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 level of malocclusion, and many turn to orthodontic treatment to fix their smiles.
There are three classes of malocclusion:
Within these three classes, there are also seven different types of misalignment, including:
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 teeth straightening (orthodontic) treatment. The type of treatment will depend on your malocclusion (including the cause), the severity of the condition, and your age. Speak with your dentist or orthodontist to determine the best treatment plan for your needs.
The nine most common malocclusion treatments include:
Clear aligners (also called invisible braces) are custom-fitted, invisible, and removable plastic aligners.
Patients wear one aligner tray for one to two weeks and then switch to the next aligner set. This process safely and gradually shifts the teeth into place.
Clear aligners can treat most cases of malocclusion, including mild to moderate cases of crowded teeth, overbites, underbites, crossbites, gap teeth, and open bites. Severe cases may require alternative methods like dental braces.
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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 forms:
This 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, 3D treatment plan.
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)
There are several companies, including SmileDirectClub, Candid, byte, and ALIGNERCO, that work directly with consumers to provide a cheaper, more accessible alternative to Invisalign.
These companies will send you an impression kit and use a 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 ($1,200 to $2,300).
Treatment time for at-home clear aligners depends on the severity of your condition. In general, though, treatment takes between 3 and 18 months.
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.
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 cost between $2,500 and $7,000.
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).
They use clear or white rubber bands that attach to 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 are a less common alternative 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.
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.
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 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 are used in early orthodontic treatment to widen the palate (roof of the mouth) of children with impacted teeth, crossbites, or crowded teeth.
Read our clear aligners vs braces comparison to learn which treatment is better for you.
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.
Treatment typically costs between $2,000 and $3,000. However, since it is considered medically necessary, many health care plans cover some or all of the treatment.
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.
This surgery typically costs $20,000 to $40,000, however, some insurance companies may cover it.
Veneers are a cosmetic treatment option, but they do not actually straighten your teeth. Rather, they are thin shells that are placed over the front of teeth to improve their size, shape, and color.
Veneers are cosmetic because they are elective and placed only for aesthetic reasons. They typically cost between $925 and $2,500 per tooth.
Not only do straight teeth enhance your smile and boost your confidence, but they also have oral health benefits:
Clear aligners are popular and effective teeth straightening alternatives to traditional braces.
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 $2,300.
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.
Aligners are a convenient and comfortable way to straighten your teeth discreetly.
This treatment is only recommended for minor to moderate cases of teeth misalignment. Keep in mind: Invisalign can fix more severe malocclusions than at-home options.
Braces are best for children and teens who have moderate to severe bite issues. Braces can also be used in combination with headgear and other devices to provide more effective results (children only).
Invisalign and braces cost about the same. At-home aligners cost thousands less (but don't offer in-person monitoring).
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McCrostie, H. Stuart. “Lingual Orthodontics: The Future.” Seminars in Orthodontics.
Thomas Stamm, Ariane Hohoff, Ulrike Ehmer, "A subjective comparison of two lingual bracket systems, European Journal of Orthodontics."
Blue Ocean Publishing Group. The Million Dollar Smile, Changing Lives with Cosmetic Dentistry. 2018.
Hollins, Carole. Basic Guide to Dental Procedures. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.
“Orthodontic Treatment Options.” American Association of Orthodontists.