For the vast majority of orthodontic patients, wearing braces is an important part of treatment — and those braces, for the most part, are the familiar silvery-metal type. But traditional-looking metal braces are no longer the only option. Today, you have more orthodontic options than ever before.
Typically made of high-grade stainless steel, traditional metal braces remain by far the most common type of fixed braces. They consist of metal bands that wrap around the molars in back, and smaller metal brackets that are cemented to the front surfaces of the other teeth. A thin, springy metal wire runs through the brackets and gently guides teeth into proper position. This wire can be fixed to the brackets by flexible elastics, metal ties or other types of clasps.
Why do metal braces continue to be the most commonly used option? They are reliable, effective and economical. In contrast to the appliances of the past, today’s braces are actually smaller, lighter and more comfortable to wear. For a less traditional look, you can even choose colorful elastics.
A new variation on the traditional system, clear ceramic braces are a far less noticeable treatment option. They use the same components as traditional braces — except that the brackets on the front side of the teeth are made of a translucent ceramic material that blends in with the tooth’s natural color. This less conspicuous system has become a favorite for adults.
The aesthetic appeal of ceramic braces is undeniable, but there are a few tradeoffs. Ceramic brackets can be less durable and if the elastic bands around the brackets stain, the brackets become more noticeable. (Keep in mind that the elastic bands are generally changed every month.) Also, ceramic braces cost more than metal braces do. The benefit of having inconspicuous braces, however, outweighs the cost for many people.
While ceramic braces offer a less conspicuous look, lingual braces are even more “invisible.” Lingual braces are placed on the tongue-side of the teeth. They work the same way that metal braces do — but they're hidden behind the teeth.
Lingual braces aren't the proper treatment for every orthodontic condition. They’re significantly more expensive than standard braces, they generally require more time to get used to them, and they may prolong treatment. But if you’re a candidate for this treatment option and you want the least visible type of fixed braces, then lingual braces may be perfect for you.