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Braces can adjust the positioning of your teeth and jaw. A dental professional may recommend them to help align crooked teeth, modify the spacing between teeth, or correct a bad bite.

When you have braces, small fixtures called brackets are attached to your teeth. A thin metal wire called an archwire runs through these brackets. The archwire is gradually adjusted to apply force, moving your teeth into the desired position.

For braces to work effectively, the archwire must remain secured in the brackets.

Traditional braces achieve this by using elastic bands or metal ties. In contrast, self-ligating braces use a system built into the bracket itself to hold the archwire.

Keep reading to learn more about self-ligating braces, their potential pros and cons, and more.

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Traditional braces have elastic ties (the colors you usually see on the braces). These ties hold the aligning wires in place. Self-ligating braces have no elastic ties. Instead, brackets or clips hold the wires in place. This keeps self-ligating braces always active and moving teeth at a faster pace. Traditional braces have to be tightened with the elastic ties every 4 to 6 weeks.

Self-ligating braces use a built-in system to secure the archwire to the brackets. You may also hear this system referred to as self-ligating brackets.

This ligation method is different from traditional braces, in which tiny elastic bands or metal ties are applied to the brackets to hold the archwire in place. These are called ligatures.

When discussing self-ligating braces, it’s important to know that there are actually two types of self-ligating brackets: active and passive. Both types use a small door or gate-like mechanism to close over the bracket:

  • Active brackets use a sliding spring clip mechanism. They press against the archwire, applying an active force.
  • Passive brackets use a simple sliding mechanism. Unlike active brackets, they don’t press on the archwire.

Do they need tightening?

Like with traditional braces, self-ligating braces still require periodic adjustments. During these adjustments, your orthodontist will evaluate your progress and may also adjust or replace your archwire.

Adjustments can modify the force placed on your teeth, helping them to gradually move into their new positions.

Are they comfortable or do they hurt?

Like traditional braces, self-ligating braces can lead to pain or discomfort. This may be particularly common after you first get them, or after you’ve had an adjustment appointment.

In some cases, self-ligating braces might cause less discomfort than traditional braces if the wearer ensures proper oral hygiene while wearing them.

A 2014 study compared quality of life in 150 people with either traditional or self-ligating braces.

Researchers found that while people with traditional braces reported more pain than those with self-ligating braces, this difference between the two wasn’t statistically significant.

There are several potential benefits to using self-ligating braces. These include:

  • Shorter orthodontist visits. For traditional braces, individual ligatures must be replaced during an adjustment. Generally speaking, opening and shutting self-ligating brackets during an adjustment is less time consuming.
  • Easier cleaning. Ligatures can trap food particles in and around your brackets. The absence of ligatures in self-ligating braces may make them a little easier to clean.
  • Less discomfort. It’s possible that you might experience less discomfort with self-ligating braces than with traditional braces.

You may have heard that using self-ligating braces is faster or more effective than using traditional braces. However, the current research that’s available doesn’t support this claim.

How long your treatment takes largely depends on your specific condition.

A 2011 study compared self-ligating braces with traditional braces in 62 people who had had extractions. It found no difference between the two in treatment duration or the total number of orthodontic visits.

It’s possible that self-ligating braces may speed up some aspects of treatment.

A 2019 study compared the rate of alignment in 30 people using either traditional or self-ligating braces. It found that alignment of the upper teeth was significantly faster in the initial 4 months of treatment with self-ligating braces.

Another concern after you have braces is the long-term stability of your newly aligned teeth.

A 2014 study of 60 people compared the long-term treatment stability of traditional braces with self-ligating braces. It found no difference between the two types of braces.

A 2017 research review looked at 20 studies evaluating the effectiveness of self-ligating braces. Researchers found there were no significant differences in the effectiveness of traditional and self-ligating braces.

There are some potential risks to self-ligating braces. One of these is bracket failure. It’s possible that repeated opening and closing of self-ligating brackets may lead to wear and tear. Because of this, they may not stay closed as well.

If the bracket needs to be replaced, it will require longer appointments and may extend treatment duration.

The other risks associated with self-ligating braces are similar to those for traditional braces and can include:

  • Tooth decay. Food particles can become trapped in any type of braces. This can cause plaque to build up and increase the risk of tooth decay.
  • Reversion. If you don’t wear your retainer after you get your braces removed, it’s possible that your teeth may begin to revert to their old positions.

Generally speaking, self-ligating braces are more expensive than traditional braces. This is because they use a more advanced type of technology.

Other factors that may contribute to cost include things like the amount of correction that’s needed and the total length of your treatment. Additionally, costs may vary between individual orthodontists.

It’s possible that an orthodontist may offer a payment plan to help make your treatment more affordable. If you’re interested in using a payment plan, ask your orthodontist whether they offer payment plans and, if so, what types are available.

Your dental insurance may also cover some costs of orthodontic treatment. If you think you need braces, be sure to check to see if orthodontic benefits are included in your dental insurance.

Whether you get self-ligating braces can depend on factors like your specific condition, your treatment plan, and your budget.

Your orthodontist can work with you to determine whether self-ligating braces are a good option for you.

Self-ligating braces use a built-in mechanism in the bracket to hold the archwire in place. This is in contrast to traditional braces, which use elastic ties or metal wires to secure the archwire.

People with self-ligating braces may have shorter orthodontist appointments, easier cleaning, and less discomfort.

However, research currently indicates that there’s no significant difference in the effectiveness between traditional and self-ligating braces.

If you’re interested in self-ligating braces, speak with your orthodontist. They can help determine whether self-ligating braces are a good fit for you.