Many adults smile in the mirror every day and see crowded, overlapping teeth. And while dental crowding can make you hesitant to flash your pearly whites, it’s an incredibly treatable condition — and braces are one of the most widely trusted options out there. They’re not the only solution for crowding, but they’re durable, powerful, and can deliver significant smile transformations.
In this guide, we’ll dive into the details of correcting teeth crowding with braces, the types of braces you can get, and some alternatives if braces aren’t right for you.
Table of Contents
What Is Teeth Crowding?
Teeth crowding refers to a condition in which neighboring teeth overlap each other, making them look crooked. It’s a common condition that affects millions of adults. Whether it’s just one misaligned tooth or a whole row of them, it’s most common to find crowding among the front six top or bottom teeth, but it can occur anywhere in the dental arches. Sometimes crowded teeth are accompanied by a bite condition like crossbite, which makes treatment more complicated.
Many cases are harmless, but crowding can make flossing and brushing more difficult, not to mention decrease the confidence you have in your smile. Those are reasons enough to get your teeth straightened, but they’re not the only potential symptoms.
Since crowded teeth distribute your bite pressure unevenly, they can cause jaw pain, headaches, and uneven wear on your enamel. They can also trap plaque in hard-to-reach places, making them harder to clean. That puts you at greater risk of cavities, tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health concerns.
What Causes Teeth Crowding?
Crowding is often an issue of insufficient space — like a jaw that’s too small for the teeth, or simply too many teeth. This forces the teeth to compete for space, pushing them together and overlapping them.
However, crowding can also occur if you lose your baby teeth too early or too late. Losing them prematurely can cause your permanent teeth to drift, while losing them too late can make them erupt at an irregular angle.
Finally, teeth often shift and crowd naturally over the course of one’s life. As the jaw bone and its connecting ligaments weaken with age, it’s quite common for middle aged and older adults to notice crowding — especially overlapping bottom front teeth — that may not have been present at a younger age.
Can Braces Fix Teeth Crowding?
Yes! Braces are widely considered an extremely effective option for treating crowding issues, and can produce powerful results in adults and adolescents alike. But remember that teeth crowding comes in many different forms, and your specific treatment plan will depend on your particular case.
If you have a mild case of crowding, where your teeth are misaligned but not disproportionate to the size of your jaw, braces should correct it in a matter of months. However, if your crowding is the result of an undersized jaw or accompanied by additional alignment issues such as underbite, crossbite, or abnormal tooth eruption, you might need a more robust treatment.
But don’t worry — even if you have a jaw misalignment compounding your crowding, braces can still work. They’re compatible with a variety of other corrective treatments, so whether you need tooth shaving, extraction, palatal expansion, or jaw realignment, a qualified orthodontist can craft a treatment plan that works for you.
Types of Braces
Twenty years ago, if you wanted to alter your smile, traditional metal braces were pretty much the only option. However, the orthodontic industry has come a long way in the past couple of decades. Now, you have a whole range of options to choose from. Here are the four main types of braces available today.
Traditional Metal Braces
The end result of a long history of innovation in orthodontia, metal braces in their present form came onto the scene around the mid-1970s. In the decades since, traditional braces have remained orthodontists’ go-to treatment for crafting beautiful smiles.
Though many adults today opt for more discreet straightening appliances — like clear aligners — standard metal braces still have a lot going for them. Treating patients with standard braces doesn’t require an orthodontist to obtain any extra training or purchase special equipment, and those savings mean they can often offer lower prices. Plus, it’s often easier to find an orthodontist who can confidently administer your treatment, as orthodontists typically have the most experience working with metal braces.
The average cost for braces treatment is $3,000–$7,000, and the average treatment time is 12–30 months. Since the causes and severity of teeth crowding vary, it’s difficult to say where in this range your particular case will fall. That said, if your crowding is mild and unaccompanied by significant bite issues, you should be able to align your smile fairly quickly and without breaking the bank.
