Braces can correct a wide range of dental issues, including crooked, gapped, rotated or crowded teeth. There are several types of braces, including traditional metal braces, ceramic braces and clear aligners like Invisalign®. Braces improve your smile’s health, function and appearance.
Dental braces straighten your teeth and correct a wide range of orthodontic issues, such as:
Many children and teens wear braces, but adult braces are common, too. In fact, about 20% of all orthodontic patients in the United States are over the age of 18.
In most cases, orthodontists place braces. But some general dentists offer them too.
Braces use mild, constant pressure to shift your teeth into their proper positions over time. The exact way this happens depends on the type of braces you choose.
There are several different types of braces. The type that’s best for you depends on a few factors, including the kind of issue you have, the severity of your condition and your personal preferences.
When you think of braces, traditional metal braces might be what you imagine. Metal braces use stainless steel bands, brackets and wires to gently shift your teeth over time.
A dentist or orthodontist will bond (glue) a bracket on each tooth, then place a thin, flexible archwire over the brackets. Tiny elastic bands called ligatures keep the wire firmly in place.
Metal braces are visible when you smile. You can choose clear or tooth-colored ligatures to make your braces less noticeable. Or, if you’re feeling festive, you can choose brightly colored ligatures.
Ceramic braces — sometimes called clear braces — work the same way as metal braces. The key difference is that the brackets, wires and ligatures are tooth-colored, so they blend in with your smile. Ceramic braces are still visible, but they’re less noticeable. One drawback to ceramic braces is that they’re more fragile than metal braces, so they’re more likely to break.
Lingual braces are similar to traditional braces. But they go on the back surfaces of your teeth instead of the front. Most people who choose lingual braces do so because they don’t want other people to be able to tell they have braces.
Self-ligating braces look similar to traditional metal braces. The main difference is that, instead of ligatures (tiny elastic bands), self-ligating braces use a built-in system to hold the archwire in place.
Sometimes called “invisible braces,” clear aligners are a braces alternative. Instead of brackets and wires, clear aligners use a series of custom-made trays to straighten your teeth over time. Popular brands include Invisalign® and ClearCorrect®.
With these systems, you wear each set of aligner trays for approximately two weeks. Then, you swap those trays out for the next set in the series. Unlike metal braces, clear aligners are removable. But you have to wear them for at least 22 hours every day. You should only take your aligners out to eat, drink and brush your teeth.
You’re never too old for orthodontics. That said, the best time for braces is generally between the ages of 9 and 14. At this point, your jaws and facial bones are more malleable (flexible) because they’re still developing. Adult braces are just as effective, but it might take a little longer to achieve the desired results.
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The answer to this question is different for everyone. On average, braces treatment takes about two years to complete. But it depends on the severity of misalignment. Some people finish treatment in under 12 months. Others may need as long as three years.
The most obvious advantage of braces is a straighter, more beautiful smile. But braces can also:
In short, braces can improve the health, function and appearance of your smile.
There are some mild, expected side effects of braces, including:
You can manage most of these side effects with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. You can also purchase dental wax for braces at your local pharmacy to help with irritation inside your mouth. Simply place some wax over any rough-feeling brackets or wire.
You’ll likely have discomfort for a few days after you get your braces. Some people experience tenderness after routine tightening, too. But generally, your braces shouldn’t hurt.
To ease discomfort after your orthodontic appointments, you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol®). It’s best to avoid ibuprofen (Advil®) and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Research shows that NSAIDs block prostaglandins — hormone-like substances that help with healing. As a result, NSAIDs can actually interrupt the tooth movement process.
Your dentist or orthodontist will give you a detailed list of instructions for taking care of your braces. But here are a few general guidelines:
After you get your braces, you’ll want to stick to soft foods for a few days. Good options include:
Once the discomfort wears off, you can start adding other foods to your diet.
You should avoid certain hard and sticky foods the entire time you have braces. This includes nuts, caramels and crunchy fruits and veggies.
Anyone who wears braces will need to wear a teeth retainer when they’re done with treatment. A retainer prevents your teeth from shifting back into their old positions.
There are many types of retainers. Your dentist or orthodontist will help choose one that’s right for you.
Call your healthcare provider if you have:
This is something only your dentist or orthodontist can tell you. But generally, Invisalign can correct most mild to moderate orthodontic issues. If your case is severe, traditional braces might be more suitable.
Yes, there are several products on the market that make flossing with braces easier, including:
Ask your dentist or orthodontist for product recommendations.
Yes, you can chew sugarless gum. Be sure to shop for brands that have the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Teeth braces not only enhance your smile, but they also improve oral health and function. Today, there are many orthodontic options available. Your dentist or orthodontist can help determine the one that works best for you. Braces are an investment that can give you a healthy, beautiful smile for years to come.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/13/2023.
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