When you hear braces, you probably think of bulky metal brackets with rubber bands. These traditional braces are the most well-known, but in reality, there are a few different types of braces, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages. 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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Traditional vs. Self-Ligating Braces: What’s the Difference?
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.
Instead of using ligatures like rubber bands to keep their wires in place, self-ligating braces use special clips or brackets to support the wire and move your teeth. These clips require less force than rubber bands and elastics 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. The clips they use instead have many benefits, including better efficiency at office visits. At 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 tend 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 it uses 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 buildups of food and plaque 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.
Pros and Cons of Self-Ligating Braces
By now you can probably tell that there are several advantages to self-ligating braces. However, every treatment has its drawbacks. To make things easier, we’ve compiled a list of pros and cons to help you make the right decision for your teeth.
- Shorter treatment time: active brackets applied during the beginning of treatment apply more pressure and move teeth faster.
- 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.
- 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.
Who Are Self-Ligating Braces Right For?
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.
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 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 fairly 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.
All that said, not all home aligners are created equal. Each company has its unique perks — for instance, byte offers the shortest average treatment time (only 3 months) while Candid offers free teeth scanning as an alternative to taking dental impressions at home. To learn more about the various providers, check out our comprehensive comparison.
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!