3M — the company behind Scotch tape and Post-Its — introduced the first clear braces in 1987. While early models were less effective at adjusting teeth, the technology has come a long way in the past 30+ years. Today, clear braces can match the power of their metal counterparts.
Clear braces work just like metal ones, but offer a sleeker aesthetic that many adults prefer, since the translucent ceramic brackets blend in with the teeth. Although clear braces typically incorporate a metal arch wire, and the brackets are often slightly larger, they’re still less noticeable than metal braces. Some people also find that the ceramic brackets are less sharp and abrasive on the cheeks and gums.
On the downside, not all orthodontists offer clear braces, so it could be difficult to find a provider. Clear braces are also typically around 10%–20% more expensive than metal ones. That said, they have approximately the same treatment duration as standard metal braces (12–30 months), and are generally considered effective for correcting crowded teeth.
Unlike clear braces, lingual braces are totally hidden from the rest of the world, since they’re situated behind your teeth instead of in front. You may be thinking, “that’s brilliant, how is this the first I’m hearing of it?” Well, there are a few reasons lingual braces aren’t more popular.
First of all, most orthodontists don’t offer them, since they’re harder to affix and adjust, and they require specialized training and equipment. From the patient perspective, lingual braces can create discomfort around the tongue, which can give you a minor lisp. Maintaining good oral hygiene takes more effort as well, because it’s harder to brush and floss around the brackets.
All that said, lingual braces are considered as effective as standard braces for correcting teeth crowding. Given the extra work involved, they’re typically more expensive than other options, often costing upwards of $10,000 for a full course of treatment. Again, if your case is fairly mild, you may end up with a price that’s a bit easier to swallow.
If your top priority is keeping your treatment completely invisible and you have the financial means to afford it, lingual braces may be the right choice for you.
Six Month Smiles
Six Month Smiles is a unique brand of clear braces and aligners that you can get from a standard family dentist. As the brand name implies, the average treatment plan is around six months, but that’s because they’re only viable for milder cases.
Their braces utilize clear brackets and tooth-colored wires, making them one of the least noticeable types of braces available. Plus, due to the shorter treatment time, they’re typically less expensive than other braces, averaging between $3,500 and $5,000.
Given their shorter average timeframe, some Six Month Smiles providers say they’re primarily focused on shifting the front teeth. Since many cases of crowding don’t require significant realignment of the back teeth, Six Month Smiles has become a popular option to treat it.
How Do Adult Braces Feel?
Regardless of your age or the type of braces you choose, braces can certainly cause some discomfort, especially as your teeth adjust to initial placement and periodic tightening.
To minimize pain and reduce the risk of breaking a bracket, you’ll need to stay away from particularly hard or sticky foods — like chips, taffy or hard candy — as well as habits like nail-biting and gum-chewing. It’s also important to maintain good oral hygiene and use all dental appliances as instructed.
You may perceive some added stigma around getting braces as an adult, but the truth is, it’s a very common treatment at any age. Plus, between ceramic braces, lingual braces, and alternatives like clear aligners, there are more ways than ever to adjust your smile discreetly.
In the end, if crowding treatment is something you’re pursuing for the sake of your own comfort and happiness, it should be easy to remember that the long-term payoff will be well worth the temporary discomfort!
Other Crowding Treatments
While braces are a fantastic option for treating most cases of teeth crowding, some people don’t love the idea of wearing braces, or are put off by the price. If that sounds like you, there are a couple of other unobtrusive treatment options available.
If you decide braces aren’t the right option for you, you’ve got options. Consider the treatments below and check out our guide to the best treatments for adult teeth crowding.
In-Office Clear Aligners
Clear aligner treatments like Invisalign, which involve regular in-person supervision from a dentist, are a popular solution for crowding and crooked teeth. Like braces, clear aligners are compatible with tooth shaving, extraction, and additional dental appliances to help correct more complex alignment issues. However, unlike braces, Invisalign and many of their competitors are available to standard dentists (rather than just orthodontists), so there’s a good chance you can get treatment at the same place you go to get your teeth cleaned.
