More than four million people in the United States wear traditional metal braces. Every week, thousands more join their ranks. Yet, many patients who are fitted with metal or ceramic (clear) braces at our Bayside-area orthodontics practice have no idea how braces work. Most people understand that braces straighten teeth and improve the bite, but don’t understand how they actually function.
Although modern braces are more comfortable, efficient, and esthetically pleasing than their counterparts of the past, they operate according to the same basic principle. Over a period of months, braces use gentle force to guide your teeth into their proper positions in your mouth.
Here’s a basic guide explaining how they do it.
Breaking Down Your Braces: The Parts That Make Up the Whole
In order to understand how braces work, you must first know the individual parts that make up braces. These parts include:
- Brackets: These are the small metal or clear rectangles that are bonded to the front surfaces of the teeth. In the past, brackets were comparatively large and bulky. Modern low-profile brackets are thinner and far more discreet. As a result, they cover less of the tooth surface and are less likely to irritate the inside of the lips.
- Archwires: These are the thin metal wires that run from bracket to bracket. The archwires are responsible for placing the pressure on the teeth that moves them toward their ideal positions in the mouth. In the past, archwires were thicker and stiffer. Each time a new archwire was placed, the patient would generally experience pain for a few days afterwards until his or her teeth adjusted to the pressure. However, modern archwires are activated by body heat, allowing for a gentler, more gradual realignment of the teeth and a more comfortable treatment for the patient.
- Elastic Ligatures: Also known as “o-rings” or “color ties,” these are the colored or clear pieces of elastic that hold the archwire onto the brackets. However, many patients are excited about choosing the color of their elastic ligatures as it allows them to personalize their braces. These can be changed at every adjustment appointment.
Brackets are bonded directly to the surfaces of the teeth and are made of stainless steel or tooth-colored materials. Depending on the individual needs of the patient, other orthodontic appliances that can be used in conjunction with the above may include:
- Rubber Bands: Rubber bands may be used to apply additional force to the teeth, generally to guide the upper and lower teeth toward each other in order to improve the bite.
- Springs: Springs may be attached to the archwires to guide the teeth in specific directions, to create space between crowded teeth, or to close spaces between teeth.
How Braces Move the Teeth
Every part of the orthodontic appliance we refer to as “braces” must be meticulously planned and executed in order to achieve the desired realignment of the teeth.
- The role of the brackets: Our orthodontists don’t simply place random brackets on the teeth. Each bracket contains a slot into which the archwire fits. The prescription built into that slot will determine the movement of the tooth. Every bracket is customized according to the treatment goal for each individual tooth.
- The role of the archwires: Simply put, the archwires apply the pressure that guides the teeth into proper alignment. At room temperature, archwires are highly flexible; however, when exposed to the higher temperatures of the mouth, they return to their native (straight) shape. Archwires are changed over the course of treatment. At the beginning of treatment, lighter, thinner wires are used to begin the initial steps of aligning
and leveling the teeth. As the teeth approach their ideal positions, the wires become thicker and stronger, allowing for finer detailing as well as bite coordination.
Your teeth are supported by both soft and hard tissues. The soft tissues include the gums and the periodontal ligaments. Beneath that lie the hard tissues, namely the alveolar bone.
The reason that braces are able to move your teeth permanently into proper alignment is that they are able to remodel the underlying alveolar bone. This process of bone remodeling is fundamental to orthodontic treatment.
Bone remodeling is a biomechanical process that essentially works as follows:
- As the archwires exert pressure on the teeth, they loosen up their attachment with the underlying soft and hard tissues. This is nothing to worry about – they have to become loose in order to move.
- Because the movement of the teeth is gradual, the body has time to respond naturally to the orthodontic pressure. In simple terms, the alveolar bone responds on a cellular level. Bone begins to degrade in the direction the tooth is shifting toward in order to make room for it. At the same time, bone begins to regenerate in the space once occupied by the tooth.
- Once the teeth are secure in their new positions in the mouth, held in place by the braces (and later on, by retainers), the alveolar bone fully regenerates, providing optimal support for the repositioned teeth.
Maintaining Your Results
Even after your braces have been removed, your treatment will not be complete. Your teeth will stubbornly want to return to their previous positions in your mouth. To prevent this from happening, we will provide you with a retainer. Wearing this retainer is essential to the success of your orthodontic treatment.
The length of time for which a retainer must be worn varies from patient to patient; however, all patients must diligently wear their retainers for the first six months after the removal of their braces. After that, retainers must be worn during sleep for a prescribed period.
Wearing a retainer will help to ensure that the bone remodeling process has time to complete. It will also allow your periodontal tissues, facial muscles, and jaw time to adapt to your realigned teeth.
Curious to Learn More about How Braces Work?
If you would like to learn more about how braces work, our orthodontists would welcome the opportunity to meet with you for a complimentary consultation. Please contact Avenue Orthodontics today to schedule your initial appointment. We gladly provide braces of all types to patients from Bayside, Whitestone, Flushing, College Point, and surrounding communities.