them too.
How do braces work?
Braces use mild, constant pressure to shift your teeth into their proper positions over time. The exact way this happens depends on the type of braces you choose.
What are the types of braces?
There are several different types of braces. The type that’s best for you depends on a few factors, including the kind of issue you have, the severity of your condition and your personal preferences.
When you think of braces, traditional metal braces might be what you imagine. Metal braces use stainless steel bands, brackets and wires to gently shift your teeth over time.
A dentist or orthodontist will bond (glue) a bracket on each tooth, then place a thin, flexible archwire over the brackets. Tiny elastic bands called ligatures keep the wire firmly in place.
Metal braces are visible when you smile. You can choose clear or tooth-colored ligatures to make your braces less noticeable. Or, if you’re feeling festive, you can choose brightly colored ligatures.
Ceramic braces — sometimes called clear braces — work the same way as metal braces. The key difference is that the brackets, wires and ligatures are tooth-colored, so they blend in with your smile. Ceramic braces are still visible, but they’re less noticeable. One drawback to ceramic braces is that they’re more fragile than metal braces, so they’re more likely to break.
Lingual braces are similar to traditional braces. But they go on the back surfaces of your teeth instead of the front. Most people who choose lingual braces do so because they don’t want other people to be able to tell they have braces.
Self-ligating braces look similar to traditional metal braces. The main difference is that, instead of ligatures (tiny elastic bands), self-ligating braces use a built-in system to hold the archwire in place.
Sometimes called “invisible braces,” clear aligners are a braces alternative. Instead of brackets and wires, clear aligners use a series of custom-made trays to straighten your teeth over time. Popular brands include Invisalign® and ClearCorrect®.
With these systems, you wear each set of aligner trays for approximately two weeks. Then, you swap those trays out for the next set in the series. Unlike metal braces, clear aligners are removable. But you have to wear them for at least 22 hours every day. You should only take your aligners out to eat, drink and brush your teeth.
What age is best for braces?
You’re never too old for orthodontics. That said, the best time for braces is generally between the ages of 9 and 14. At this point, your jaws and facial bones are more malleable (flexible) because they’re still developing. Adult braces are just as effective, but it might take a little longer to achieve the desired results.
How long do braces take to work?
The answer to this question is different for everyone. On average, braces treatment takes about two years to complete. But it depends on the severity of misalignment. Some people finish treatment in under 12 months. Others may need as long as three years.
Risks / Benefits
What are the benefits of dental braces?
The most obvious advantage of braces is a straighter, more beautiful smile. But braces can also:
- Make your teeth easier to clean.
- Help prevent cavities and gum disease.
- Correct temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.
- Restore proper functions like chewing and speaking.
In short, braces can improve the health, function and appearance of your smile.
What are the normal side effects of braces?
There are some mild, expected side effects of braces, including:
- Temporary discomfort (which usually occurs the first day and any time your dentist tightens your braces).
- Irritation on your tongue, lips or inner cheeks.
- Jaw pain.
- Difficulty eating (especially after a tightening).
You can manage most of these side effects with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. You can also purchase dental wax for braces at your local pharmacy to help with irritation inside your mouth. Simply place some wax over any rough-feeling brackets or wire.
Recovery and Outlook
Do braces hurt?
You’ll likely have discomfort for a few days after you get your braces. Some people experience tenderness after routine tightening, too. But generally, your braces shouldn’t hurt.
To ease discomfort after your orthodontic appointments, you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol®). It’s best to avoid ibuprofen (Advil®) and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Research shows that NSAIDs block prostaglandins — hormone-like substances that help with healing. As a result, NSAIDs can actually interrupt the tooth movement process.
How should I care for my braces?
Proper oral hygiene is even more important when you wear braces. Plaque and tartar can build up around your brackets and wires, leading to cavities and gingivitis.
Your dentist or orthodontist will give you a detailed list of instructions for taking care of your braces. But here are a few general guidelines:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss between your teeth and around your braces once a day. (Ask your dentist or orthodontist about special floss for braces.)
- If you have clear aligners, clean them every day and store them properly when you’re not wearing them.
- Swish with an alcohol-free, antibacterial mouthwash twice a day.
- Avoid hard, crunchy or sticky foods.
- Visit your orthodontist regularly for tightening and maintenance.
- Visit your dentist regularly for cleanings and routine dental care.
What can you eat with braces?
After you get your braces, you’ll want to stick to soft foods for a few days. Good options include:
- Cooked vegetables.
- Mashed potatoes.
- Scrambled eggs.
- Soft fruits.
Once the discomfort wears off, you can start adding other foods to your diet.
You should avoid certain hard and sticky foods the entire time you have braces. This includes nuts, caramels and crunchy fruits and veggies.
How can I maintain my results after braces?
