When you hear braces, you probably think of bulky metal brackets with rubber bands. But that’s not the only option anymore. Self-ligating braces have been gaining popularity over the years because they tend to cause less discomfort and require fewer visits to the orthodontist. They can also treat many of the same issues as traditional braces, including most cases of spacing and crowding.
If you’ve been considering self-ligating braces, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of self-ligating braces, compare and contrast them with traditional braces, and provide some alternative options in case braces aren’t right for you.
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What Are Self-Ligating Braces?
Self-ligating braces use a special type of bracket, which has a spring-loaded door or clip that closes over the archwire rather than the tiny elastic bands (or ligatures) used by traditional braces. This door or clip closes to hold the archwire in place, applying pressure to move your teeth.
There are two types of self-ligating braces: active and passive. Active brackets put pressure on the archwire for additional power, while passive brackets do not, which reduces friction. Both styles require regular adjustments, but neither requires tightening. Plus, they’re much easier to clean and maintain, making them a popular alternative to their traditional counterparts.
The earliest versions of self-ligating braces date back to the 1930s, although they weren’t commercially available until the 1970s. Since then, numerous companies have refined the technology, improving their design with each new iteration. SPEED Braces, Damon Braces, In-Ovation Braces, and 3M have all developed widely trusted self-ligating braces.
Pros and Cons of Self-Ligating Braces
- Reduced friction and discomfort: lack of ligatures like rubber bands on brackets cause less friction than traditional braces, making self-ligating braces more comfortable to wear.
- Easier to keep clean: lack of ligatures also makes self-ligating braces easier to clean and less likely to trap food.
- Less chair time: maintenance appointments for self-ligating braces tend to be much quicker than tightening appointments for traditional braces.
- Potentially shorter treatment time: active brackets applied during the beginning of treatment apply more pressure and move teeth faster for some patients.
- Increased cost: self-ligating braces usually cost about $1,000 more than traditional braces.
- Less precision: less pressure in the wire means that your orthodontist will not be able to make as detailed of changes and movements to the teeth.
- Very noticeable: although they come with the option of clear brackets, self-ligating braces still require the use of a visible metal wire.
What’s The Difference Between Self-Ligating and Traditional Braces?
Self-ligating braces provide many of the same benefits as traditional braces. However, some key features set them apart. Although they are a comprehensive treatment option, traditional braces can also have downsides, most notably discomfort and inconvenience.
Let’s discuss the 3 ways self-ligating braces differ from traditional braces: comfort, maintenance, and cost.
Self-ligating braces’ clips require less force than elastic ligatures to move the teeth. Consequently, self-ligating braces typically cause less friction than traditional braces, significantly decreasing discomfort.
They might not entirely eliminate pain or soreness, but self-ligating braces still offer a more comfortable option. For people who are most concerned about the pain or irritation associated with braces, self-ligating braces could be a great compromise.
As we previously mentioned, self-ligating braces do not involve the use of any ligatures, like rubber bands, to hold the wire in place. During office visits for traditional braces, your orthodontist will need to place a new elastic on each bracket. This process can be very time-consuming. Opening and closing the clips on self-ligating brackets tends to be much quicker, allowing for shorter appointment times.
It’s also important to note here that brackets do not move your teeth into place, wires do. Your teeth move as the wire applies constant pressure on your teeth over time. At the beginning of treatment, when many orthodontists employ passive brackets, the smaller wire allows for more movement. So, your initial treatment process will probably be much quicker than traditional braces. Finally, cleaning your self-ligating braces will also be much more convenient. The lack of elastics makes brackets less prone to food and plaque buildups, and much easier to keep clean.
This increased comfort and convenience, however, comes at a cost. The average price for self-ligating braces is $6,000 (about $1,000 more than traditional braces). However, if less chair time and easier cleaning top your list of priorities, self-ligating braces may be worth the extra cost.
Unfortunately, like traditional braces, self-ligating braces are rarely fully covered by insurance. So, calling your insurance provider before seeking treatment may be a good idea. It’s best to know what your insurance will cover before you research other options like financing or payment plans provided by your orthodontist.
Who Is A Good Candidate For Self-Ligating Braces?
Self-ligating braces can be an excellent choice for a wide variety of patients. They can treat many of the same conditions as traditional braces, including most cases of teeth crowding and spacing. Even people with bite issues, like overbite or crossbite, are good candidates for self-ligating braces. However, patients with severe bite issues may not be a good fit. Severely misaligned bites may put too much pressure on the clips holding the wire in place, causing them to break.
Self-ligating braces could also be a great alternative for someone who is not a good candidate for other treatments like Invisalign or home aligners. Although they are not nearly as invisible as these other options, self-ligating braces do still provide a shorter treatment time and can treat more complicated cases of misalignment.
What Is It Like To Wear Self-Ligating Braces?
Self-ligating braces still require regular office visits, but they’re not for tightening like traditional braces. Your orthodontist will examine your teeth and make any necessary adjustments. However, thanks to the design of self-ligating braces, these adjustments don’t take nearly as long as the tightening process does.
Your mouth will likely take some time to grow accustomed to your self-ligating braces, and there might be some discomfort at the beginning of treatment and after your adjustments. But it often subsides with time.
You’ll also want to avoid certain foods during your braces treatment. Especially chewy, crunchy, and sticky foods can break your braces’ brackets and wires. So steer clear of things like hard candy, caramel, pretzels, bagels, nuts, apples, and similar foods.
