Types of Orthodontic Appliances

Young girl with orthodontic applainces and headgear

You or your child has braces and is on the way to a picture-perfect smile. Perhaps your orthodontist has told you that you might need an appliance to correct flaws the braces can’t achieve alone.

Don’t panic. Many patients require assistive devices to correct a variety of misalignments of the teeth and jaw. An orthodontist specializes in using these to perfect your pearly whites. Some of the common corrective appliances include:

  • Bands
  • Archwires
  • Elastics
  • Headgear
  • Retainers


An orthodontist uses a band to anchor an appliance to the teeth, or to secure an archwire to the molars. Bands are made from stainless steel—think of wearing a ring on your tooth—and come in different sizes to fit your teeth. A professional will temporarily cement them to your teeth, and secure an attachment similar to a hook to allow you to use removable elastics or other appliances.

If a band becomes loose, you should see your orthodontist as soon as possible. Avoid eating hard, crunchy or sticky foods while wearing the bands.


An archwire attaches to your braces, and guides the movement of your teeth. The wire is able to bend and return to its original shape, and it’s the force that resets the wire that causes the teeth to move. Round wires are typical for the beginning stages of treatment. These level and align your teeth, and are more elastic so they don’t break your braces as they tug on them. As your teeth become straighter, your orthodontist will replace your wires with rectangular ones that are stiffer.

Three materials can compose the wires: stainless steel, nickel titanium or beta titanium. Which your provider uses will be up to your medical assessment and his preferences. He does not necessarily need to change your wires at every visit. With the assortment of available wires, your orthodontist may need to use just a few during your treatment.


Elastics pull the jaw forward or backward to align your top and bottom teeth, improving your smile and bite. The orthodontist will choose one or both of two elastics – ligatures and rubber bands – for your treatment. Ligatures are small elastics the orthodontist places around each bracket to hold the archwire. Rubber bands apply pressure to the jaw to correct the alignment of your bite, and reduce an overbite or underbite. They connect by hooking between a top and bottom bracket.

While you might not consider dental appliances fun, elastics come in a variety of colors so you can add creativity and personality to your orthodontic experience.

In most cases, if you are prescribed elastics you will wear those 24 hours a day. In some cases you can remove rubber bands to eat, floss or brush. You will need to change them daily—often multiple times—so always keep a pack handy.

It is important to follow directions carefully when using elastics, as they affect your overall treatment. Never double up on elastics to try to progress your treatment faster. A double application adds so much pressure that it can slow the movement of your teeth and damage your roots.


This appliance corrects a difference in growth between the upper and lower jaws where the front teeth protrude (often called “an overjet” or “buck teeth”). It also can be used to reserve space for new teeth, or correct an overbite.

Orthodontists prescribe headgear when they need more force to move the teeth compared to braces alone. The headgear attaches to metal hooks or a facebow, and straps around the back of the head or neck. You likely will wear your headgear most of the time.  Your teeth will probably feel somewhat sensitive and sore after each adjustment, but it will be worth it in the long run. Headgear is one of the most effective appliances available to correct Class II malocclusions.


The removal of your braces is typically not the end of your treatment. Wearing a retainer is an important part of your orthodontic care. A retainer is a removable appliance that is custom-fit to slide over the teeth to prevent the undoing of the work you wore braces to achieve. Retainers help your teeth stay in place to maintain your new smile. Your teeth require time to settle into their new positions after they’ve been in the habit of shifting. And, especially in children and teens, movement will occur naturally as they grow.

Many retainers are made from clear plastic and metal wires that easily slide over the teeth. The orthodontist will probably ask you to wear them all the time for several months, and afterward for sleep. At first, your retainer might cause discomfort or pressure on your teeth. This will resolve as your mouth gets used to the appliance.

At Orthodontic Associates, our friendly staff will make every attempt to ensure that your experience during and after braces is the best possible. Contact us at any of our nine convenient locations around Baltimore, and see how we can help you achieve a winning smile.


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