Patients ask all the time if they can straighten just their bottom or top teeth, and the answer is usually no. But there are some cases where we can overlook the general rules, so if you’re among the lucky few, you might be able to get braces on your bottom teeth alone.
Braces on bottom teeth only are possible in certain cases. If you have minimal crowding in your bottom teeth, sufficient space to straighten them, and your bite is otherwise healthy, bottom braces or aligners are an acceptable solution.
Crowding in the lower arch is very common and bottom teeth are more visible than we think. You might not expose your crowded bottom teeth when smiling in photos, but your lower lip will most certainly reveal them when speaking (shoot a video of yourself speaking to find out).
I’m sure you’re hoping to find out whether bottom braces are for you, so let’s dive in deeper and see if you fit the ideal patient description.
When can you get braces on just your bottom teeth?
Getting braces on just the bottom or top teeth is called single-arch treatment, or one arch treatment. One arch treatment is usually frowned upon because it tends to disrupt the delicate balance teeth and joints sit in.
The way our top and bottom dental arches come together is a bit like a puzzle. You can’t move teeth around for aesthetics without disturbing the bigger picture. However, in some RARE cases, there’s a bit of leeway we can play around with.
Here’s when you can get bottom braces only without messing up your occlusion:
You’ve already had braces and your teeth have shifted a little. Bottom front teeth are small and loose and usually shift quite fast if you forget to wear your retainers. Once they’ve shifted, there’s not much you can do but wear braces again. We like this scenario because the teeth already fit well together and the shape of the arches has already been molded by past braces.
You’re happy with your top teeth and the bottom teeth have mild crowding. We call mild crowding any crowding that’s between 1 to 3 mm, and there are some fast ways to solve that in the lower arch. But more on that later.
Your bite is acceptable. Having straight teeth doesn’t mean they fit well together too, but only your orthodontist can confirm that. Malocclusions (wrong bites) are very common even with straight teeth but most people aren’t aware of this. Getting one arch braces while having bite problems is a bad idea.
You have sufficient overjet. Overjet is the space between your top front teeth and bottom front teeth when you squeeze them together. Sometimes this space is really tight, other times it’s much too big. The ideal overjet is 1.5 to 2.5 mm, but we want it between 3 to 5 mm to be able to correct crowded incisors. When straightening crooked incisors, we tend to push them forward, and we need to have room for that movement so that we don’t create bite interferences.
Your crowding can be solved with minimal stripping. Sometimes, pushing teeth too far forward while aligning them isn’t a good idea, so we perform a procedure called dental stripping to create more space. When stripping teeth, we ‘shave’ off tiny layers of enamel from the sides so that they fit better together. This is particularly useful for triangular-shaped teeth. Stripping is a bit invasive, but it doesn’t damage teeth long-term.
These are, in a nutshell, the situations which favor braces on just your bottom teeth. Is this you? Your orthodontist is the only one able to confirm if getting braces on your bottom teeth alone is a good idea. It usually isn’t, but you may be one of those rare patients where it truly makes sense not to touch the top teeth.
In my experience, patients who failed to wear their retainers are the best candidates for quick re-treatment of the bottom teeth.
What if You have spacing in Your bottom teeth?
Spacing in the bottom teeth is not that common, but we still see it. If your spacing is due to periodontal problems, then we recommend seeing your periodontist and getting braces on both arches.
If you’ve always had spacing and your teeth are small – is it really just the bottom arch that’s the problem? Usually, we see spacing in both the bottom and top teeth. You can get top and bottom braces to solve this, or veneers, or both.
Spacing is more of a cosmetic problem most of the time, so if you can just fix it with veneers, check with your dentist, and go for it!
Best ways to straighten bottom teeth
Correcting crowded bottom teeth should be quite simple and fast when only done for cosmetic reasons. You have plenty of options to choose from. Some braces are discreet, others more visible but they all work in similar ways.
- Social six lingual braces. These braces are truly invisible because they go on the inside of your bottom teeth. They’re called social six because they only treat your front 6 teeth. While lingual braces might feel uncomfortable at first because they interfere with your tongue, causing a lisp, you should quickly get used to them. Lingual braces tend to be pricy, but might be worth it if you want your orthodontic treatment to be 100% discreet.
- Clear aligners. Aligners like Invisalign or other brands are the next best thing. They’re thin layers of plastic molded over your teeth, and you’ll need to wear a new tray every week or so. The great thing about aligners is that they can target the correction of only specific segments of your arches, without changing the bite too much. They’re also comfortable and you take them off when eating or brushing.
- Classic metal braces. Most orthodontists don’t recommend ceramic braces in the bottom teeth because they can be too bulky, hard to clean, and may come in contact with your top teeth and wear them down. Classic metal braces work great, and if looks are not an issue, you can get your mild crowding corrected in around 6 months.
Don’t forget about retainers!
If you’ve had braces before, you already know the drill. Wear your retainers as instructed! But because bottom teeth tend to shift so easily, we take maximum precautions and bond permanent retainers on the inside of your front bottom teeth.
Permanent retainers coupled with Essix retainers (clear plastic ones) on top work well to keep your teeth straight for as long as it’s possible.
Broken or lost retainers might get you right where you started in a few years, so make sure to contact your orthodontist immediately after spotting an issue with your bottom teeth.
Getting braces is rarely just a cosmetic procedure. It’s actually a complex medical treatment, and orthodontists are very selective when it comes to one arch braces. We do it with your health in mind, so don’t get upset if you hear ‘no’.
As a recap, here’s when you SHOULDN’T get braces on your bottom teeth only:
- Your bite is off.
- You have moderate to severe crowding.
- You don’t have any overjet to allow for bottom teeth correction.
- You have spacing (you might be better suited for veneers).
And remember, straight teeth need braces too. Just because everything looks good to you, it doesn’t mean your teeth fit together properly.