How to Straighten Teeth

erica medical reviewer
Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Michael Bayba
Written by
Michael Bayba
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Evidence Based
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3 sources cited
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Teeth Straightening Options

Malocclusion, or misaligned teeth, is a common condition that can affect your overall oral health, as well as your self esteem. Most people have some sort of malocclusion, and many turn to orthodontic treatment to fix their smile. 

There are three classes of malocclusion:

  • Class I — molars align but there is minor crowded in the front teeth (most common)
  • Class II — upper teeth overlap the lower teeth and jaw
  • Class III — the lower jaw is pushed forward in front of the upper jaw

Within these three classes there are seven different types of misalignment. Forms of malocclusion include:

  • Overbite (class II) — upper teeth significantly protrude over lower teeth and jaw
  • Underbite (class III) — lower jaw protrudes forward (bulldog appearance) 
  • Crossbite (class II) — some bottom teeth are outside the upper teeth
  • Open Bite (class I,II, or III) — anterior upper and lower teeth don’t contact 
  • Overjet (class II) — upper front teeth are ahead of the lower teeth
  • Crowded Teeth (class I) — not enough space in the jaw for teeth to align properly
  • Diastema (class I) — small gaps between teeth

Most cases of malocclusion are inherited. Other causes include birth defects, childhood habits, teeth abnormalities, failed dental procedures, and injuries. 

Nearly all cases of malocclusion can be corrected with orthodontic treatment to straighten your teeth. The treatment will depend on the type of malocclusion, the severity of the condition, cause of malocclusion, and age of the patient. Speak with your dentist or orthodontist to determine the best treatment plan for your needs.

The nine most common malocclusion treatments include:

Clear Aligners

Clear aligners (also called invisible braces) are custom-fitted, invisible, and removable plastic aligners.

Patients wear one aligner tray for one to two weeks, then change to the next aligner in your set. This will gradually shift your teeth into place.

invisalign aligners

Clear aligners can treat most cases of malocclusion, including mild to moderate cases of crowded teeth, overbite, underbite, crossbite, gap teeth, and open bite. Severe cases may require alternative methods.

Clear aligners have been used increasingly around the world since Invisalign started selling the first clear aligner treatment system in 1998.

Many patients prefer an invisible look, and the convenience of brushing and flossing regularly, to traditional metal braces.

Clear aligners are available in two different treatment options:

1. In-Office Treatment — Takes place within a general dentist or orthodontist’s office. During your first visit, they will take an impression of your teeth and build a custom treatment timeline.

Then you will schedule office visits every four to eight weeks for a face-to-face checkup and to receive your new set of aligners.

Most dentistry practitioners use Invisalign’s technology and lab, though some have their own equipment and can perform all operations in-house. Invisalign typically costs the same as braces ($3,500 to $8,000)

2. At-Home Treatment — There are several companies, including SmileDirectClub, Candid Co, byte, and ClearCorrect, among others, that work directly with consumers to provide a cheaper, more accessible alternative to Invisalign.

These companies will send you an impression kit, and use their 3D scanner and printing lab to create a treatment plan. Your home teeth straightening treatment will be monitored virtually and you will receive your new aligner sets in the mail.

Prices vary but are cheaper than Invisalign or braces ($1,800 to $5,500).

Treatment time for clear aligners depends on the severity of your condition and which company you use but generally varies from three to 18 months.

Read more about clear aligners (how they work, costs, monthly payment plans, and popular brands).

Metal Braces

Traditional braces are the most recognizable and effective orthodontic treatment.

They are made of metal brackets and an archwire, held together by rubber bands. The archwire applies pressure to the crooked teeth and gradually shifts them into place.

metal braces on teeth

Though braces are an effective and reliable treatment, many adults and teens prefer the aesthetics of invisible aligners over metal brackets. 

Treatment time will vary depending on your condition but typically ranges from 18 to 36 months. Metal braces typically cost $2,500 to $7,000.

Ceramic Braces

Ceramic braces (sometimes called clear braces) give you straighter teeth using the same equipment and method as metal braces.

