The Purpose of Elastic Ligatures on Braces

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Elastic ligatures are the rubber bands on orthodontic braces. Their main purpose is to keep the archwire (the wire between each tooth) firmly slotted in position on the bracket of each individual tooth. Depending on how they are used, elastic ligatures can also provide tension that helps move a tooth in the desired direction.

Elastic ligatures come both in rubber and metal as well as a variety of fashion colors. They are routinely inspected, adjusted, or replaced at each and every orthodontic check-up.

This article describes the types of elastic ligatures commonly used in dentistry as well as their distinct purposes.

Midsection Of Smiling Woman With Braces
Apisit Sorin / EyeEm / Getty Images

Single Elastic Ligatures

Single elastic ligatures come in one uniform size and are applied around each bracket on each tooth. They can be tightened or loosened according to the level of force needed to direct the movement of a tooth. Depending on how the elastic is tied to a tooth, varying degrees of tension can be exerted.

Single elastic ligatures gradually lose their strength over time and are commonly changed with each check-up appointment.

Connected Elastic Ligatures

Connected elastic ligatures—also called power chain or C-chain ligatures—come in a variety of strengths. These are used by your orthodontist to close spaces between teeth or, more often, to move a specific group of teeth together at the same time. If the treatment plan involves the simultaneous adjustment of multiple teeth, connected elastic ligatures will typically be used.

Connected elastic ligatures are stronger than single elastic ligatures and may not need to be changed at each appointment.

Wire Ligatures

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

When your orthodontist straightens a tooth that is twisted or turned, the archwire must remain securely in the slot of the bracket. A wire ligature is the preferred choice for this because it allows the orthodontist to keep the archwire securely tied into the bracket slot while exerting substantial opposing force to straighten the tooth.

Colored Elastic Ligatures

Colored elastic ligatures can offer a fun fashion statement for kids (or adults). People who want something more discreet may opt for silver or clear elastics. If you have sport metal (silver) braces, a corresponding silver or gray color can be requested from your orthodontist.

With that said, clear elastic ligatures, while discreet, can easily stain if you drink coffee, tea, or soda or eat colored foods like beets, blueberries, or licorice. On the other hand, grey or silver elastics blend in well with the metal braces and generally don't stain the same way that clear elastics do.

Kids, meanwhile, can enjoy any number of rainbow colors that can be applied individually to each tooth.

A Word From Verywell

if an elastic ligature becomes loose, breaks, or pops off between check-ups. call your orthodontist's office. Describe what happened, and they should be able to tell you whether you need to come in immediately or can wait for your next appointment.

Whatever you do, don't let the problem go unaddressed. A break of just a few elastics could undermine the carefully planned changes to your teeth and jawline.

4 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. Miranda AGF, de Godoi APT, de Menezes CC, Filho MV, Venezian GC. The influence of elastomeric ligatures pigmentation on smile aesthetics during orthodontic treatment. Dental Press J Orthod. 2021;26(2):e2119199. doi:10.1590/2177-6709.26.2.e2119199.oar

  2. Reichardt E, Decker S, Dalstra M, et al. The effect of ligature type on lateral tooth movement during orthodontic treatment with lingual appliances—an in vitro study. Materials (Basel). 2022 May;15(9):3365. doi:10.3390/ma15093365

  3. Nakhael S, Agahi RH, Aminian A, Rezaeizadeh M. Discoloration and force degradation of orthodontic elastomeric ligatures. Dental Press J Orthod. 2017 Mar-Apr;22(2):45–54. doi:10.1590/2177-6709.22.2.045-054.oar

  4. 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.