Which Braces are Best for You?

kid with braces
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Braces have been used to straighten teeth since the early 1800s. The desire for straight teeth actually goes back to Egyptian times. In modern days, there have been many changes in these image-chasing tools. Just in the last fifty years, braces have gone from somewhat medieval torture devices, to barely seen smile straighteners. This is the biggest improvement in recent years – the ability to have braces straighten the teeth, but not be noticeable during the process.

Years ago in orthodontics, there was the type where a metal band encircled each and every tooth, and the bracket was attached to each band. By the time I had braces, starting at about age 10, I had the kind with the brackets cemented onto the teeth. Each back tooth still had a metal band which served as an anchor for the metal wire that would go across the brackets. Even having only the four metal bands makes me cringe, thinking about how they install those bands down over the teeth.

These types of metal braces can generally do the job quicker than the newer iterations of shifting teeth, which is a plus – the sooner the better. But there are downsides – because they move the teeth quicker, there is more pain over the course of treatment. Also, food often gets caught in the metal bracket/wire. Corn on the cob and other things have to be sliced so you can eat them, and the protruding metal on the brackets tears up the inside of the mouth for the first days. And then on a mortifying note, the grills of the braces can get entangled with someone else’s grills while kissing.

The bracket-type braces evolved to replace metal brackets with ceramic brackets that came in either clear or a white like the teeth, which made the braces less obvious, at least. Other mouth appliances used in conjunction with traditional braces: the tiny rubber bands attached to brackets to make the smaller adjustments. Then there is the retainer which is a wire bent to go around the front of the teeth to keep them in place. The wire is attached to a piece of plastic which is custom-shaped to fit the roof of the mouth. They’re custom-made so they’re expensive to replace when they are (often) lost. And then there is the embarrassment-inducing headgear, a rounded metal wire worn around the face with an inner bracket that attaches to the upper back teeth and attached to an elastic band holding the wire in place from the back of the head.

Another type of braces is lingual braces. They’re just like the traditional braces in that they are composed of the wire and bracket configuration. But these braces are installed on the backside of the teeth. Their advantage is that you can’t see them, so nobody knows the wearer has them. But it would take some time to get used to the ever-curious tongue rubbing against all those little metal squares and wires. Lingual braces also cost more than traditional braces, and they take longer to adjust because of how they’re built.

There are several types of braces that are referred to as self-ligating. Self-ligating means that instead of employing the small rubber bands to adjust the teeth, there are adjustable clips attached to the brackets, so there is less force in moving the teeth, and therefore less pain is caused by the adjustments. There is a version of metal braces that have heat-activated wires. These wires use body heat for a gradual movement, rather than having adjustments every two months or so, which causes pain for the first few days from the new adjustment.

Invisalign braces are the modern version of braces. There is nothing attached to the teeth to move them. The orthodontist is able to set up the measurements on their computer so that you can see the end result. Then an initial mold of the teeth is made, and the aligners are made in a series to adjust toward the desired result. Each aligner piece is worn in the mouth for two weeks and then replaced with the next step towards the end goal. Aligners are a more gradual method of moving the teeth, so they are less painful than traditional metal braces. They are definitely the least conspicuous form of orthodontic adjustment thus far. Other pluses include the ability to take the aligner out for cleaning and it’s virtually like not wearing braces. But aligners are not for more complex cases, and they are more expensive than other types of braces.

For the most part, it’s easier to choose between the traditional metal-on-metal types of braces compared to the less conspicuous and gentler form of tooth movement. But if you are not able to afford the aligners and/or you want your teeth to be moved more quickly, maybe the metal braces would be best for you. Luckily, the modern version of metal braces has smaller brackets. But it is good that there are so many ways to make a smile brighter, outside and in.