Traditional metal braces utilize a system of brackets, wires, and bands to align the teeth. Some of the problems that can be corrected with braces include overbite (an excessive protrusion of the upper jaw), underbite (the bottom jaw protrudes farther than the upper jaw), crowding of teeth, and crooked teeth.
Traditional metal braces are the most inexpensive type of orthodontics used to straighten the teeth. Treatment times vary from individual to individual, but most braces are worn from one to three years. Factors that may determine the length of time braces are worn include the severity of the dental issue; the amount of crowding in the mouth; the oral health of the patient; and how well the patient follows instructions.
The components of traditional metal braces
- Brackets: small metal squares that are glued directly to the front of each tooth with a special dental bonding agent. They act like handles to hold the archwires which move the teeth.
- Archwires: wires that attach to the brackets and are bent, shaped, and tightened frequently to straighten the teeth
- Ligatures: small elastic rubber bands which hold the archwires to the brackets. These bands come in a variety of colors.
- Orthodontic bands: bands typically used on the molars to provide a more stable anchor for the brackets. Bands are not used on all patients. Some people have all brackets with no bands.
- Spacers: used to separate teeth to prior to placing orthodontic bands.
The mechanics of traditional metal braces
A bracket is placed on each tooth by your orthodontist. In the middle of each bracket is a slot that the archwire fits through. Studies have shown just how each tooth must tip to achieve proper alignment. A specific bracket is made for each tooth, with a slot containing its own prescription of tip and torque. The archwire placed inside the slot moves each tooth to its predetermined position. In the beginning of treatment, the orthodontist will start to align the tops of teeth and rotate them. Initially light wires that bend easily are used, which are later replaced by thick, rectangular wires. The pressure from the archwire on the teeth causes certain bone cells in the jaw to move into place so the tooth will move. Once the teeth are in their correct positions, treatment is complete and the orthodontist will remove the braces.
The process of traditional metal braces
After examining your teeth and deciding on braces as a plan of treatment, your orthodontist will take x-rays. X-rays show the position of your teeth and roots and also show if any teeth haven’t yet come in. Your orthodontist may also take regular photographs of your face to further examine the relationship between the teeth, jaws, and head. Finally, impressions of your teeth will be taken. An impression is taken by placing your teeth into a tray filled with alginate (seaweed powder) that is mixed with water to a consistency like cake batter. The lower impression is done first, followed by the upper. A few weeks later your braces will be ready to be placed. It usually takes 1-2 hours for your orthodontist to put your braces on. First, your orthodontist will clean and then dry your teeth. Next, brackets will be attached with bonding glue. Finally, the archwire will be placed into the brackets and secured with elastic bands. Your braces will need to be adjusted every three to six weeks. The ligatures will be removed and the archwire will either be tightened or replaced. The color of the ligatures can be changed at each appointment if desired.
Caring for traditional metal braces
It is very important to watch what you eat when you have braces. You must stay away from chewy things that might stick to your braces like gum or caramel. Also avoid hard foods like certain raw vegetables, meats that are tough, and especially hard candy. Keep away from foods you must bite into, such as corn on the cob or whole apples, as they can dislodge your brackets or break your wires. Instead cut these into small pieces. Don’t eat crunchy food like popcorn or chips which can also dislodge braces.
It is extremely important that you brush after each meal or snack to remove food that is stuck in your braces. Flossing can be tricky with braces. It can be difficult to get around the wires with the floss. A waterpik can be an easier and more effective way to keep your braces clean. Poor dental hygiene can increase the length of time you have to wear braces.