Everything You Need to Know About Braces

Orthodontists, dentists specializing in teeth and jaw alignment, use dental braces to straighten teeth. There are various reasons people get braces, such as enhancing their appearance (cosmetic) or addressing crowding or issues with their bite (functional). 

Braces are appliances that are typically glued to the fronts of teeth. Bands provide an anchor for the device, and wires and brackets connect them. Together, they put pressure on the teeth to encourage them to move.

People with braces typically visit an orthodontist every couple of months to adjust the pressure of the appliance. When treatment is complete, the orthodontist removes the braces, and people will often receive a retainer to keep the teeth from shifting back to their old position.

This article explains the different types of braces and what to expect if you get them. 

Child with brown skin, brown hair, and braces smiling

Tom Werner / Getty Images

Types of Braces

When you think of braces, you probably think of metal brackets and wires covering teeth. While metal braces are still standard, there are now plenty of other materials and options for braces.

Metal 

Metal braces are made of strong, lightweight materials, including titanium and alloy. They do not rust or set off metal detectors. Metal braces are the most common type of braces, and they are often the least expensive option. One downside is that they are the most noticeable on your teeth.

With metal braces, orthodontists glue metal brackets to the teeth, and then a metal wire connects them. Elastics, which come in various colors, hold the wire to the brackets.

Ceramic

Ceramic braces are similar to metal braces in their appearance and function. The main difference is that the brackets are tooth-colored or clear to help them blend in with the color of your teeth.  

Ceramic braces are less noticeable than metal braces. However, they are more expensive, and certain foods and drinks can stain them over time. In addition, they do not bond as well to the teeth, so you may need more repairs throughout treatment.

Lingual 

Lingual braces use the same material as metal braces; however, instead of adhering them to the outside of the teeth, the orthodontist places them on the inside (lingual side) of the teeth. 

The apparent benefit of lingual braces is that they are not visible from the outside. They are more challenging to access, which means you could have trouble keeping them clean. It also means your orthodontist’s job is a little more complicated, so your adjustments could take longer and be more expensive.

Not everyone is a good candidate for lingual braces, though. For instance, your bite may make it impractical in some cases because you would bump and break brackets too frequently.

Self-Ligating

Self-ligating braces look like traditional metal braces, except that instead of elastics holding the wire in place, the bracket itself is fitted with a spring-loaded door to hold the wire. Since there is a built-in wire holder, orthodontist adjustments are a little faster. The brackets may be metal or clear.

One study found that those with self-ligating braces felt more comfortable than those with conventional braces, but the difference was not statistically significant.

On the other hand, these types of braces tend to cost more.

Clear Aligners

Clear aligners straighten teeth with clear, removable retainers. The most recognizable brand name of these devices is Invisalign

Clear aligners work by wearing a clear tray over your teeth. Throughout your treatment, you will replace trays with new ones. Each new tray fits slightly differently until your teeth have moved into the desired position. You change trays more frequently than you would get adjustments with conventional braces, as often as every two to three weeks.

Clear aligners, while convenient because you can remove them to eat and clean, can be more costly than traditional braces. In addition, they are reserved for more minor misalignments and will not work for serious orthodontic problems or children. 

What to Expect

Before you get braces, an orthodontist will evaluate your teeth, diagnose the issues that need correcting, and suggest a treatment plan. This process is usually relatively quick and involves an oral exam and X-rays of your mouth. 

Next, the orthodontist may take impressions of your teeth and take pictures. They will use these to guide treatment.

How Are Braces Put On?

Putting braces on your teeth may take up to a couple of hours. The process involves:

  • Applying a bonding agent (glue) to your teeth
  • Adhering brackets to the bonding agent
  • Connecting wire through the brackets
  • Securing the wire with elastics

The process of getting braces does not hurt. However, you may experience pressure as the orthodontics team places your braces. Afterward, your mouth will be a little sore as your teeth adjust to the pressure. 

What Will Change Once You Have Braces?

After you get braces, it will take time to get used to them. For example, you may talk a little differently at first and have to adjust to how you chew your food. 

When you first get your braces on and after appointments where your braces get adjusted, your mouth will be sore for a few days. During that time, the following may help:

  • Eat soft food, like mashed potatoes, soups, and yogurt.
  • Use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers if needed.
  • Use dental wax over areas that cause mouth sores.

For the most part, after the initial soreness wears off, you can continue to eat normally. However, you may want to avoid some items that can damage or stain your braces, including:

  • Sticky, chewy candy that could get stuck in your braces
  • Popcorn and hard candy that could break brackets
  • Sugary soda and juice can aid in tooth decay and may stain the teeth

In addition, when you have braces, it’s essential to brush and floss consistently. That way, when your braces come off, you won’t have stains around where your brackets once were.

Summary

There are many types of braces. Most appliances involve gluing metal or ceramic brackets to the fronts of your teeth and then attaching them with wire. But, other varieties are removable, such as clear aligners that use plastic trays. All methods work by slowly adjusting the appliance over time to change the teeth into a straighter position.

Getting braces is not painful, but your teeth may be sore for a little while afterward and after each adjustment. To avoid damaging your braces or staining them, you should avoid eating hard, sticky foods and sugary drinks.

A Word From Verywell

If you need braces, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the prospect. Rest assured that, while you may have braces on your teeth for a couple of years, the process is pretty straightforward, and most people adjust to braces after a couple of months. Talk to an orthodontist to help you find the right braces for your teeth.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are braces painful?

    Braces themselves are not painful, although it may take up to a couple of months to get used to the feeling of them in your mouth. After they are applied and following adjustments, your mouth will be sore for a few days. Eating soft foods and taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication can help.

  • How much do braces cost?

    The cost of braces varies, depending on how complicated your treatment is and which type of braces you have. Metal braces are generally the cheapest type and lingual the most expensive. Prices also vary between regions and practices. On average, the cost of braces is around $5,350. Dental insurance may cover a portion of this cost.

  • Can braces change your face?

    Since your teeth move with braces, it is possible to see some slight adjustments in how your face shape looks at the end of treatment. In addition, while wearing braces, you may notice that your lips sit differently to accommodate them.

  • What are the side effects of getting braces?

    The most common side effect of braces is discomfort following adjustments. More rarely, periodontal (gum) problems, root resorption (when the body dissolves a tooth's root), and tooth damage can occur.

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Association of Orthodontists. How orthodontics works: braces.

  2. American Association of Orthodontists. AAO dispels myths about braces.

  3. Chalipa J, Jalali YF, Gorjizadeh F, Baghaeian P, Hoseini MH, Mortezai O. Comparison of bond strength of metal and ceramic brackets bonded with conventional and high-power LED light curing units. J Dent (Tehran). 2016;13(6):423-430.

  4. Zhou Y, Zheng M, Lin J, Wang Y, Ni ZY. Self-ligating brackets and their impact on oral health-related quality of life in Chinese adolescence patients: a longitudinal prospective study. ScientificWorldJournal. 2014;2014:352031. doi:10.1155/2014/352031

  5. Colgate. How are braces put on? Learn the basics of brackets.

  6. American Dental Association. What (and how) to eat when you're having dental issues.

  7. American Association of Orthodontists. Handling orthodontic issues at home.

  8. Nemours Children's Health. The basics of braces.

  9. Authority Dental. How much do braces cost?

  10. Gyocsi A, Kolarovszki B, Frank D. Adverse effects of orthodontic treatments. Fogorv Sz. 2016;109(4):111-118.