Getting braces is a major step toward achieving the smile of your dreams. But for anyone getting braces for the first time, including myself back in the day, the way braces actually move your teeth can be a complete mystery. So, let's find out, "How do braces work?"
In short, braces place a very slight but constant amount of pressure on your teeth. That pressure slowly moves your teeth into the correct positions, though the movements are so slight you won't notice them in real time.
When your teeth move, though, what happens to your jawbone?
While most people believe that their teeth are directly anchored into their jawbone, this is not entirely true. Instead, your teeth are held in place by a semi-soft membrane between the tooth and bone. Braces work by putting pressure on your teeth, which then put pressure on this membrane, which is able to slowly change and adapt to hold your teeth in their new positions.
For anyone considering braces, it's important to choose a licensed and experienced orthodontist. Your orthodontist has the expertise needed to use braces and their tooth-moving abilities to fix your smile's appearance, your bite, and more. With the guidance of a trusted orthodontist, you can sit back and relax instead of worrying about how do braces work.
The Anatomy of Braces
If you truly want to know the answer to, "How do braces work?" you need to learn a bit about the anatomy of braces.
Each orthodontic patient will have a slightly different experience and may or may not require certain appliances during their treatment. But almost every person who gets braces will have these three components:
Brackets are the metal or ceramic pieces that attach directly to your teeth. Depending on your case, you might have brackets attached to all of your teeth or just a few.
The brackets are responsible for holding the wire in place against your teeth. Without these brackets, your orthodontist would not be able to apply direct pressure to the teeth they'd like to move.
Brackets are attached with extremely strong bonding glue. This glue is 100-percent safe for oral use but very strong. Despite this, you can still pop off your brackets by eating banned foods like popcorn, apples, or chewy candies.
With braces, the wire typically connects to one back molar, loops around the front of the teeth, and anchors to the other back molar. Since the molars have some of the longest and strongest roots out of all your teeth, they provide the best anchorage points for the wire.
Typically, the wire fits into each bracket along your teeth. But if any of your teeth are too far out of line to reach the wire, your orthodontist may need to make adjustments over several months before they can be joined to the wire.
In orthodontics, there are two types of elastic bands.
The most common type wraps around the brackets to hold the wire in place. Without these elastic bands, the wire would move around and not apply consistent pressure to the teeth.
Since your orthodontist will change these elastic bands each appointment, many people choose decorative colors to coordinate with upcoming holidays or events.
The other type of elastic band connects specific brackets from the top and bottom jaws. These elastics may be used by your orthodontist to apply a different direction of pressure to your teeth. They can also help correct slight bite issues.
What Can Braces Fix?
When you think of braces, you probably think of fixing a few crooked teeth. But braces can accomplish much more than just putting a couple of stray teeth back in place. When handled by a licensed orthodontist, braces can fix crooked teeth, gapping teeth, overbites, and underbites.
Crooked or gapping teeth are pretty easy to identify. However, you could have a mild over- or underbite without even knowing it! The best way to ensure your teeth and jaw are as healthy as possible is to visit your local orthodontist.
So how do braces work when it comes to handling these diverse dental issues?
That busy mouth
Crooked teeth are often a result of crowding (meaning there isn't enough space in your gum line for all your teeth) or an underlying bite issue. Your dentist or orthodontist will be able to diagnose the exact cause of your crowded teeth. Fortunately, this issue can be easily fixed with braces.
So how do braces work on crooked teeth? That depends on which direction your teeth are drifting. If your teeth stick forward, your orthodontist will use the braces to pull them back in line. But if they are sticking back, your orthodontist will need to loop the braces back and pull your stray tooth forward.
Another key factor in using braces to fix crooked teeth is addressing any overcrowding. If your teeth are crooked because there's not enough space, you need to make space before they can straighten.
Depending on your particular case, your orthodontist might recommend creating more room with braces or pulling some teeth to create more space. Either of these options works great when it comes to realigning crooked teeth.
You've got some space there
Gapping teeth are caused by too much space in the dental arch or missing teeth. Unlike fixing crooked teeth, which requires creating more space, your orthodontist must eliminate space to fix your gapping teeth.
So how do braces work when it comes to closing these gaps? Since braces rely on a tension wire reaching from each of your back molars, it is extremely easy to pull the teeth together.
All your orthodontist needs to do is gradually tighten the wire, bringing your teeth closer together and ultimately eliminating the gap. Depending on your specific case, fixing gapping teeth can be one of the easiest tasks for an orthodontist.
That's a funny bite
How do braces work when it comes to correcting larger bite issues? For a mild overbite or underbite, straightening the teeth might be enough to fully correct the issue. But even if you have a more extreme case of bite issues, braces are a key step in fixing your jaw's alignment overall.
Since up to 70 percent of dental patients have some form of overbite, most orthodontists are extremely familiar with the treatment process. In addition to traditional braces, your orthodontist may also prescribe headgear to pull your jaw into alignment.
