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Braces can help to treat a variety of conditions that impact your teeth and jaw. They use force to help move your teeth and jaw into new positions.

This force is applied by an archwire that runs through brackets that have been attached to the surface of your teeth.

If you have braces, it’s possible that you’ll need to wear rubber bands at some point during your treatment. Rubber bands work to apply additional force to certain areas.

Below, we’ll describe what the rubber bands do, when you may need to wear them, and more.

Rubber bands are used to increase the force that’s applied to a specific area of your mouth. You may also see them referred to as elastics.

Rubber bands connect to the brackets on your braces and can be positioned in many different conformations. They’re attached and secured using small metal hooks on the bracket.

There are several things that rubber bands do for braces. They’re often used to help adjust different types of misaligned jaw, such as:

They may also be used with braces to help adjust spacing between teeth or to adjust the positioning of teeth, such as helping to straighten a tooth that’s leaning backward.

The types of rubber bands used for braces are diverse and can be categorized in several ways.

Force

Rubber bands are classified by the amount of force that they can exert. Generally speaking, there are three force categories:

  • light
  • medium
  • heavy

Force is measured in ounces (oz) or grams (g). The exact amount of force exerted in each force category may vary by manufacturer.

Size

Rubber bands come in different sizes as well. The size is the measurement of its diameter, typically in fractions of an inch.

The rubber band size that’s used depends on how far it needs to stretch in order to work effectively.

Material

Rubber bands can be made of two different materials: latex and synthetic. Latex bands are often used, as they’re highly flexible and inexpensive to produce. However, synthetic bands can be used for people that have a latex allergy.

Some research suggests that latex bands may exert more stable force over time than synthetic bands. For example, a small 2018 study compared 15 people using both latex and synthetic bands. Latex bands were more stable over a 24-hour period than synthetic bands.

Use

Rubber bands can also be classified based on why they’re being used. Some common uses that you may hear about include:

  • Class I: Positioned horizontally, linking brackets on one of your jaws. They can be used to help close spaces between your teeth.
  • Class II: Connect teeth on your upper jaw to the molars of your lower jaw. They can be used to correct excess overjet, commonly called an overbite. This is the gap between front upper and lower teeth when biting down.
  • Class III: Connect teeth on your lower jaw to the molars on your upper jaw. They can be used to correct an underbite.
  • Vertical: Link teeth on your upper jaw with the teeth below them on the lower jaw. They can be used to correct an open bite.
  • Cross: Connect teeth in your upper and lower jaw, often crossing over your front teeth. They’re used to correct a crossbite.

When you begin using rubber bands with your braces depends on your specific treatment plan. For some, rubber bands may be used after a few adjustments. For others, they may be used closer to the end of treatment.

Additionally, not everyone will need to wear rubber bands with their braces. Your orthodontist will let you know if rubber bands are a part of your treatment plan.

Over time, rubber bands lose their elasticity. This means that the force they exert on your teeth and jaw will begin to decrease.

Because of this, rubber bands need to be changed, often multiple times in a day. Your orthodontist will let you know how when and how often you should change your rubber bands.

The total amount of time that rubber bands are used on your braces depends on your treatment plan. Some people may only need to use rubber bands for a few weeks, while others may use them for months.

Can you eat with rubber bands on your braces?

Generally speaking, many people that wear rubber bands with their braces wear them almost all of the time, although some may only need to wear them at night.

You may be able to remove your rubber bands temporarily in order to eat, particularly if the way they’re arranged makes eating difficult. You can also typically remove your rubber bands temporarily in order to brush and floss.

Be sure to talk with your orthodontist about when it’s appropriate for your rubber bands to be removed.

If your treatment plan includes rubber bands, there are some side effects to be aware of:

  • Discomfort: Because rubber bands apply additional pressure to your teeth and jaw, you may have temporary discomfort when you begin using them. This can be eased by using over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Allergic reaction: Some types of bands contain latex. Due to this, it’s possible to experience an allergic reaction. Synthetic bands are available, so be sure to tell your orthodontist if you have a latex allergy.
  • Breakage: Rubber bands can potentially break while you’re wearing them.

