Lingual braces are very similar to traditional braces. They’re made of the same metal, and both use brackets and wires to move the teeth and correct misalignments. However, instead of placing brackets and wires on your front teeth surfaces, lingual braces are placed along the back of the teeth, providing a much less visible option.
Lingual braces are popular because they can deliver a versatile and comprehensive treatment, while keeping a low profile. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the major advantages and disadvantages of lingual braces, and help you decide whether this treatment is the right option for your teeth.
Table of Contents
Pros and Cons of Lingual Braces
- Highly Effective: Capable of treating a wide range of dental and jaw misalignments
- More Discreet: Because they’re positioned behind your teeth, they’re much less visible than traditional braces
- In-Person Oversight: Treatment is facilitated and monitored during regular office visits with an orthodontist
- Consistently Powerful: Since they’re affixed to your teeth, they’re always working and there’s no need to remove and replace them every day.
- More Expensive: They typically cost more than traditional braces and clear aligners (often $8,000-10,000+)
- Long Treatment Time: They often take 18-24 months to achieve the desired results, longer than most other treatments, especially at-home clear aligners.
- Less Convenient: Treatment requires regular office visits for oversight and adjustments
- Can Affect Speech: Some patients experience temporary lisps while they’re adjusting to their new braces.
How Do Lingual Braces Work?
Lingual braces were one of the very first low-profile teeth straightening options on the market, first developed in the 70s to give patients a less visible alternative to standard metal braces. Their popularity took off among adults who wanted straighter teeth, but didn’t want metal in their smile.
They function much like traditional braces—except all the action happens behind the teeth instead of in front. They consist of metal (or ceramic) brackets affixed to the back of the teeth and connected with a metal wire. During regular office visits, an orthodontist can make adjustments to apply gentle pressure, moving the teeth to their desired places, typically over 18-24 months.
Over the years, there have been seven different generations of lingual braces, as orthodontists have made the design sleeker, less intrusive, and even more effective. They can treat most teeth and jaw misalignments, although they might not be the best option for certain severe bite issues, like deep overbite.
Lingual Braces vs. Traditional Braces: What’s The Difference?
Like traditional metal braces, lingual braces still require regular trips to the orthodontist. The extra one-on-one time allows for a more tailored treatment plan and added customization. Regular appointments also ensure quality results and a low risk of relapse (your teeth moving back to their original position). Lingual braces typically require about the same treatment time as traditional braces, at around 1-2 years.
The main differences between lingual and traditional braces are aesthetics, cost, comfort, and maintenance. Depending on your priorities, you may find lingual braces to be more convenient and suitable for your lifestyle.
The biggest difference between lingual braces and traditional braces is appearance. Because lingual braces are placed behind the teeth, they’re much more discreet than traditional braces. So, if you’re most concerned about how braces will look on your teeth, lingual braces could be the perfect option.
Lingual braces offer one of the most inconspicuous orthodontic treatments available. Even clear aligners aren’t completely invisible since they’re still placed over the teeth. With lingual braces, most people are unable to detect anything in your mouth, even when you’re talking.
Lingual braces also make it much easier to keep the front, and most visible teeth free of staining. Since there won’t be any wires or brackets getting in the way, it’s easier to maintain a white smile with regular brushing and flossing. Unfortunately though, the placement of the brackets also makes it much harder to clean the back of the teeth.
Learning how to clean around the brackets can be challenging since they’re difficult to see. Food can become trapped in places that are difficult to reach. And, if you aren’t able to brush or floss properly, plaque can build up, leading to gum disease and cavities.
Although they typically don’t cause any more pain than traditional braces, lingual braces can cause more irritation. Because the brackets for lingual braces are placed behind the teeth, they are in constant contact with the tongue and gums. So, patients often report irritation of the tongue and gums, especially at the beginning of treatment.
It takes some time to get used to the feeling of lingual braces. Although the irritation will likely be most uncomfortable in the first few weeks, some people still experience slight irritation throughout treatment.
Lingual braces are far from cheap. Coming in at around $8,000 – $10,000, lingual braces can cost up to double the price of traditional braces. Still, if your top concern is braces’ visibility, lingual braces may be worth the extra cost. However, like most other types of braces, lingual braces will likely not be fully covered, if at all, by insurance.