Headgear works by attaching to your braces and encouraging the upper jaw to shift back. With consistent use, this shift can fix your bite issues entirely.
Underbites can be a bit trickier, but braces are still a common tool for fixing these bite issues. Instead of using headgear, your orthodontist will probably use a face mask or a palatal expander.
A face mask, or reverse-pull headgear, works opposite of overbite headgear. Instead of pushing your upper jaw back, it pull your upper jaw forward. Over time, this can help align your teeth.
A palatal expander works by expanding the upper jaw and its dental arch. This method is often used if the upper jaw is physically too small for the lower, creating an underbite.
Alternatives to Traditional Braces
If you've considered braces for any length of time, you're probably at least somewhat familiar with Invisalign and other braces alternatives. These orthodontic methods have become increasingly popular.
Many adults opt for Invisalign and similar products because they are not as visible as braces. This can be especially important if you work in a client-facing setting where having braces could (unfairly) negatively affect your work. These products can also help those who feel getting traditional braces will hurt their self-esteem.
Even if you know the answer to how do braces work, you might not know how these newer orthodontic methods work.
With Invisalign and similar products, there are no brackets, wires, or elastic bands to pull your teeth. Instead, your teeth are slowly shifted in to place with the use of specially molded mouth trays.
When creating your treatment plan with one of these products, your orthodontist essentially takes your current dental impression and creates your ideal dental impression with specialty software. From here, they can create a range of gradually changing mouth trays that slowly take your teeth from "Point A" to "Point B."
How Do Braces Work: Keeping Your New Perfect Smile
While your braces are actually on your teeth, everything will be well and good. But how do braces work when it comes to keeping your perfect smile for the years to come?
At this stage, your orthodontist will replace your braces with a retainer. While some retainers are permanent, most are removable. For some orthodontic patients, forgetting to wear the retainer puts all of the hard work done with braces at risk.
But if you follow your orthodontist's instructions, you can maintain your smile for the rest of your life.
As we said, most retainers are removable. This means that you can wear them for a period of time and then remove them to eat, drink, or go about your day.
At first, your orthodontist will require you to wear your retainer as often as possible. After a few months, though, you'll be given permission to only wear your retainer at night.
When deciding on your removable retainer, most orthodontists offer two types:
Wire retainers typically feature a wire along the front of the teeth and a piece of plastic molded to fit the roof of your mouth. Although this wire doesn't connect to your teeth as braces do, it helps to hold your teeth in place so they don't shift back to their original positions.
Wire retainers are simple and effective, but many orthodontic patients shy away from them because the wire is fairly visible against the teeth. This only matters during the first few months of wear. Still, many patients opt for less visible plastic retainers.
At first glance, these plastic retainers look much like Invisalign or other teeth-straightening trays. And while they cover your entire teeth, they are much less visible than traditional wire retainers.
One downside of plastic retainers is their lack of durability. But since these retainers are cheap and easy to make copies of, this concern isn't a huge one.
In some cases, your orthodontist will recommend a permanent retainer. This retainer features a wire permanently mounted to the back of your teeth.
While others won't be able to see this type of retainer, some patients find it uncomfortable or difficult to clean around. However, in the grand scheme of things, a permanent retainer is the best guarantee that your new smile will last for a lifetime.
How do Braces Work: Q & A
Below are some questions you may want to know the answers to.
Do braces hurt?
Yes and no. At first, after getting your new braces, your teeth will probably be very tender. But this discomfort will dissipate after several days.
You might also experience some soreness after appointments when your orthodontist makes adjustments and increases the pressure on your teeth. Again, this should go away after a few days.
If you notice any unusual pain or discomfort related to your braces, we recommend contacting your orthodontist as soon as possible. In general, your braces should not hurt.
How long do you need to wear braces?
Treatment times vary greatly depending on the patient's specific case. You could have braces for as little as six months, or for over three years. On average, though, most patients have braces for about two years.
When you first have your consultation with an orthodontist, they may be able to give you a general timeline for your treatment. However, remember that this is just an estimate and can change with time.
Are there risks to wearing braces?
If your treatment is overseen by a licensed orthodontist, there are very few risks associated with braces. If the patient does not properly care for their teeth or braces, though, there could be some lasting damage to the tooth enamel.
Braces are notoriously difficult to clean around. For this reason, it's not uncommon for those with braces to find small cavities around their brackets when their braces are removed.
If you're concerned about developing cavities around your brackets, the best thing to do is to follow your orthodontist's and dentist's dental hygiene instructions to the letter.
Discover Your Smile's True Potential
Braces have been around for centuries, and it doesn't look like they're going anywhere fast. And for good reason, since braces are one of the most effective ways to straighten teeth, close gaps, and fix bite issues. Without this handy invention, few of us would be walking around with the perfect smile we currently have.
If you're considering braces for yourself or a loved one, don't hesitate to reach out and learn more from your local orthodontist. They will be able to guide you through the treatment process, as well as offer information on which type of braces are right for you. Before you know it, you'll have the smile of your dreams.