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What are Traditional Metal Braces?

Traditional braces are dental appliances that consist of small brackets and wires.

The brackets attach to your teeth and the wires connect to the brackets. The wires gently apply pressure to your teeth, pulling them into the correct position. Brackets are typically metal and sometimes feature colored or clear elastic rubber bands.

Braces can be used to correct crooked or gapped teeth, irregular jaw alignment, and more severe cases of malocclusion.

Malocclusion (teeth misalignment) refers to how your upper and lower teeth align/interact when your mouth is closed.

An improper bite can lead to jaw pain, speech difficulties, oral health issues, and chronic headaches. Malocclusion can also injure teeth if they collide with one another while chewing or speaking.

Orthodontists are the primary providers of braces (some general dentists also offer orthodontic services). However, orthodontists are the best choice because they have three or more years of specialty training in teeth straightening.

Braces are worn for 12 to 24 months, on average. You also have to wear a retainer to keep your teeth straight after treatment (at night only).

When are Braces Not the Best Option?

Braces can be expensive and uncomfortable, especially for adults. If you have any of the following issues, a braces alternative listed in this article may be a better option:

  • Minor to moderate dental crowding
  • Minor to moderate teeth spacing issues
  • Minor jaw misalignment

Clear aligners can save you thousands of dollars compared to braces. Learn about clear aligners.

5 Alternatives to Braces

Here are the five best alternatives to traditional metal braces:

1. Clear Aligners — The Best Braces Alternative

If you want straighter teeth, but don’t want metal brackets and wires on your teeth, clear aligners are an excellent option. They are a virtually invisible and removable alternative to braces designed around comfort and convenience.

There are two types of clear aligners available, in-office and at-home. Here are the differences:

In-Office Aligners

In-office aligners (like Invisalign) are the most well-known option because they have been around the longest. You have to visit a licensed specialist to receive these aligners, and the treatment process is more comprehensive and expensive.

Invisalign is the most established in-office aligner supplier in the United States. It has been running for over two decades, helping customers achieve a straighter and more attractive smile.

Invisalign is monitored in person by a licensed doctor, so treatment is more comprehensive than at-home aligners.

Your Invisalign doctor can make adjustments as necessary (even mid-treatment) because you don’t receive all of the aligners at once.

Most Invisalign treatment plans also require attachments (known as buttons). These devices allow for more precise teeth/jaw alignment. At-home aligners do not provide attachments, potentially affecting treatment results. 

At-Home Aligners 

At-home aligners, also called direct-to-consumer aligners, are significantly cheaper than in-office aligners like Invisalign. Treatment is completed 100% remotely and you will not visit a dentist or orthodontist for in-person checkups.

Aligners are made of clear, medical-grade, BPA-free plastic. They are perfectly molded to the shape of your teeth and gradually move them into the correct position over time.

Each custom-made aligner is worn for 1 to 3 weeks at a time (22+ hours a day). Treatment length depends on your unique plan.

Tou will send in progress photos to ensure your teeth are moving correctly (usually through an app). This means treatment is also not monitored as closely, so there is a slightly higher risk for error

At-home aligners can only treat minor to moderate cases of teeth misalignment, including slightly crooked/overlapping teeth, and gapped teeth.

Braces can treat moderate to severe cases of teeth misalignment, including underbites, overbites, open bites, crossbites, and similar issues.

The best at-home invisible aligner:

2. Lingual Braces

Lingual braces consist of the same components as traditional metal braces. However, they are fixed to the back of your teeth instead of your front teeth.

Traditional braces use a wire that is bent into a horseshoe form. However, the wire on lingual braces can be custom fixed to the contours of your mouth. This process can potentially shorten treatment time.

Lingual braces attach to the back of your teeth (where your tongue hits when you speak). Because of this, you may have a temporary lisp or interference with your speech when you first begin treatment.

3. Ceramic Braces

Ceramic braces also use the same components as metal braces.