If you think the cost of treatment will present a problem for your budget, it’s best to call your insurance provider to discuss your plan and coverage. You may even consider supplemental dental insurance to cover some of your treatment costs. Some dentists also offer financing programs with options to spread out the cost of treatment over time. However, they typically require a credit check.
Types of Lingual Braces: Standard vs. Incognito
There are two types of lingual braces — standard and custom/incognito. Both types are placed behind the teeth and can treat the same conditions, including most cases of crowding and spacing. The main difference between standard and incognito lingual braces has to do with the bracket size.
Standard lingual braces use “one size fits all” brackets that are attached to the back of the teeth, similar to the way traditional braces are placed on the front of the teeth. They are the cheaper of the two types due to the lack of customization.
Incognito lingual braces use customized brackets that fit perfectly along the back of the teeth. Although they are more expensive, the custom fit reduces discomfort and irritation. Incognito lingual braces are the more popular and most often recommended option.
Lingual Braces Brands
Several major dental supply manufacturers produce their own models of lingual braces. Some of the most popular include Incognito (3M), Harmony (American Orthodontics), SureSmile (OraMetrix), Alias (Ormco), and In-Ovation L (Dentsply GAC).
All of these brands are reliable and widely trusted by orthodontists. Plus, many use customized brackets that fit perfectly along the back of the teeth, reducing potential discomfort and irritation. This is one of the reasons why these brand-name lingual braces are more expensive than traditional braces. But if comfort and appearance are your top priorities, they could be well worth the extra expense.
Who Is A Good Candidate For Lingual Braces?
Lingual braces can treat many of the same issues as traditional braces, including most cases of crowding and spacing. Although they can also correct some bite misalignments, lingual braces are not suitable for more severe bite issues. Severe misalignments usually don’t allow enough room for lingual brackets and prevent adequate treatment.
The best candidates for lingual braces are people who want their treatment to be as invisible as possible. Even clear aligners are slightly visible on the teeth. In contrast, lingual braces are unnoticeable to most people. So, if you think you’ll feel uncomfortable or self-conscious with traditional braces, lingual braces could be the perfect alternative.
What Is It Like To Wear Lingual Braces?
The treatment process for lingual braces is very similar to traditional braces. You’ll still need to schedule regular tightening appointments with your orthodontist. The appointments will also give you a chance to discuss any concerns and for your orthodontist to ensure that your treatment is on track.
Like most orthodontic treatments, lingual braces often require an adjustment period before they feel comfortable on the teeth. As we discussed, the brackets for lingual braces are in constant contact with the tongue and gums. So, irritation is common, especially at the beginning of treatment.
Some people also experience slight speech impediments after getting lingual braces. Temporarily developing a lisp is quite common, although there are strategies to mitigate this issue. Most dentists recommend practicing talking out loud, at least a few times a day, in the first few weeks after getting lingual braces. It may be difficult at first, but your speech will likely return to normal after a few weeks of practicing.
Cleaning your teeth may also present a new challenge. Because they’re placed behind the teeth, brackets may be harder to see, and food can get trapped more easily. You’ll need to learn how to brush and floss properly to prevent any plaque buildup or potential gum disease. Most people find that they need to devote more time to their oral hygiene routine with lingual braces. So, it’s important to plan ahead and make sure you’ll be able to handle the extra maintenance.
What Kind of Results Should I Expect?
Lingual braces stay on your teeth until they’ve reached the desired position, so by the end of your treatment, you’ll have a perfectly straight smile. It might take up to two years, but by the end of the process, your teeth will have slowly and safely shifted, and you’ll have a brand new smile.
Even after your treatment is complete, you’ll need to wear a retainer all day for a few months, then just at night. This will keep your teeth from drifting back and requiring further treatment.
Other Discreet Treatment Options
Lingual braces are popular because they offer most of the benefits of traditional braces without being highly noticeable. Still, lingual braces are not the perfect fit for everyone. If you think that you won’t be able to manage the increased maintenance or higher cost of treatment, you may want to look into alternative options. There are plenty of orthodontic treatments on the market that are still discreet, but also cheaper or more convenient.
Ceramic braces, often called clear braces, are very similar to traditional braces. However, ceramic braces are transparent and have tooth-colored wires. They blend in with the teeth and are much less noticeable than traditional metal braces. Unfortunately, because they’re clear, ceramic braces are also more prone to staining. So, regular brushing and flossing are essential to keep them clean. To prevent staining, most orthodontists recommend avoiding drinks like coffee or red wine during treatment.