The dangers of DIY orthodontics

You may have seen information about DIY orthodontics online. This can involve applying rubber bands to your teeth on your own, with the aim of straightening or closing spaces between teeth.

It’s important to remember that orthodontic treatment should only be performed under the supervision of an orthodontist. Attempting to apply DIY rubber bands can cause serious damage to your teeth and gums.

This is evidenced by a 2016 case study and a 2012 case study, in which applying rubber bands without the supervision of an orthodontist resulted in tooth loss and oral surgery, respectively.

Healthline

If you have braces with rubber bands, it’s important to continue to care for them properly. This includes:

  • Following your orthodontist’s instructions: Always attach rubber bands to your braces as instructed by your orthodontist. This can help to ensure that your treatment proceeds as planned.
  • Never doubling up: Doubling up on your rubber bands can apply too much pressure and may damage your teeth.
  • Keeping extras on hand: Rubber bands need to be changed with some frequency. It’s also possible for them to break. Because of this, plan to carry extras with you.
  • Brushing after every meal: Food can become trapped in your braces, leading to the buildup of plaque. Gently brushing with a soft bristled toothbrush after each meal can help remove food that’s become trapped.
  • Flossing: Flossing helps remove food particles that have become stuck between your teeth and are harder to reach with brushing. Your orthodontist can give you a special threading tool to help you floss with braces.
  • Avoiding certain foods: Foods that are sticky, hard, or crunchy can all damage your braces.

It’s possible that rubber bands may come off or break. Fortunately, you can replace them without having to visit your orthodontist.

If a rubber band comes off or breaks, replace it with a new rubber band. It’s important to do this as soon as possible to ensure that your orthodontic treatment proceeds as planned.

A good tip is to carry a package of rubber bands with you at all times. That way, you can replace a rubber band promptly, should it come loose or break.

In some cases, rubber bands may not be a part of your orthodontic treatment. There are other appliances that your orthodontist may choose to use instead.

When discussing alternatives to rubber bands, it’s important to remember that each person’s treatment plan is different and specific to them. Whether your orthodontist uses rubber bands will depend on your specific needs.

Let’s explore some alternatives in a little more detail.

Power chains

The archwire of your braces is secured to the brackets using metal ties or tiny elastic bands. These are called ligatures. Typically, you have one ligature per bracket.

Power chains are elastic rings that are linked together. They can be used in place of individual ligatures in order to apply additional force to a specific area of your mouth.

Power chains are often used for applications like adjusting spacing between teeth, closing spaces between teeth after an extraction, and modifying the angle of teeth.

Headgear

Your orthodontist may use headgear if traditional braces aren’t applying sufficient force. Headgear applies force from outside of your mouth.

With headgear, wires are attached to the metal bands that are fitted around your back teeth (molars). These wires run along the side of your face and are secured with a strap or band located at the back of your head.

You may need to wear headgear for several hours at a time. Because of this, your orthodontist may suggest that you wear it at night.

Temporary anchorage devices (TADs) and appliances

In this method, tiny screws called implants are placed directly into your jawbone. These screws help to anchor your braces and apply more pressure to a certain area. The screws are removed when your orthodontic treatment concludes. Orthodontists can use a spring or elastic power chain from the screw to create the same movement that one would get from the rubber band.

Other appliances that are also permanently connected to the jaw include:

  • FORSUS
  • PowerScope
  • Herbst
  • Springs

Rubber bands, also called elastics, are used with braces to apply additional force to certain areas of your mouth. They’re often used to correct a misaligned jaw, but can also be used for other applications.

Rubber bands are diverse, coming in different sizes, force categories, and materials. They can also be arranged into different conformations, depending on your treatment plan.

Not everyone will have rubber bands with their braces. In fact, there are several alternatives that may be used.

If you need to use rubber bands with your braces, be sure to carefully follow your orthodontist’s instructions on how to wear them. Doing this can help ensure that your treatment proceeds as planned.