If you are an adult considering orthodontic treatment, you probably remember when braces meant a mouth full of metal. The traditional metal brackets are still a common option today due to their lower cost relative to other methods; however, many new options now exist.
Just because you had few aesthetically pleasing alternatives for treatment doesn’t mean that your teen has to have the same experience. This is especially important if he or she is reluctant to wear braces. While some teens embrace the idea of metal braces (they have plenty of fun features, including colorful assortments of rubber bands), others are apprehensive about exhibiting noticeable alterations to their smiles.
With so many types of braces from which to choose, nothing should deter you or your child from getting the perfect smile and healthy bite. Everyone should (and does) consider getting that smile they have always wanted.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, more than three million teens and one in five adults are orthodontic patients. Braces offer a boost for your confidence in front of the camera for your teen on picture day or for the big presentation at your next business meeting.
Of course, cosmetic issues are not the only ones braces support. In fact, braces can be medically necessary to avoid or treat other health conditions.
So, if traditional braces aren’t for you, check out these less conspicuous methods that orthodontists can use to straighten teeth.
Alternatives Using Brackets
If you and your orthodontist determine that brackets will be best suited to move your teeth into their desired positions, a few options. Ceramic braces can be used without much visibility. Brackets can also be applied to the back of your teeth for a totally invisible treatment, with an option known as lingual braces.
Ceramic braces are similar to traditional braces in design. They consist of brackets and wires, however, the material used to make them is quite different. Instead of metal, the braces are made of translucent ceramic.
The tooth-colored ceramic is highly effective at hiding your braces—especially from a distance. From across the room, a smile full of ceramic braces is much less likely to be noticed. This treatment option also looks great in photographs.
In most cases, ceramic braces match the efficacy of their metal counterparts. Some patients are only able to put ceramic braces on the top teeth if they have a overbite or a deep bite. Ceramic braces are a more abrasive bracket and if your bite is off, biting into a ceramic bracket on the bottom could chip one of your top teeth. Your orthodontist can tell you whether he thinks selecting ceramic braces will affect your treatment period.
Ceramics are more also a little more costly than traditional braces, typically by about $360 to $720 over the course of the treatment. They are also more prone to breakage. To compensate for the brittleness, the brackets attached to your teeth are larger than metal ones.
Ceramic braces are well-suited for many patients without severe misalignments. Your orthodontist will let you know if you’re a good candidate for these braces after he examines your teeth.
If inconspicuous is your goal, then lingual braces are as good as it gets.
Lingual braces are placed behind the teeth rather than in front for an invisible treatment. Like traditional braces, lingual brackets apply slow and constant pressure over time, causing the teeth to move into their desired placements.
To create lingual braces, the orthodontist will take a 3D scan of the teeth and then customize each bracket to fit a specific tooth. This process takes about six weeks. After that, a cementing process attaches the brackets to the back of your teeth.
Lingual braces are the least-conspicuous braces that offer full-scale orthodontic treatment. For this reason, they are most popular among adult patients. Lingual braces are more effective than plastic trays, and they can correct complex problems like the rotation and height of your teeth, as well as overcrowding or spacing.
Because lingual braces are custom made, they cost a bit more and treatment tends to be more involved. Each tooth has its own installment of brackets and archwires, which can add up to total treatment costs of greater than $6,000.
Lingual braces may also irritate the tongue and may cause it to become tender. Using wax against the lower teeth to cover the braces can help alleviate this soreness. Some people initially find speaking clearly and enunciating difficult, however patients’ speech adjusts after the initial installment.
Finally, not everyone is eligible for treatment with lingual braces. The teeth have to be long enough to provide sufficient room to glue the braces on the inside of the teeth, meaning that lingual braces may not work for children or someone with teeth on the smaller side.
Also, not all orthodontists will offer this option (but we do!) so if you have your heart set on these types of braces—and are eligible—you will need to make sure that your orthodontist offers them.
Made from polypropylene, these retainer-style plastic trays (known as aligners) are molded to fit over your teeth. The most popular brand of removable trays is Invisalign, however there are aligners made by SureSmile and 3M.
Aligners straighten your smile using a series of clear, customized, removable appliances composed of a thermoplastic material that looks similar to whitening trays or a custom night guard that a dentist’s office creates.
However, unlike a mouthguard or night guard, which hold the teeth in place, Aligner technology moves your teeth through a controlled force. In addition, aligners also manipulate the timing of the force that’s applied so that only certain teeth are able to move at one time. Most patients will replace their aligners every one or two weeks.
For patients with insurance that does not cover some or all of orthodontic treatment, a visit to the orthodontist’s office can be expensive, and this timeline can seem daunting. However, you won’t actually have to visit the orthodontist more frequently with aligners. If anything, office appointments can be a bit more spaced out (though they will still be necessary so that the orthodontist can check your progress).
Aligners will address for most common conditions including:
- Some minor bite issues
Many orthodontic patients are candidates for Invisalign, but your orthodontist will need to evaluate you to determine whether removable braces are the best option for you.
Aligners are a great option for patients who don’t wish to wear traditional brackets, however, it only works as well as you wear it. Your orthodontist will recommend wearing aligners for 22 hours a day and taking them out every time you are eating or drinking anything. Thus, aligners can take longer than traditional brackets if patients aren’t wearing the trays for the prescribed 22 hours per day.
