Orthodontic brackets, a type of orthodontic appliance (which is a much broader category), are the small structural components that an orthodontic specialist or other dental professional uses to guide your teeth and bite into a corrected position.
In times past, the common description of “metal braces” or “metal brackets” were used interchangeably with braces. Times have changed, however, and now these appliances are fabricated from a wide range of materials including ceramic, or sometimes even a type of strong plastic called polycarbonate. The advantage is that the braces are clear, or tooth-colored. Typically, these clear brackets are slightly larger and can also be more expensive, although anything related to fees is highly variable from doctor to doctor, and usually more dependent on your case diagnosis than the type of materials used.
But regardless of the specific bracket details, they more or less all do the same thing. Your doctor will attach them to the fronts (or sometimes even the backs) of your teeth with a special, clinical-grade cement bonding glue. The three main components of most brackets are the wings, the base (like a small pad that actually interfaces with the tooth), and the slot. The slot is critical for accepting the arch wire that is laid into and across all of the brackets, and held in place with tiny rubber bands.
This “set up” is performed during the initial appointment, and then you are ready for treatment to begin. Your orthodontist can now produce forces on teeth in controlled amounts and with highly specific direction. That is how your teeth are gradually moved into the correct position over the course of time. It simply involves the application of predetermined pressure, or forces. Every so often, when all of the force-induced movement in the desired direction has been achieved, you will have to visit your doctor to have your braces tightened. What that really means is that one step in the right direction has been achieved, and you are now ready to take the next step, which may involve new, different force levels and direction. And this process is repeated until your treatment is complete.
"Regardless of the approach that you choose... you will be on your way to that great smile you have always wanted"
-Michael Lowe, Co-founder, BidMySmile
The only remaining components are the bands. And that’s typically how orthodontic offices order the materials that they will use on your teeth – as brackets, bands, and arch wires. These bands are used primarily on the back teeth – your molars. Essentially, they are like little rings that are placed all the way around your teeth so that they completely cover the outside surface. The bands provide the same type of attachments as brackets that are glued to the teeth, except that the wire slides into a tube contained on the surface of the band. This little tube provides added support for tooth movement with the wires, and the band surrounding the tooth provides added structural support (including protection against breakage). As recently as a generation ago, it was commonplace to band all of the teeth. However, with the introduction of newer bonding materials, bands have become less common except for the back molars.
As you consider orthodontic treatment, consider some of these differences between traditional metal brackets and the newer (but now very common) clear brackets. Regardless of the approach that you choose, one thing is for sure. If you take care of the appliances, including cleaning them properly and also taking care to avoid breakage, you will be on your way to that great smile you have always wanted, and you’ll reach the finish line in no time at all!