Braces are dental devices that use pressure and control to gradually shift and straighten your teeth.
Teeth that are misaligned or crowded, teeth that have large gaps between them, and jawlines that don’t neatly close over each other are often treated with braces.
Braces allow for flexible treatment that adapts to the way your teeth are responding to alignment.
Braces also have the advantage of being minimally invasive, causing minimal discomfort, and not requiring any recovery time while you’re in treatment.
For these reasons, braces have long been a popular choice for treating misaligned teeth and jaws.
The only proven alternative to braces is jaw surgery, for which not everyone meets the criteria.
There are some online forums and information that claim you can do your own orthodontic treatment at home to avoid braces. These braces “hacks” and homemade alternatives can permanently damage your teeth.
If you’re thinking about getting braces, you may be weighing the pros and cons of the three main types.
Metal braces are the traditional style of dental braces. Usually made from stainless steel or titanium, they consist of metal brackets, elastic o-rings, and archwires that exert constant, gentle pressure on your teeth.
Over time, the pressure on your teeth means that your teeth gradually move and your jaw changes shape to conform to the shape of the braces wire.
These work using the same concept as metal braces. Ceramic braces use clear brackets instead of metal ones, which makes them less visible (although in most cases, you can still tell if someone is wearing them).
Ceramic braces also incorporate an archwire and clear o-rings to slowly change the position of your teeth using constant, mild pressure.
“Invisible” brace systems refer to a series of clear aligners that you wear all day long, with the exception of when you’re eating. These nontraditional braces, sometimes referred to by the brand name Invisalign, are the least visible of the popular types of braces.
These clear aligners are prescribed by an orthodontist or dentist and work just like braces, gradually changing the shape of your teeth by putting pressure on them.
A “retainer” refers to a wire-based dental device that you wear overnight to keep your teeth aligned after you’ve had braces. You can’t simply wear a retainer to sleep every night or use someone else’s retainer to straighten your teeth without braces.
If your teeth are only slightly crooked or crowded, your dentist may recommend a fixed retainer instead of a full set of braces. In some cases, you may even be able to use a removable retainer as part of treatment for very slightly crowded teeth.
Retainer treatment plans should only be followed under the close supervision of the orthodontist who has prescribed them.
You shouldn’t try to straighten your teeth without braces at home.
Straightening your own teeth with a borrowed retainer, rubber bands, paper clips, earring backs, self-made equipment, or other DIY remedies mentioned online is extremely unlikely to work.
Although there are tutorials online that instruct people how to create their own braces, following those instructions is a bad idea. The possible side effects of trying to straighten your own teeth without the supervision of a dentist or orthodontist are much worse than having teeth that aren’t straight.
Teeth have roots surrounded by ligaments that secure your teeth firmly into your gumline. When you try to straighten your own teeth, you can put too much strain on these roots and ligaments. This can cause the roots to break off or push too forcefully on the ligaments, possibly killing a tooth.
Potential side effects include:
- tooth decay
- cracked teeth
- weakened tooth enamel
- cuts in your gums
- oral infection
- severe pain
- teeth that fall out
In some cases, an oral surgeon can do a surgical procedure to change the way your teeth are aligned.
If the position of your teeth and jaw cause significant difficulty in your day-to-day life, a dentist might recommend a more involved procedure called orthognathic surgery.
Orthognathic surgery moves the position of your jaw, and the recovery can take 2 to 3 weeks. Swelling can persist for even longer. This type of surgery may be covered by your insurance.
Both minor and more invasive forms of oral surgery to align your teeth can be quite expensive. Unless you need surgery to correct a medical issue, your insurance won’t cover it. Costs vary widely and can depend on what your insurance will cover and where you’re located.
There are other treatments besides braces that can improve your smile. These dental treatments won’t straighten your teeth, but they can address other health conditions that could be affecting your mouth.
Sometimes a child’s mouth is too small to accommodate the size of the adult teeth growing in. This can cause what’s sometimes referred to as “buck teeth” or a crossbite.
A device called a palate expander can be inserted between the top arch of the teeth to correct this condition. This device gently pushes teeth apart and expands the space available for the adult teeth.
This type of treatment is typically recommended for children and young adults when their jaws are still growing.
A Herbst appliance can be used to correct a misaligned jaw. This metal device is glued to rings on the top and bottom teeth. It’s also typically used in children at the same time as braces, as it corrects the jaw’s alignment as it grows forward.
Cosmetic dentistry (veneers, contouring, and bonding)
Cosmetic dental treatments such veneers or dental bonding can create the illusion of straight teeth for teeth that:
- have a large gap between them
- are chipped
- don’t line up smoothly
Veneers can also be placed strategically to make teeth appear straighter.
Whitening your teeth won’t make them any straighter, but it will make them brighter and reduce the visual impact of teeth that aren’t perfectly aligned.
If crooked teeth are impacting your daily life, you should consider getting treatment. If you have difficulty chewing or biting your food, or if your teeth affect the way that you speak, you may be a candidate for jaw surgery or braces.
If you don’t like the way your teeth look because they’re crowded or rotated, orthodontic treatment can straighten out your smile.
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that every child be evaluated to see if they need braces no later than age 7.
The ideal time to get braces is between the ages of 9 to 14. But you’re never too old to get braces, and more adults are opting to seek orthodontic treatment later in life.
Signs that you or your child may be a candidate for braces include:
- crowded or misaligned teeth
- jaws that shift or click
- a history of thumb-sucking or having buck teeth
- difficulty chewing or biting down
- jaws that don’t close neatly or create a seal when the mouth is at rest
- difficulty speaking certain words or making certain sounds
- mouth breathing
For most people, braces are the safest and most effective way to permanently straighten their teeth. If your teeth are only slightly crooked or just a bit crowded, an orthodontist-prescribed retainer may be enough to get them straight.
You shouldn’t attempt to straighten your teeth by yourself. Work with an orthodontist to find the right solution for straightening your teeth.