Dental braces are devices used to correct crowded or crooked teeth, or a misaligned jaw, known as malocclusion.
Braces are most often used during adolescence, but more and more adults are getting corrective dental braces later in life.
Braces are made of metal or ceramic, wires, and bonding material that attaches them to your teeth. An orthodontist is a doctor who specializes in this kind of device and treatment for misaligned teeth.
Success rates of braces vary depending on your age when treatment begins and what your treatment goals are.
The Mayo Clinic points out that braces are generally very effective for people who use them, but their effectiveness depends on the person and their ability to carefully follow their orthodontist’s instructions.
The type of braces that your orthodontist recommends will depend on several factors, such as your age and whether you have an overbite in addition to having crooked teeth. Braces are custom-made and individual to the needs of each person.
Classic braces that come to mind for most people are made of metal brackets that are glued individually to each of your teeth. An archwire puts pressure on your teeth and jawline, and elastic O-rings connect the archwire to the brackets.
The archwire is adjusted periodically as your teeth slowly move into the desired place, and the elastic bands are switched out at orthodontist appointments.
Other types of braces include:
- ceramic “clear” braces, which are less visible
- lingual braces, which are placed completely behind your teeth
- invisible braces, also called aligner trays, which can be taken off and placed back on throughout the day
Retainers are aligner trays you’re usually given after completing treatment with traditional braces. They’re used to keep your teeth in their new place.
Braces move your teeth by exerting constant pressure on them for extended periods of time. The shape of your jaw gradually adapts to conform to this pressure.
We tend to think of our teeth as being connected directly to our jawbone, making it hard to imagine how they can be moved. But underneath your gums is a membrane surrounded by your bones that roots your teeth to your jaw. This membrane controls the position of your teeth, and it responds to the pressure being put on your teeth by braces.
Getting braces doesn’t hurt during the appointment, and it takes between one to two hours for them to be installed. You may experience soreness for the first week you have braces as you adjust. Each time your braces are adjusted by your orthodontist, you may also be sore for a few days.
After your teeth are clean and dry, ceramic, plastic, or stainless steel brackets are applied to your teeth using glue. Having the brackets applied may be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t cause pain.
These brackets will make it possible for pressure to be applied evenly to your teeth. They’re connected and surrounded by wires made of stainless steel, nickel titanium, or copper titanium.
Elastic bands, called O-rings or ligatures, are placed around the brackets once they’re on your teeth. They add to the pressure on your jaw and are typical of most traditional brace treatments.
Spacers are made of rubber bands or metal rings. Your orthodontist may place them between your molars during an appointment.
Spacers push your jaw forward by adding space at the back of your mouth. They also make room for your braces if the back of your mouth is too tight to fit them properly.
Not everyone needs spacers. They’re typically only used for a week or two at a time.
Archwires connect the brackets on your teeth. They’re the mechanism by which pressure is applied for your teeth to move into place. Archwires can be made of stainless steel as well as nickel titanium or copper titanium.
Buccal tubes are metal parts that can be attached to one of your molars. The buccal tube anchors the other parts of the braces together at the back of your mouth. Your orthodontist can then tighten and release different parts of your braces.
Coil springs are sometimes placed on the archwire of your braces. They apply pressure between two of your teeth, pressing them apart and adding space.
The need for headgear is rare, and it’s typically worn only at night. Headgear is a band that attaches to your braces to put extra pressure on your teeth when special correction is needed.
You shouldn’t feel pain when you’re having braces installed. But in the days following initial placement and during and after adjustments, they can feel uncomfortable.
The pain of braces feels like a dull soreness or throbbing. If you have pain after having braces put in, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil), for relief.
Braces for dependent children are covered by some health and dental insurance. The amount of coverage will depend on your provider and on the cost of the services that your orthodontist says that you need.
Braces for children typically start around $5,000 if you have to pay for them out-of-pocket, according to the American Academy of Orthodontists.
Adult braces and tray treatments such as Invisalign aren’t typically covered by insurance. Braces for adults can range from $5,000 to $7,000. Most orthodontists offer payment plans to make this price easier to afford.
Mini-braces are smaller than traditional braces. They don’t go around individual teeth, which means they take up less space in your mouth.
Some orthodontists claim that if you qualify for mini-braces, they may speed up your treatment time. If you’re wondering if you could be a candidate, speak with your orthodontist.
Treatment lengths vary for every person, but typically people wear braces for one to three years. By following the instructions of your orthodontist carefully, you can ensure that you’re wearing your braces for the shortest time span that is possible.
You may be surprised to learn that you’re never too old to get braces. But there are some specific advantages to starting the treatment earlier in life.
As an adolescent, your jawline and underlying tissue are still moving around as you finish developing into an adult. At this phase, your jawline may have more flexibility and your teeth may be more responsive to movement.
Treatment may not take as long if your teeth respond more quickly to your braces. Once your teeth and jaw have stopped growing, there are some adjustments that braces can’t accomplish.
Overall, adults go through the same process as children when they get braces. Other than the duration of treatment, there are other things to consider when you’re an adult who wants braces.
If you’re pregnant or thinking of trying to get pregnant, you should talk with your OB-GYN about how braces could affect your pregnancy.
You may also want to speak with your primary doctor if you have underlying health issues that you’re concerned could be affected.
After you get braces, you’ll also need to avoid certain foods that can become trapped between the braces and your gumline. These foods include:
- hard candy
- chewing gum
When you have braces, your teeth are more inclined to trap foods that can cause tooth decay. Be mindful of how often you consume sugary beverages and starchy foods that can eat away at tooth enamel.
While you have braces, you’ll need to visit the orthodontist for an adjustment every 8 to 10 weeks. Your orthodontist will check to make sure that you’re maintaining your oral health and taking care of your braces well. Your orthodontist will also change out O-rings when necessary.
It’s important to be extra mindful about your oral care when you have braces. Brushing after meals will keep food from becoming lodged in between your braces and your teeth. Special floss from the orthodontist will make it possible to floss around the braces twice per day.
You may want to purchase a Waterpik flosser that can navigate easily around your braces and help reach areas that are hard to clean. A special device called an interdental toothbrush can be used to clean underneath and around archwires and brackets.
While you have braces, you should still schedule an appointment with your dentist for a cleaning every six months to a year.
Braces work by exerting pressure on your jawline to change the way your smile appears. Having straight teeth and a properly aligned jaw can impact not only your appearance but your overall health.
Braces work slowly and treatments vary for everyone. Speak to your dentist if you’re curious about getting braces.