However, the brackets consist of tooth-colored ceramic or porcelain instead of stainless steel. This makes ceramic braces nearly invisible.

Ceramic braces are more convenient than traditional metal braces because they blend in with your teeth. But they are also more expensive and tend to break more frequently since they are made of plastic, which is less stable than metal.

If you choose ceramic braces, excellent oral hygiene is crucial because foods and beverages can stain the brackets.

4. Veneers (Ceramic or Porcelain) 

Veneers are thin, tooth-colored shells that cover the front of your teeth. They are a permanent cosmetic dental treatment designed to improve the appearance of teeth.

Veneers are typically made of ceramic (porcelain) and are a great option for minor imperfections like uneven-sized teeth, small gaps, and irregularly shaped teeth.

veneer NewMouth

Some patients require orthodontic treatment with braces or Invisalign before veneers are placed. This is because the teeth should all be properly positioned for optimal results. 

Veneers are used to improve the appearance of teeth, not to repair any damage. They are an excellent option if your teeth are discolored, stained, crooked, oddly shaped, chipped, or have spacing problems. 

Your teeth and gums must be healthy before veneer placement. In addition, you may not be suitable for veneers if you grind or clench your teeth, which can crack and damage the shells.

5. Retainers

Retainers hold your teeth in place after braces have shifted them into the correct position. A retainer is either made of a metal/acrylic bite plate (fixed) or plastic (removable).

A fixed retainer consists of a thin strip of metal that is fixed to the back of your teeth. A removable retainer is similar to a clear aligner and is only worn at night.

Most people have to wear a retainer every night (for a lifetime) to prevent shifting teeth.

When Are Braces Necessary Over Aligners?

At-home clear aligners can only treat minor cases of teeth misalignment. Invisalign can often treat more extreme cases. However, braces are usually necessary for severe forms of misalignment and bite/jaw issues.

Are Braces or Clear Aligners Faster?

An aligner applies pressure to all of your teeth at once (instead of each individual tooth). If you are strict about wearing your plastic aligners, they are likely to work quicker than braces.

Are Braces or Clear Aligners Cheaper?

The cost of Invisalign treatment is comparable to braces. Braces typically cost around $2,000 to $7,000. Invisalign averages between $3,000 and $8,000. Most at-home clear aligners are less expensive than Invisalign (usually less than $2,300).

Other factors that can affect the cost of braces and aligners include:

  • If your oral health requires more work and attention (.e.g., overbite treatment will take longer than fixing minorly crooked teeth)
  • Orthodontic treatment prices in your city (varies greatly)
  • The brand/type of treatment you choose (e.g., in-office vs. at-home aligners)
  • How much your dental insurance plan will cover

What’s Next?

The most popular at-home clear aligner kits can be found right here:

Learn about the different brands and what they offer.

Last updated on May 5, 2022
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on May 5, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Dental braces and retainers, Health Direct, August 2018, https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-braces-and-retainers 
  2. Braces Have Changed, From Metal to Tooth-Colored to Clear, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), June 2017, https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/braces-have-changed-metal-tooth-colored-clear 
  3. Why Candid?, Candid Co,https://www.candidco.com/results 
  4. Why Byte? Byte, https://www.byte.com/pages/why-byte 
  5. How it works, Smile Direct Club, https://smiledirectclub.com/how_it_works// 
  6. The Invisalign Difference, Invisalign, https://www.invisalign.com/the-invisalign-difference/teen 
  7. Auluck, Angela., Lingual orthodontic treatment: what is the current evidence base?, Journal of orthodontics vol. 40 Suppl 1 : S27-33, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24005948/ 
  8. Chalipa, Javad et al., Comparison of Bond Strength of Metal and Ceramic Brackets Bonded with Conventional and High-Power LED Light Curing Units., Journal of dentistry (Tehran, Iran) vol. 13,6, 2016, 423-430, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5318499/ 
  9. Veneers, Health Direct, August 2018, https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/veneers 
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