The Purpose of Elastic Ligatures on Braces

Rubber bands on braces—the elastics that surround each bracket—are just one of many different parts and pieces your orthodontist will adjust during your check-ups. The small rubber or metal elastics, more commonly called "rubber bands," that surround your braces are technically called elastic ligatures.

A ligature is used primarily to keep the archwire held into the slot on the bracket but they can also direct the teeth in a particular direction, depending on the type of ligature used and how it is tied onto the tooth.

Midsection Of Smiling Woman With Braces
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Types of Ligatures

Elastic ligatures come in the following types.

Single Elastic Ligatures

Single elastic ligatures come in a variety of colors but their size is usually uniform. Your orthodontist will change your elastics at every appointment because this type of ligature loses strength over time.

Depending on how the elastic is tied onto the tooth, a varying degree of force can be applied to the teeth, effecting a greater or lesser degree of adjustment to the structure of your teeth.

Connected Elastic Ligatures

Connected elastic ligatures—also called power chain or c-chain ligatures—come in a variety of colors and strengths. These are used by your orthodontist to close spaces between the teeth or move specific groups of teeth together at the same time. Connected elastic ligatures may be changed at each appointment.

Wire Ligatures

Stainless steel wire ligatures are used in the same way as their elastic counterparts but they offer substantially more force between the bracket and the tooth.

When your orthodontist straightens a tooth that may be twisted or turned, the archwire must remain securely in the slot of the bracket. A wire ligature is therefore often the preferred choice of ligature because it allows the orthodontist to keep the metal archwire securely tied into the bracket slot.

Selecting Colored Elastics

Your orthodontist may let you select the color of your elastics. Choosing from a rainbow of colors may make kids happy.

Adults may want to select something a little more discreet, so you may be given the choice between silver or clear elastics. If you sport metal (silver) braces, the best choice of color is selecting a corresponding silver or gray color.

It's reasonable to think that a clear elastic would remain the most discreet but those elastics retain some of the natural stains that are common with drinking coffee, tea, or soda, as well as darker pigmented foods.

In very little time, the clear elastic will become stained and appear dark and discolored. Grey or silver elastics blend in well with the metal braces and generally don't stain like clear elastics do.

What to Do About Loose or Broken Bands

Did an elastic become loose, break, or pop off between orthodontist visits? Call the office. You might be able to get away until your next scheduled appointment, but let your oral health professional decide.

A break of just a few elastics could adversely affect the carefully choreographed changes to your teeth and jawline necessary to give you a bright, perfect smile.

2 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. Hirsch L. The basics of braces. KidsHealth From Nemours.

  2. Canadian Association of Orthodontists. Orthodontic emergencies.

Additional Reading
  • American Dental Association. Braces.

  • ArchWired. What Are Power Chains?

By Shawn Watson
Shawn Watson is an orthodontic dental assistant and writer with over 10 years of experience working in the field of dentistry.