Caring for your teeth while in treatment is substantially easier with aligners than other types of braces. With brackets you have to learn methods to floss and brush around them, but with removable aligners, you simply remove the apparatus and brush and floss normally. And because you remove aligners while eating, there aren’t the host of food restrictions that come with many other options.
Another advantage of aligner systems is that fewer repairs are required. Metal braces have lots of small parts that can break or snap. It’s much harder to damage a plastic tray, which means fewer emergency visits to the orthodontist.
Though not as easy to break, clear plastic aligners are easier to lose. While no one has ever misplaces metal brackets, losing aligners is a relatively common problem. In any situation where you are removing your aligner, you should always place it in its plastic case.
During treatment, your orthodontist will instruct you to wear your Invisalign braces nearly all the time—typically about 22 hours per day. Your cooperation with these guidelines will impact your rate of treatment. It is vitally important that you wear your aligners for the entire time prescribed each day. Even shaving off an hour here or there can derail your treatment. Before selecting aligners as an option for your teenager, parents should consider how likely their child is to wear the aligner exactly as stipulated in the treatment plan.
The total cost of Invisalign treatment will depend on several factors, such as the complexity of your case, how long you will need treatment, where you live and whether your insurance plan covers Invisalign or reimburses for some of the cost. On average, Invisalign costs anywhere between $4,000 and $8,000. Because such a wide range exists, it is important to schedule a consultation with your board certified orthodontist and to contact your insurance company.
If you do not have structural issues with your jawbone and bite but could benefit from a straighter smile, full-scale orthodontics might not always be necessary. Two cosmetic options— dental veneers and dental bonding—can provide you with similarly-appearing results as braces in almost no time.
Dental veneers were designed with the intent of treating broken, worn or badly discolored teeth. However, their convenience has made them a popular alternative to orthodontic treatment.
If you are looking for immediate results, veneers require just three visits to the dentist—one for a consultation and two to make and apply the veneers. If you are not great about following doctor’s orders, there won’t be any with veneers—they do not typically require any special aftercare beyond good oral hygiene practices.
Dental veneers are composed of thin, custom-made shells of tooth-like material designed to cover the front surface of the teeth to improve their appearance. Two types of dental veneers exist:
- Porcelain Veneers: Resist stains and mimic the light-reflecting properties of natural teeth
- Resin Veneers: Thinner and require removal of less tooth surface before placement
The most common veneers are porcelain, which resist stains and have the appearance of natural teeth.
Veneers offer relatively instant gratification, as the dentist can construct and apply them in just a few office visits. Subsequently, they don’t require any special aftercare—although continuing good hygiene habits is important.
To determine whether braces or veneers are most appropriate, you and your orthodontist will have to weigh the pros and cons of each, as well as factor in the health of your teeth and your cosmetic goals. Additionally, determining the number of teeth that will require veneers can help you make a decision from a financial standpoint.
Dental veneers can be quite pricey, with typical costs above $1,000 per tooth. To get the even look and spacing that orthodontic work achieves, you likely will need veneers on almost all your teeth (bear in mind that adults have 32 teeth!). In addition, dental veneers will need to be replaced every five to 10 years, which means that long-term results could get rather expensive.
One drawback is that you will, in a sense, damage healthy teeth. To apply veneers, the dentist will have to scrape away some of your healthy enamel.
If your only issue is misalignment, then you should consider how many teeth you will alter by placing veneers on them.
Dental bonding is the application of tooth-colored resin (a durable, plastic material) to the tooth, using adhesives and high-intensity light. This material applied to the tooth improves appearance and spacing of the teeth, and can be an alternative to traditional orthodontic treatment in some cases.
Most often, bonding is used for cosmetic purposes to improve the appearance of a discolored or chipped tooth. It also can be used to close spaces between teeth, to make teeth look longer or to change the shape or color of teeth.
However, it only is appropriate for minor cosmetic changes. If you have significant issues with your alignment or bite, bonding won’t do the trick.
The composite resin can be matched very closely to the color of your natural tooth. The dentist will use a shade guide to select the best color match for your smile.
Your dentist will apply the tooth-colored, putty-like resin. The resin is molded and smoothed until it’s the proper shape, and then solidified with an ultraviolet light or laser. After the material is hardened, your dentist will shape and polish it to match the tooth’s surface so that there are no awkward bumps or textures, and the result will feel natural.
Like veneers, bonding is easy to perform and typically lasts about 30 minutes per tooth. Depending on the number of teeth you are having bonded, it is usually achievable in one or two office visits. Bonding usually lasts for several years before it needs to be reapplied.
To apply the bonding, the dentist will have to slightly file down the surface of the tooth to roughen it, similar to the application of veneers. Therefore, you should consider the health of your existing enamel when deciding on this option. Also consider that the composite resin used in bonding is not as strong as your natural teeth, making them more prone to chipping or breaking.
Tea, coffee, and other traditional stain culprits can discolor the resin. To prevent or minimize stains, it’s essential to avoid eating or drinking foods that can stain for the first 48 hours after application. After that, it is recommended that you rinse your mouth thoroughly after eating or drinking staining substances, as well as practice excellent dental hygiene and have your teeth professionally cleaned as recommended.
Comparison of Orthodontic Treatment Types
|Metal Braces||$3,000 – $7,000|
|Ceramic Braces||$4,000 – $8,000|
|Removable Braces||$4,000 – $8,000|
|Lingual Braces||$7,000 – $10,000|
|Dental Veneers||$1,000 – $2,500 per tooth|
|Dental Bonding||$100 – $400 per tooth|