Anyone who wears braces will need to wear a teeth retainer when they’re done with treatment. A retainer prevents your teeth from shifting back into their old positions.
There are many types of retainers. Your dentist or orthodontist will help choose one that’s right for you.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call my dentist or orthodontist?
Call your healthcare provider if you have:
- Pain that doesn’t go away with medication.
- Broken wires or brackets.
- Trauma to your mouth or face.
- Bleeding or infection in your gums.
Frequently Asked Questions
Invisalign vs. braces: Which option is right for me?
This is something only your dentist or orthodontist can tell you. But generally, Invisalign can correct most mild to moderate orthodontic issues. If your case is severe, traditional braces might be more suitable.
Can I buy special floss for braces?
Yes, there are several products on the market that make flossing with braces easier, including:
- Floss threaders.
- Dental picks.
- Orthodontic flossers.
- Interproximal brushes (tiny brushes that fit between your teeth).
- Water flossers.
Ask your dentist or orthodontist for product recommendations.
Can you chew gum with braces?
Yes, you can chew sugarless gum. Be sure to shop for brands that have the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Teeth braces not only enhance your smile, but they also improve oral health and function. Today, there are many orthodontic options available. Your dentist or orthodontist can help determine the one that works best for you. Braces are an investment that can give you a healthy, beautiful smile for years to come.
Orthodontic patients generally find ceramic braces more comfortable to wear than metal ones. The high-quality materials aren't abrasive, so they won't irritate your gums or the sides of your mouth (a common complaint for metal brace wearers).What are the 3 categories of orthodontics? ›
- Level One Orthodontics: Appearance “Straight Teeth” The first and most basic level of orthodontics is aesthetics. ...
- Level Two Orthodontics: Appearance and Bite. ...
- Level Three Orthodontics: Appearance, Bite, and Jaw Alignment. ...
- Learn More about the Three Levels of Orthodontics.
Orthodontic patients generally find ceramic braces more comfortable to wear than metal ones. The high-quality materials aren't abrasive, so they won't irritate your gums or the sides of your mouth (a common complaint for metal brace wearers).How do you take care of braces brackets? ›
- Brush Regularly. ...
- Floss and Mouthwash. ...
- Water Pik. ...
- Check the Mirror. ...
- Get Braces Care Tips From Your Orthodontist. ...
- Be Careful of the Foods Your Child Eats When They Have Braces.
They can be defined as transparent plastic trays that are attached to the teeth and gently move them to the desired position. Getting Invisalign is one of the fastest working braces available nowadays. An average adult patient is expected to complete the treatment within a span of one year.
Metal. Today's metal braces are smaller, more comfortable and more attractive. Metal braces are still the most common type. They are made of high-grade stainless steel.What are the most common types of braces? ›
The most common types are traditional metal braces, clear or tooth coloured braces, lingual braces and clear aligners such as Invisalign.What does Class 3 in braces mean? ›
Class III is where the lower first molar is anterior (or more towards the front of the mouth) than the upper first molar. In this abnormal relationship, the lower teeth and jaw project further forward than the upper teeth and jaws.How many levels of braces are there? ›
There are three general stages of braces and Invisalign treatment: the planning stage, the active stage, and the retention stage.What is the most affordable type of braces? ›
Clear aligner sets move teeth through a progression of aligner trays that gently guide teeth into their ideal positions. With costs ranging from around $1,800 to $2,500, clear aligners are generally more affordable than braces.
Invisalign is significantly less painful than metal braces. Most people report discomfort for the first few days of wearing the trays and some tenderness, but when compared to the agony of metal braces, Invisalign wins by being less painful. One of the pains of braces comes with eating.Can you choose what braces you want? ›
Now, patients have the ability to make the choice for which type of braces are right for their lifestyle and health needs. Braces are not just only for cosmetic reasons.What type of braces hurt less? ›
Invisalign is significantly less painful than metal braces. Most people report discomfort for the first few days of wearing the trays and some tenderness, but when compared to the agony of metal braces, Invisalign wins by being less painful. One of the pains of braces comes with eating.What type of braces are the cheapest? ›
There are many types of braces on the market, including metal, ceramic, and lingual braces. Traditional metal braces are typically the cheapest option available, averaging $3,000 to $7,000.Which is better metal or ceramic braces? ›
Ceramic braces are less durable than metal braces, as the bracket material isn't as strong as stainless steel. Studies have found clear/ceramic braces are more than twice as likely to break off or fracture as metal brackets.Which type of braces takes longer? ›
Treatment Time Clear and Metal Braces
After the orthodontist examines your teeth, they'll be able to make an educated guess as to how long treatment will take. On average, treatment with clear/ceramic braces lasts 12 – 36 months. The average treatment time with metal braces is around 20 months.