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Alternatives to metal braces for a confident smile

For decades, traditional metal braces have been the go-to solution for correcting misaligned teeth. In fact, for many teenagers, a bright metal smile was a right of passage! But in recent years, advancements in dental technology have paved the way for alternatives to braces that offer effective teeth alignment without the telltale metal wires and brackets. Before diving into your options, let’s take a look at the history of metal braces and the evolution of today’s alternatives.

The history of traditional metal braces

Traditional metal braces consist of metal brackets bonded to the teeth and connected by wires. By applying controlled force, they gradually shift the teeth into their desired positions over time. This process involves periodic adjustments by an orthodontist to ensure effective alignment.

But how did metal braces come to be? You may be surprised to hear that they have ancient beginnings! Archeologists have found evidence of braces in ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek civilizations, among others. Back then, braces were still very rudimentary—made of gold, silver, and even sheep intestines!

The road to modern braces was paved by innovators, including Pierre Fauchard and Pierre Bourdetand in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1819, Christophe-Francois Delabarre created the precursor to braces as we know them today. He devised a woven wire or ‘crib’ fitted over both the upper and lower teeth and worn for an extended period to straighten teeth over time. Several decades later, dentists like Edward Angle laid the groundwork for modern orthodontics. As time went on, metal braces, composed of stainless steel brackets and wires, became the standard orthodontic treatment. Advancements continued throughout the 20th century. Self-ligating braces, for example, featured specialized clips or doors to hold wires in place, reducing friction and potentially expediting treatment.

Modern alternatives to metal braces

The battle of metal vs. clear braces started as early as the 1980s, when ceramic braces with tooth-colored or clear brackets hit the market. These offered teenagers and adults a more discreet alternative to traditional metal braces. By the 1990s, patients had several types of metal braces to choose from:

Conventional metal braces

The original, most common type of metal braces consist of stainless steel brackets and wires. They are highly effective at correcting various dental issues, including severe misalignments; relatively affordable; and suitable for patients of all ages. On the flip side, they are very visible—not unusual or undesirable in pre-teen smiles, but potentially surprising or off-putting on adults. Traditional braces also require frequent adjustments and can cause discomfort and irritation when wires and brackets rub against the inside of the mouth.

Self-ligating braces

These braces use a specialized clip or door mechanism to hold the wire in place, with the goal of reducing friction and speeding up treatment. Generally, these types of metal braces enable shorter visits because adjustment is less time consuming; easier cleaning thanks to the elimination of the ligatures in traditional braces; and less discomfort. The downside is that these can be slightly more expensive than traditional metal braces.

Lingual braces

Lingual braces are braces that are placed on the backside of teeth, making them invisible. On the downside, lingual braces are not ideal for all alignment issues and they can be challenging to clean. They can also cause discomfort to the tongue.

Ceramic Braces

As mentioned, ceramic braces work in the same way as traditional braces, just with teeth-colored or clear ceramic brackets and wires. This variety is less noticeable than metal braces and can be equally effective in treating most alignment issues. However, they usually cost more than metal braces, and they can be prone to staining from certain foods and drinks.

The move to clear aligners

After nearly a century of metal braces as we know them, clear aligners revolutionized orthodontic treatment in the 1990s. Invisalign was the first brand of clear aligners, hitting the market in 1999. As with previous teeth straightening technologies, advancements in materials, manufacturing, and software made clear aligners better and more effective than ever. Today, consumers have several brands to choose from, offering a range of clear aligner options to suit different needs and preferences.

How do clear aligners work?

Clear aligners are custom-made, removable trays that gradually shift teeth into alignment using gentle pressure. Made from transparent plastic, clear aligners are virtually invisible, making them a popular choice for older teenagers and adults who prioritize aesthetics. The other benefit of clear aligners is that they are more comfortable and can be removed for more thorough hygiene and while eating. There are some downsides, however. Clear aligners require strict compliance (22 hours a day or more) and they are often more expensive than traditional braces. Finally, clear aligners may not work for complex or severe orthodontic cases, so you’ll need to consult with your orthodontist first. If you both decide clear aligners are the way to go, you’ll start the process:

  • First, your orthodontist will scan your teeth and mouth. This scan is uploaded to software to create a map and plan for your clear aligners. These plans are then sent to the lab for the manufacturing of your clear aligners.
  • When your aligners arrive, you’re ready to start! You’ll also schedule your first follow-up appointment.
  • You’ll have regular check-ins to monitor progress and get each new set of trays—with subtle changes that continue to shift your teeth into the desired position.
  • When you’ve finished with your last tray, your orthodontist may recommend additional steps, such as a retainer.
    Choosing the best type of braces for you

When considering alternatives to traditional metal braces, it’s essential to consult with an experienced orthodontist who can assess your specific needs and recommend the best option. No two mouths are alike: Factors such as the severity of misalignment, aesthetic concerns, budget, and more can affect your decision.

The good news is, modern orthodontics are advancing every year—so traditional metal braces are far from your only options. From ceramic and lingual braces to clear aligners nothing is stopping you from straightening your teeth in style!

Let the experts at Smiley Dental guide you in the right direction—learn more about our full spectrum of orthodontic services here. 


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