Dental braces: What options are available today?

Modern dentistry makes dental care more comfortable, more discreet, and more affordable. Fixed braces are no longer your only choice, so find out why invisible aligners are such a popular alternative. 

When are braces needed?

Some signs that you may need braces are fairly easy to pick up, while others require professional knowledge and experience. That’s why, in many cases, your regular dentist will be the first to advise you to think about having braces. But sometimes, you may glimpse your smile in a mirror and notice something which needs attention. Or, when flossing or cleaning your teeth, you may spot that they seem to be out of alignment. 

So if you do need braces, how will you actually know? And how could you tell when your child needs braces? There can be many reasons you may need a dental brace fitted to keep your teeth healthy and looking good, but let’s look at some of the most common ones:

crowded teeth are surprisingly common and a clear sign that dental braces are likely to be needed to remedy the situation. Beyond how they might look, overcrowded teeth can often pose a threat to your future dental health.

gaps between teeth can be an indication of malocclusion – the term dentists use when they suspect your teeth are not properly positioned once your jaw closes. Tooth gap conditions can have many causes, including things like thumb-sucking and inherited family traits. But whatever the cause, gaps between the teeth are both unsightly and a threat to otherwise healthy teeth.

crooked or protruding teeth can be the result of uneven spacing between your teeth. There can be many reasons why your teeth grow in this way, and such conditions are unlikely to correct themselves without dental intervention. In addition, slanted teeth can cause extra dental wear and make it more difficult to keep your mouth clean and healthy.

bite problems can occur if your lower teeth close too far behind, or too far in front of, your upper ones. Fitting a dental brace is a common way to improve the situation.

• smile enhancements will be an added bonus resulting from any of the corrective treatments listed here. But some people can lose all self-confidence if they fear their smile lets them down. Just remember your dentist will completely understand how much a healthy smile means to you and your well-being. 

What’s the differences between fixed and loose braces, and what are invisible aligners?

There are many types of dental braces available, which can be confusing at first. But things become a lot clearer when you learn more about how braces work.

All dental braces are designed to be worn in a certain way: 

fixed braces stay in your mouth all of the time, so they are usually glued and wired in place. 

loose braces – often called removable braces – are close-fitting plastic plates that can be taken out for cleaning and when eating food. 

Braces are used to straighten and align your teeth. So it’s also quite common to have a pair of loose braces fused together for this purpose. This creates what the NHS call a personalised ‘functional appliance’, sometimes using extra headgear worn overnight to support the alignment process. 

Modern dental braces can be made from a range of different materials:

• stainless-steel metal braces are the traditional wired braces often used to correct initially misaligned teeth. However, some people are allergic to this type of brace and choose to wear gold-plated or titanium metal braces instead. 

clear braces are made from plastic or ceramic material. These nearly invisible braces are a popular choice for reworking your smile if you don’t want others to know about your ongoing dental transformation. 

Although most dental improvements tend to take place in childhood, you can always opt to make changes at any time. And for personal or work-related reasons, many who wear adult braces prefer the newer type of dental options, which are carefully designed to remain hidden from view: 

lingual braces are similar to other classic fixed-brace designs. However, these metal braces fit the inside surface of your teeth, making them all but invisible as you smile, talk and eat. 

invisible aligners require absolutely no wires or brackets to achieve their transforming effect. Moulded from thermoplastic material, these (removable) state-of-the art transparent dental braces are virtually undetectable and can be custom made to make your smile the best it can be. 

What’s the ideal age to have braces fitted?

Most people believe the “ideal” age is in the early teenage years, around 12 or 13, and virtually all media images suggest the same. But, in truth, there is no age restriction, and it’s not at all unusual to find adults choosing dental braces to repair tooth gaps or correct crooked or crowded teeth that can otherwise be harder to keep clean and healthy. 

Children naturally experience a number of dental changes – losing teeth and growing new ones, for example – as part of their overall development. And this is undoubtedly the main reason why different types of orthodontic intervention tend to occur during your childhood and early teen years. 

So how old do you have to be before you can have fixed braces or removable braces fitted? From around 8 years of age through to about 14 is when our mouths and jaws are normally growing strongly because they are busy developing the bone structures that will support our teeth and gums for a lifetime. So often (but not always), this is also an ideal opportunity to move your teeth to make them work better or perhaps to remodel your smile. 

Adults are clearly at a later, slower and more settled phase of growth and development. This maturity generally means that, whatever type of adult braces you choose, any desired corrections may take just a little longer to achieve. 

Your dentist will offer a professional opinion about the best time to fit braces and discuss all the options with you. And whether you are an adult or child, all recommendations will be based upon relieving your discomfort and achieving the most healthy outcome for you, regardless of your calendar years. 

How long does the treatment take?

Sometimes, a modern orthodontic treatment with aligners can be completed in as little as 3 months, while other treatment options might continue for around two-and-a-half to three years. It all depends on the details of your personal orthodontic treatment plan: what kind of braces you will be using, how much dental correction is needed, and, of course, how your teeth respond. It’s fair to say that, for most people, a traditional orthodontic treatment takes between one and two years to complete.  