Treatment time for ceramic braces is about the same as lingual braces, at 1-3 years on average. However, ceramic braces are often much cheaper than lingual braces and typically cost about $4,000 – $8,000. For this reason, some patients choose ceramic braces over lingual braces, even though they are a more noticeable option.
Invisalign is the most popular and experienced clear aligner company. Their aligners should be worn for 22 hours per day. However, they are removable, making Invisalign considerably more convenient than both ceramic and lingual braces. ClearCorrect is a very similar brand of clear aligners. Both providers can correct most cases of crowding and spacing. But, people with severe cases of misalignment or moderate-to-severe bite issues may not be a good candidate.
A typical patient will usually wear their Invisalign or ClearCorrect aligners for about 18 months before completing treatment, just slightly less than the treatment time required for lingual braces. Treatment with Invisalign or ClearCorrect is also cheaper than lingual braces, at about $3,000 – $5,000 on average.
Home Teeth Aligners
Home teeth alignment products like SmileDirectClub are very similar to Invisalign, but treatment is administered from the comfort of your home. Rather than visiting a dentist or orthodontist in person, home aligner patients take dental impressions at home and send them to their chosen provider for analysis and approval. Once approved, the company customizes the aligners based on the patient’s impressions and sends the aligners to their door. Treatment with home aligners typically takes between 3-6 months (depending on the provider you choose).
Due to the lack of in-person dental visits, home teeth aligners are the cheapest option on this list, running $1,900 on average for a full course of treatment. That said, not all home aligners are created equal. Each company has its unique perks — for instance, Byte boasts the shortest average treatment plan length (just 4-5 months) while SmileDirectClub offers free 3D scans as an alternative to taking dental impressions at home. To learn more about the various providers, check out our comprehensive comparison.
Lingual braces can be an excellent choice if you’re seeking a less visible treatment option. However, they aren’t right for everyone. Some of the drawbacks to lingual braces, like irritation and trouble speaking, may be a deal-breaker for some people. If that’s the case, there are alternative treatments available that are also nearly invisible.
If you’ve been considering getting lingual braces, it’s best to schedule a consultation with an orthodontist to discuss your treatment options and find out whether they’re the best option for your teeth.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much do lingual braces cost?
On average, lingual braces can cost $8,000-10,000. However, the exact cost depends largely on the complexity of your condition and your orthodontist’s rates, so it’s possible that your treatment could fall outside of that range.
How long do lingual braces take?
Much like traditional braces, an average course of lingual braces treatment typically takes 18-24 months. Your specific timeline, however, depends on the severity of your condition. Especially mild cases can sometimes be treated in under 18 months, while especially severe cases can take longer than 24 months.
Do lingual braces affect your speech?
Some patients report that they have a slight lisp when they first begin their lingual braces treatment since your tongue often touches the back of your teeth when you speak. But this change won’t last forever. As your mouth adjusts to the new metal brackets, your speech will return to normal.
Do lingual braces hurt?
There’s always a chance that there will be some slight discomfort involved with tooth and jaw movements, but it’s often primarily at the beginning of treatment. Additionally, some patients report that lingual braces can cause some discomfort on their tongue, since the brackets can rub up against it. But this often subsides as your mouth grows accustomed to the treatment.
What can lingual braces treat?
Just like traditional braces, lingual braces can treat a wide range of conditions, including severe crowding, spacing, and bite issues.
How do lingual braces work?
An orthodontist will affix metal brackets to the back surfaces of your teeth, which are connected by a wire. The brackets and wires exert gentle, consistent pressure on your teeth, slowly and surely shifting them into the desired locations. This process requires office visits every 4-6 weeks so that your orthodontist can assess your progress and make the appropriate adjustments.
What’s the difference between lingual braces and traditional braces?
The main difference between lingual and traditional braces is that lingual braces are situated behind your teeth rather than in front, obscuring them from sight. Because they’re more complicated to administer and manage, they’re also often more expensive.
Who should get lingual braces?
Anyone who values the reassurance of orthodontist oversight and the reliability of braces, but wants a less visible treatment, could be a good candidate for lingual braces. They’re a great option for adults with more severe misalignments who want an inconspicuous treatment and don’t mind paying a little more to get it.
What foods can you eat with lingual braces?
While wearing lingual braces, you’ll want to avoid particularly chewy, sticky, or crunchy foods, things like caramel, corn on the cob, apples, hard candy, bagels, etc.