The Differences Between Traditional and Invisible Braces

Recent years have witnessed the rise of a popular new orthodontic technology: invisible braces, which are also known as clear aligners. Like traditional bracket-and-wire braces, clear aligners can correct misalignments and imperfections to give wearers a flawless smile.

Yet, the two systems display many important differences, including divergent methods of getting your teeth to realign. If you’re considering braces as a potential path to a perfect smile, you may be wondering about what these differences are and which system generates better results. Use this guide to launch your research into these important questions.

Appearance and Materials

One of the most noticeable differences between traditional braces and clear aligners comes from the way they look. Traditional braces are made from metal or ceramic compounds and are usually silver or white in color. Silver acts as the common default, but some patients prefer white brackets that blend in with the natural color of their teeth.

Clear aligners are mainly made of clear plastic, though some products use an additional ceramic coating. Clear plastic systems are completely transparent and virtually impossible to detect without close, careful inspection. Systems that use a white ceramic coating can be custom matched to the shade of your teeth.

In either case, the name “invisible braces” comes from the fact that a casual observer is very unlikely to notice that you are using an orthodontic appliance, even if you offer up a beaming smile.

Push vs. Pull

Traditional braces and clear aligners both harness the physical power of controlled force to prompt your teeth to move into new, straightened positions. However, their respective ways of applying this force differ.

Regular braces rely on a “pull” force to gradually guide your teeth into their final alignment. While effective and predictable, this pull force can also cause temporary pain and general tenderness and soreness of the teeth and gums.

Invisible braces use a “push” force that rotates and moves your teeth. Compared to the “pull” of traditional braces, this push is relatively gentle. Because of this, patients generally report far less pain, discomfort, tenderness, and soreness with clear aligners.

Removability

One of the drawbacks of traditional braces is that they cannot be removed once they are placed. That means you have no choice but to wear your braces to every special event and in every family photo until it’s time for them to come off.

For some people, that does not pose much of a problem. However, others prefer something with a subtler appearance. This tends to be particularly true of adults seeking to correct flaws or issues with their teeth. Many adult patients associate braces with late childhood and adolescence, leaving them feeling self-conscious about wearing bracket-and-wire braces.

Clear aligners are removable. You can take them out of your mouth when you eat or drink and when you brush or floss, which makes it easier to maintain optimal dental hygiene habits. Orthodontists recommend that you do it sparingly, but you can also take your invisible braces off for important events and social occasions if you prefer to do so.

Their removability makes invisible braces the preferred choice of many adult patients. However, remember that you will need to wear your clear aligners for 22 to 24 hours every day in order to achieve the desired results. Consistently removing them (or forgetting to put them back in) can lead to complications and extend your duration of treatment, both of which will drive your costs up.

Food and Drink Restrictions

Certain foods and beverages run the risk of damaging some components that are commonly used in traditional bracket-and-wire braces. Thus, patients are often advised to avoid them for the duration of treatment.

Common examples include:

Orthodontists also recommend cutting certain foods up into very small pieces prior to consuming them. Raw vegetables, cooked meats, corn on the cob, submarine sandwiches, crusty bread, croutons, and hard fruits all fall into this category.

Meanwhile, people who wear invisible braces face no restrictions on the types of foods they can eat. You don’t have to worry about damaging sensitive components, as clear aligners can (and should) be removed when you eat or drink anything other than water.

Duration of Treatment

The total length of time you will need to wear your braces varies among patients, depending on the severity of the problem you’re addressing and other factors. However, invisible braces generally achieve final results faster than traditional braces.

Most people who wear regular braces have them for about two years. Clear aligner treatment plans usually range from six to 18 months.

Follow-up visits with your orthodontist also follow different schedules, depending on which type of braces you’re wearing. With regular braces, you will need to go for a checkup about once per month so your care team can monitor your progress and make any necessary adjustments.

With clear aligners, you will switch from one fitted plastic dental tray to another every 14 days or so. However, switching trays doesn’t usually necessitate a visit to your orthodontist. Instead of once per month, patients with invisible braces usually check in at their dentist’s office every six to eight weeks.

Average Cost of Treatment

Costs also vary, depending on many different factors including the duration of treatment, the materials you choose, and your location. However, one comprehensive orthodontist’s review from 2019 reported average costs as follows:

The general consensus is that clear aligners are usually slightly more expensive than traditional braces. However, for many people, the extra cost is worth it when considering their versatility, removability, lack of dietary restrictions, and invisibility.

Indications and Limitations

This final and very important consideration relates to the types of dental issues traditional and invisible braces can and cannot treat. Here’s a breakdown:

Traditional braces are generally better for:

Invisible braces are usually recommended for:

Finally, note that people who have had certain types of cosmetic or restorative dental work may not be able to use invisible braces. For instance, some crowns and bridges are contraindicated with invisible braces because they involve permanent alterations of tooth and mouth structures that create potential complications.

If you’re not sure which system is right for you, or if you would like a personalized assessment of a cosmetic or structural dental issue, talk to your family dentist or make an appointment with a reputable local orthodontist.