Of course, the most notable differences between these treatment methods is that clear aligners are 1) removable, and 2) much more discreet than traditional braces. Clear aligners can shift your teeth and realign your bite about just as quickly as braces, and for approximately the same price ($3,500–$8,000). However, Invisalign isn’t the only option. ClearCorrect, 3M Clarity Aligners, and SureSmile are among several quality alternatives.
If you’re interested, learn more about some of the top brands in our guide to the six best clear aligners.
At-Home Clear Aligners
In recent years, online companies like SmileDirectClub and Byte have entered the industry to provide a more affordable option for adults seeking to straighten their teeth from home. Similar to Invisalign, you’ll receive a set of clear, removable aligners designed by a dental professional — but unlike Invisalign, your treatment won’t involve any trips to the dentist’s office.
Home aligners are often significantly less expensive than braces or Invisalign, with an average price of $2,000. The companies that sell home aligners typically provide an opportunity to review your expected results before committing to treatment, so you’ll know exactly what to expect before moving forward. But if everything lines up, home teeth aligners might be a perfect solution for your crowding.
If you think at-home aligners might work for straightening out the crowded spots in your smile, check out our recommendations for the top five brands.
Braces are highly effective in treating teeth crowding, so they’re a go-to solution among orthodontists. Not only can they straighten severely misaligned teeth, but they can also resolve corresponding bite issues. That said, traditional braces are no longer the only option for teeth crowding, and there are several affordable and convenient options available today.
If you’re considering corrective treatment, choose a physician who’s dedicated to finding a treatment that reflects your top priorities — whether they’re aesthetic, budgetary, time-sensitive, or otherwise. Remember, dental crowding is rarely cause for serious medical concern, so consider your personal desires and holistic well-being when choosing a corrective treatment. We hope this guide provided you with some helpful insight for your future dental decisions!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you fix teeth crowding?
You’ve got several options, but the best one depends on your specific case and circumstances. Braces are a popular solution, particularly for severe crowding and cases that involve a bite misalignment. Invisalign is similarly powerful and a good option for people who want or need in-person care, but would rather avoid brackets and wires. If you have a milder case, you can also complete treatment remotely with an at-home clear aligner service like Byte or SmileDirectClub.
What happens if you don’t fix teeth crowding?
In the near term, it probably won’t cause any serious issues. However, crowded teeth can wear down your enamel unevenly, which can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health concerns.
What causes dental crowding?
Crowding typically comes from insufficient space — because your jaw is too small for your teeth, your teeth are too big, or because you have extra teeth. When these teeth compete for limited space, they can overlap each other. It can also develop from losing baby teeth too soon or too late.
Do overcrowded teeth hurt?
Yes, but usually nothing excruciating. Since crowded teeth can distribute your bite pressure unevenly, it can cause soreness in certain teeth, your gums, and your jaw.
Does crowding get worse with age?
Not always, but it can. Adults lose bone density with age, leaving their bones — including the lower jawbone — susceptible to shrinking. If your jaw shrinks, but your teeth don’t, they might push together and overlap.
How long do braces take to fix crowded teeth?
On average, they take 12–30 months, but it depends almost entirely on the severity of your crowding. Minor cases can take just a few months, while severe ones will fall on the higher end of that range.
Can crowded teeth get worse?
Yes. As your teeth continue to push on each other, and as your misalignment continues to cause uneven wear on them, your crowding can worsen. Additionally, the bone density loss that comes with age can shrink your jaw, pushing your teeth even closer together.
Can I live with crowded teeth?
Crowded teeth shouldn’t prevent you from doing any activities you normally would. However, they can negatively impact your oral health in the long run, so it’s best to get them corrected.