The difference is that ceramic braces utilize clear brackets as opposed to metal. This makes them less obvious (though still visible).

teeth with ceramic clear braces

They use clear or white rubber bands to attach the archwire to create a minimal appearance.

Treatment time is the same as metal braces (typically 18 to 36 months), but they are usually slightly more expensive, ranging from $4,000 to $8,000.

Lingual Braces

Lingual braces are a less common alternative option to metal and ceramic braces.

They may use custom brackets and wires to fit the shape of your teeth and the arch of your mouth. However, the brackets are positioned on the back of your teeth instead of the front.

lingual braces graphic

Treatment can be more uncomfortable than traditional braces and clear aligners, but is a discreet form of orthodontics. 

Treatment time is similar to traditional braces (6 months to 3 years). They cost more due to the intricacy of the treatment, ranging from $5,000 to $13,000.

Retainers

After treatment, your teeth will try to move back to their original position. Retainers keep your teeth from moving and preserve your new smile after braces. They can be removable or permanent.

Retainers are typically worn for at least four to six months, however some may be worn longer.

Headgear

Orthodontic headgear is used in combination with braces. Braces only are able to correct teeth positioning, while headgear can influence the growth and shape of the jaw.

cervical pull headgear

Headgear may be used when a patient has an overbite, underbite, overjet, open bite, or crossbite. Headgear is typically worn for 12 hours a day, and the treatment process typically takes 1 to 2 years.

Palate Expanders

Palate expanders are used in early orthodontic treatment to widen the palate (roof of the mouth) of children with impacted teeth, crossbites, or crowded teeth.

They may also be used to improve breathing abilities. Some palate expanders are removable, while others are permanent.

Palate expanders are typically used on children and treatment lasts approximately 3 to 6 months.

Palate expander treatment typically costs between $2,000 and $3,000 dollars. However, since it is considered medically necessary, many health care plans cover some or all of the treatment.

Orthognathic (Jaw) Surgery

Orthognathic surgery, also known as corrective jaw surgery, is used to correct severe jaw misalignment. Surgery is often recommended when a person is of skeletal maturity, beginning in their late teens.

Jaw surgery helps correct major issues that can contribute to eating and sleeping problems and TMJ disorder.

Jaw surgery typically costs $20,000 to $40,000, however, some insurance companies may cover orthognathic surgery.

Veneers

Veneers are a cosmetic treatment option, but they do not actually straighten your teeth. They are thin shells that are placed over the front of your teeth to improve the size, shape, and color of a tooth.

tooth in lower jaw with dental veneer

Veneers are cosmetic because they are elective and placed only for aesthetic reasons. Veneers typically cost $925 to $2500 per tooth. 

Teeth Straightening FAQs

Can you straighten your teeth without braces?

Clear aligners are a popular and effective teeth straightening alternative to traditional braces.

How much does teeth straightening cost?

Teeth straightening costs depend on the severity of your condition and the type of treatment you undergo. Braces typically cost between $2,500 and $8,000. Invisalign treatment is similar in price, ranging from $3,500 to $8,000. At-home clear aligner treatment is the cheapest option, varying from $1,800 to $5,500.

How long does it take for teeth to straighten?

The treatment time for teeth straightening depends on the severity of your malocclusion and the type of treatment performed. Clear aligners can straighten your teeth in as little as 3 months. However, most clear aligner treatment programs take 6 to 18 months. Braces typically take 18 months to 3 years.

Resources

Lobb, W.k. “Outcome Assessment of Invisalign and Traditional Orthodontic Treatment Compared with the American Board of Orthodontics Objective Grading System.” Yearbook of Dentistry, vol. 2007, 2007, pp. 220–221., doi:10.1016/s0084-3717(08)70470-7. 

McCrostie, H. Stuart. “Lingual Orthodontics: The Future.” Seminars in Orthodontics, vol. 12, no. 3, 2006, pp. 211–214., doi:https://doi.org/10.1053/j.sodo.2006.05.009

Thomas Stamm, Ariane Hohoff, Ulrike Ehmer, A subjective comparison of two lingual bracket systems, European Journal of Orthodontics, Volume 27, Issue 4, August 2005, Pages 420–426, https://doi.org/10.1093/ejo/cji034

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