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What are braces?

Dental Braces

Braces are devices that your orthodontist attaches to your teeth to change their position. Braces straighten crooked teeth and correct an abnormal bite. Braces prevent and correct problems caused by a bad bite, overcrowded teeth, and too much space between teeth. These problems include difficulty chewing and speaking, jaw problems, tooth decay, and gum disease.

The average age for beginning treatment with braces is 8 to 14 years. The length of treatment with braces varies from person to person. The number and type of procedures you will need depends the type of braces, the severity and current position of your teeth, and how quickly your treatment progresses. 

Braces consist of two main parts. Small metal or ceramic brackets are attached to your teeth and metal archwires move your teeth. Your orthodontist passes archwires through slots in the brackets and adjusts the archwires to move your teeth. Rubber bands and hooks may also be attached to brackets as part of your treatment.

Placing and adjusting braces is generally considered safe, but there are risks and potential complications. Braces are only one method used to reposition teeth. Another method is clear aligners. Discuss all of your treatment options with your orthodontist to understand which options are right for you.  

Types of braces

There are several types of braces available to realign your teeth. Your orthodontist can help you decide which braces are best for you. You will have to consider your treatment goals, budget, and personal preference.

The different types of braces include:

  • Traditional metal braces have brackets made of steel, titanium, gold, or a metal blend. They are the most popular type of braces because they are generally the most effective, sturdy, and least expensive. 
  • Clear braces have brackets made of tooth-colored ceramic or plastic. They are less noticeable than metal braces. They can also often break off more easily and be more costly.
  • Lingual braces have metal brackets similar to traditional metal braces. However, the brackets are placed on the inside of your teeth instead of the outside. This makes them less noticeable. 
  • Aligners are an alternative to braces. They are clear removable trays molded to the shape of your teeth. They are made of plastic or acrylic and tend to be more costly and require a longer treatment period than braces. They are the least noticeable type of orthodontic treatment for crooked teeth.

Other procedures that may be performed

You may need to have one or more teeth extracted (pulled) before you get braces. Tooth extraction makes room to straighten teeth properly and fix a bad bite. Tooth extraction may be needed for:

  • Baby teeth that have not fallen out naturally 
  • Impacted adult teeth that grow into and damage other teeth’s roots. They can also become infected and cause other problems.
  • Not enough space in your mouth or a jaw that is too small for all the teeth that you have
Medical Reviewers: Nicole Holland DDS, MS Last Review Date: Mar 4, 2013

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View Sources

Medical References

Braces. Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/b/braces.aspx. Accessed January 9, 2013.
Glossary of Orthodontic Terms. American Association of Orthodontists. http://www.mylifemysmile.org/glossary. Accessed January 9, 2013.
Orthodontics/Braces. Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/dental_care/orthodontics_braces/Pages/index.aspx. Accessed January 9, 2013.
Understanding Your Treatment Options. American Association of Orthodontists. http://www.mylifemysmile.org/understanding-your-options/. Accessed January 9,2013.
Why Orthodontic Treatment? American Association of Orthodontists. http://www.mylifemysmile.org/why-orthodontic-treatment/. Accessed January 9,2013.

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