As your dentist and orthodontic team will explain, fitting the dental braces you will wear is actually the beginning of a longer journey towards those planned dental improvements. Once your new braces start to take effect, your teeth will then slowly start to move. This will happen in phases, and your personal orthodontic treatment plan will specify how often your braces will need to be adjusted to keep the process on track. This generally occurs something like once every 6 to 8 weeks. At this point, your braces will be reset to gain even more movement. 

Your orthodontist will advise about how you should wear your braces, and this too will depend upon your individual treatment plan and how much improvement is to be made. You will also receive important information about how to look after your teeth and gums to keep them clean and healthy during this time. It’s important to follow all this advice as closely as you can; otherwise, the treatment required to upgrade your smile may start to take even longer than planned.

Once your dental transformation is complete, you will probably be asked to wear a ‘retainer’. This is a small device used to ensure your teeth stay nice and straight in their new positions. So, in effect, this is actually the final phase of your orthodontic treatment.

How much do braces cost? 

Traditional fixed metal braces might typically cost around £1,500 - £3,000, whereas fixed ceramic braces might be £2,000 - £6,000. On the other hand, lingual braces – the classic fixed invisible aligners – might start at around £5,000. To take typical loose braces such as PlusDent invisible aligners as an illustration, these new kinds of clear braces cost less than you might think.

Rather like exactly how long your treatment might take, the cost of fitting dental braces depends on the complexity of your orthodontic treatment plan and the type of braces you choose. Comparing just two examples – fixed but invisible lingual braces against the cost of the newer (and removable) invisible aligners – the popularity of invisible aligners means they can be purchased significantly cheaper than traditional metal braces. So research your options carefully because there could be some potential savings to be made. 

Remember, these are just illustrations. How much your own braces cost will reflect features such as the type of corrective treatment involved, how long you need to wear your braces, and how many follow-up appointments will be required to make adjustments. 

Braces cost is one area where there are likely to be differences between adults and children. As explained above, children’s teeth are at an earlier stage of development. So they can usually be repositioned more quickly, and any dental braces fitted will achieve their transformative effect more rapidly and over a shorter space of time.

With adults, similar treatments will generally take longer. This is partly due to the slower pace of adult dental change and development, and partly because age brings other risk factors, such as gum disease, into play. So for these reasons, adult braces cost a little more for similar types of treatment. 

Do braces hurt?

All dental braces are designed and made to be comfortable to wear. However, they are created from metal, ceramic or plastic materials, so they may tend to rub and cause a little soreness in your mouth at first. And when your teeth begin to move, which will happen at the start and after each adjustment, your mouth may also feel a little tender for a while. In either case, you can expect things to settle down after a few days. 

When your new braces are first fitted you will probably feel a little pressure and perhaps a slight squeezing sensation. Then, once the glue, wires and rubber bands are all in place, you’re done. 

Everyone comments about how dental braces feel big when they are first fitted, but you will gradually get used to this. You will generally experience a little discomfort as your braces begin to work, but taking standard pain-relief medication should help with this. In the first week of wearing your new braces, you may become aware of:

  • some tenderness, or even cuts, on your tongue as it rubs against your new braces;

  • pain, irritation and sore spots inside your cheek area; 

  • a general feeling of soreness and squeezing – but most of all when you chew food.

You can make eating easier for yourself at this time by sticking to a diet of soft foods like yoghurt, ice cream, mashed potatoes and soup, which require no chewing. And if your gums feel inflamed, then treating yourself to an ice-cold drink or a chilled smoothie will have a very soothing effect. 

You’ll soon get used to wearing braces, and after a while, you should mostly forget that you are wearing them. In return for this passing discomfort, and provided you wear your retainer as instructed, you’ll gain a healthier mouth and a happy smile. 

What are the advantages of invisible aligners?

For those who qualify for such treatment, invisible aligners offer several advantages: they are at once more comfortable, ultra-discreet, and definitely more affordable. These transparent aligners are modern dentistry’s alternative to the traditional choice of fixed or loose braces for corrective work to straighten your teeth. So if your dental treatment is likely to involve mild or moderate malocclusions – in other words, crowded or crooked teeth or gaps between your teeth – you may be a good candidate for clear aligners.

The UK’s PlusDent service shows how easily personalised treatment can be set up with a simple 5-step plan:

  1. A 3D diagnostic scan and an oral examination of your teeth – arranged as part of your your (free) initial appointment – is used to allow dentists to create a virtual image of your teeth. 

  2. This scan data forms the basis of your PlusDent treatment plan. Here, a 3D simulation details the extent of the treatment you will receive and shows the outcome you can expect when your treatment is complete.

  3. Following this, your transparent aligners – precision-made in PlusDent’s state-of-the-art Berlin dental laboratory – will soon be with you at your home address.

  4. PlusDent’s team of experienced dental professionals will monitor the development of your treatment at every stage, and are always available to provide you with personal advice and support. Your mobile phone check-ups via the PlusDent app will track your progress with digital precision.

  5. After 3-10 months, you’ll find your treatment has achieved the happy outcome you were expecting. If the results you've achieved deviate from your treatment plan, we'll offer you a refinement, which comes at no extra cost  

So far, more than 50,000 people have successfully followed a PlusDent treatment plan – and each one now has the smile to prove it.

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