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Treatment for teeth misalignment often involves wearing braces or aligners for a substantial period of time.

The amount of time you wear braces or aligners will vary based on your treatment needs, but your behaviors can also impact the duration.

Make sure you follow your orthodontist’s advice and maintain healthy habits while wearing braces. This can contribute to the effectiveness of your treatment plan and help avoid additional months with braces.

The average amount of time for braces is between 1 and 3 years. But you may need them for a shorter or longer amount of time depending on your circumstances.

Here are some factors that can impact how long you need to wear braces.

How crooked your teeth are

A common reason you may wear braces is because your teeth are crowded, stick out, or are spaced too far apart. You should seek treatment for these issues to avoid cavities, gum disease, and enamel erosion.

The length of time you wear braces to treat these conditions can vary based on severity. For example, aligning your teeth may involve removing teeth to make more room in your mouth.

Your bite

The way your top and bottom teeth align is known as your bite.

Your bite may not line up the way it should, and you may need treatment for one of the following bite types:

  • open bite
  • deep bite
  • underbite
  • cross bite

Treating a bite with braces can take longer than simply treating misaligned teeth with braces.

Types of braces

There are many forms of orthodontic treatment, and these different types can affect the duration of your treatment.

  • Metal braces. These involve brackets that are attached to your teeth and threaded with metal wire to connect them. Your orthodontist will tighten these wires every few weeks to slowly align your teeth. These are usually recommended for more serious correction of teeth misalignment.
  • Clear aligners. These are removable, clear, plasticlike trays changed out every few weeks as your teeth shift. You can remove the trays to clean your teeth but must wear them almost all day. Failure to follow the treatment plan will prolong how long you need to wear them. Clear aligners are not the best choice when it comes to closing spaces for extraction.
  • Lingual braces. These are metal braces that are glued behind your teeth. They are as effective or more compared to metal braces or clear aligners. Lingual braces are the most aesthetic type of braces.

A comprehensive 2019 study found that people with clear aligners wore them for a shorter amount of time than those with traditional metal braces. But those wearing clear aligners had less severe alignment issues than those wearing metal braces.

Additional orthodontic tools

Your orthodontic treatment may involve more than just braces, and these could affect the length of your treatment plan. Some of these additional orthodontic tools are:

  • Rubber bands. These attach to braces to treat jaw alignment.
  • Palatal expanders. These expanders fit in the roof of your mouth and use gentle force to widen the jaw. These are prescribed in children who are still growing. They may help you avoid braces altogether or lessen the time you need to wear braces later on.
  • Headgear. This is a device you wear over your head (generally at night) or on your face. It connects to your braces if your jaw alignment issues are complex. This is an option for a growth patient.

You can’t shorten the time you wear braces by making your own treatment decisions for these tools. Failing to follow your orthodontist’s instructions may add to the time you need to wear braces.

Your input

Talk with your orthodontist about your needs and concerns regarding treatment time. They may be able to adjust treatment based on important life events, but they won’t know unless you bring this to their attention.

Keep in mind that while your teeth and jaw may look “fixed,” there are less visible aspects of treatment that may take more time.

For example, it takes time for your bones to set during treatment. Removing braces too soon may undo the progress of your alignment correction.

In many cases, a child or teen getting braces may encounter resistance from their parents if they want to speed up their time in braces.

A 2020 study found that parents of children in braces were more focused than orthodontists on the outcome of treatment than the length of treatment.

Your orthodontist may be able to find a successful treatment that can be accomplished by a realistic timeline and that will address these kinds of concerns.

Diet

Not following your orthodontist’s advice about what you can and cannot eat with braces could affect how long you have to wear them.

Eating sticky, hard, or crunchy foods can break off parts of your braces. These foods include not only candy and gum, but also raw vegetables and popcorn.

Breaking your braces may affect the amount of time you need to wear them and likely require an emergency appointment.

Lifestyle

Consider taking an active role in your treatment plan to prevent a prolonged need for braces. You can:

  • see your orthodontist for adjustments regularly
  • follow instructions for clear aligners and other appliances
  • visit your dentist every 6 months for cleanings

Also, talk with your orthodontist about an appropriate mouthguard to wear while exercising or playing sports. This can help protect your braces and prevent injuries to the mouth.

Always follow your orthodontist’s instructions to make your treatment with braces as smooth and efficient as possible.

Here are some do’s and don’ts your orthodontist may advise to help make your treatment successful.

Do’s

  • Brush your teeth twice a day (or after eating).
  • Floss once a day.
  • Rinse your teeth with water or a specialty rinse to remove food debris.
  • See your orthodontist for regular adjustments and your dentist for semiannual cleanings.
  • Follow instructions for removable or adjustable appliances like clear aligners, rubber bands, expanders, or headgear.
  • See your orthodontist immediately if your braces break.
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Don’ts

  • Avoid eating sugary, sticky, crunchy, or hard foods.
  • Try to avoid drinking sugary or carbonated beverages.
  • Avoid trying to fix broken braces yourself.
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Braces are beneficial for many reasons, including:

  • aligning your teeth, giving you an aesthetically pleasing smile, and a healthy bite
  • helping you chew and swallow properly
  • avoiding trauma to the front teeth in people with flared front teeth
  • preventing the development of cavities, gum disease, and jaw alignment conditions like TMJ disorders
  • preventing or improving speech impediments caused by misalignment
  • improving your self-confidence or self-esteem by achieving a desired look

Communicate clearly with your orthodontist throughout your braces treatment.

Do so especially when issues arise, or if you’re experiencing unexpected pain, discomfort, or trouble with your braces like loose wire or brackets.

You may experience some discomfort when your orthodontist tightens your braces.

But you should report severe pain, especially if it persists for hours or days after tightening.

In this case, your orthodontist may be able to loosen your braces and refer you to your dentist for any tooth issues that may be causing additional pain.

Talk with your doctor or dentist if you experience any unexpected or abnormal changes to your teeth, jaw, or other parts of your mouth during treatment.

Braces help align your teeth and jaw, leading to aesthetic and health benefits.

You may need to wear braces for months or several years, depending on your treatment needs.

Talk with your orthodontist about treatment expectations, and make sure you follow their advice to avoid prolonging the amount of time you need to wear braces.