Self-ligating braces might be easier to clean than traditional braces, but they can still trap food and plaque, so it’s important to maintain a thorough oral hygiene routine. 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 while wearing self-ligating 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?
Self-ligating braces are bonded to your teeth, and your orthodontist won’t remove them until your teeth have finished moving to their new locations. While it might take up to two years, you can rest assured that you’ll get the exact, perfectly straight smile that you’re after.
After your treatment is complete, you’ll be responsible for maintaining those beautiful results by wearing a retainer. Typically, you’ll wear this retainer all day for a few months, then just at night, although this schedule can vary, and your orthodontist might advise you to wear it longer. This will keep your teeth from drifting back and requiring further treatment.
Other Treatment Options
For most people with mild-to-moderate alignment issues, there are several options for orthodontic treatment. Depending on your situation and lifestyle, self-ligating braces may not be the perfect option for you. Luckily, given the wide variety of options, you’re bound to find a treatment that is right for you.
Below we’ll discuss some popular alternatives to traditional and self-ligating braces:
Lingual braces are very similar to traditional or self-ligating braces but are placed on the back of the teeth as opposed to the front, making them much more discreet. For this reason, lingual braces are a popular choice for people who want a less visible treatment option. Overall, lingual braces are capable of treating virtually the same alignment issues as traditional braces, including most cases of spacing and crowding.
However, similar to self-ligating braces, patients with severe bite issues may not be a good fit. Lingual braces and traditional braces have similar treatment timelines. But unfortunately, lingual braces generally cost significantly more than any other style of braces, usually $8,000 – $10,000.
Clear braces, also called ceramic braces, perform just like traditional metal braces but have clear or tooth-colored brackets and, like self-ligating braces, no elastic ties. By design, they tend to blend in with the teeth much better than metal braces. Some options even include tooth-colored wires for treatment to be as inconspicuous as possible.
Aside from the major advantage of being less noticeable, clear braces are also a popular choice because they require a shorter treatment time than traditional braces. Most people can complete treatment in about 18 months, an average of 6 months quicker than conventional braces. However, clear braces are another pricey option, running around $6,000 for the average patient. The clear brackets also tend to stain more easily, so diligent brushing and flossing during treatment is essential.
Invisalign is the original clear aligner system. The industry leader in size and experience, they’ve treated more than 8 million patients worldwide. ClearCorrect, a competing clear aligner provider, provides a comparable service with its own version of clear aligners. The primary benefit of clear aligners like Invisalign and ClearCorrect is the lack of wires and brackets. Although you need to wear the aligners for 22 hours per day throughout the average 18 months of treatment, they are removable and typically don’t disrupt everyday life much.
Invisalign or ClearCorrect treatment tends to run between $3,000 and $5,000, and Invisalign is the more expensive of the two brands. And, although both providers have been proven to treat most cases of crowding and spacing, patients with moderate-to-severe bite issues aren’t typically good candidates for treatment.
Home Teeth Aligners
Home teeth aligners are very similar to the ones provided by Invisalign and ClearCorrect. However, unlike their competitors, home teeth aligners require no trips to the dentist. Providers send their patients’ custom-made aligners through the mail to complete treatment from the comfort of their own home.
Thanks to the lack of in-person dental visits, home teeth aligners are much more affordable than traditional treatments, running $1,900 on average. Home teeth aligners also boast a much shorter treatment time (3-6 months). The biggest drawback is home aligner treatment’s lack of versatility, since they’re only suitable for mild-to-moderate cases of crowding and spacing.
Self-ligating braces have become a fairly popular alternative to traditional braces. They offer some compelling advantages, including easier upkeep and less time spent at the orthodontist.
That said, there are many other treatment options available today, many of which are more discreet, convenient and affordable than metal braces. If self-ligating braces or any of the treatment methods above sound like the right fit for you, we encourage you to consult a dentist to discuss your options!
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between self-ligating braces and regular braces?
The primary difference is that self-ligating brackets use a spring-loaded door to hold the archwire in place, while regular braces use elastics on each bracket. This means that self-ligating braces are easier to clean and maintain, more comfortable, and might be faster in certain cases.
Do self-ligating braces need to be tightened?
Self-ligating braces don’t need to be tightened, but they still require adjustments. You’ll still need to make regular office visits to your orthodontist, but they won’t take quite as long as tightening appointments for traditional braces.
Do self-ligating braces work faster?
In some cases, yes. Certain studies have showed that self-ligating braces work faster than traditional braces, while others have shown no discernible differences. Active self-ligating braces can apply more pressure and therefore work faster, but it largely depends on your specific condition.
How much do self-ligating braces cost?
On average, self-ligating braces cost slightly more than traditional braces, often somewhere around $6,000. However, this ultimately depends on the severity of your condition and your orthodontist’s rates.
Do self-ligating braces hurt?
Many people experience some discomfort at the beginning of treatment or after adjustments, but it usually subsides with time. Self-ligating braces are more comfortable than traditional braces, though, because their brackets don’t create quite as much friction.
Who should get self-ligating braces?
Self-ligating braces can treat a wide range of teeth and jaw misalignments. So they’re a great option for anyone who prefers the power of braces, but wants a more comfortable treatment with shorter office visits, and doesn’t mind paying a little more for it.
What’s the best alternative to self-ligating braces?
For anyone with a severe misalignment or bite issue, we think that an in-office clear aligner treatment like Invisalign is a convenient and less visible alternative. If your condition is milder, at-home aligners are a fast, affordable option. Our favorite is Byte, but you can check out the comparison guide for our top 5 home aligners right here.