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Braces and wires work together, like a complex machine, to achieve all kinds of dental movements and perfect your smile. There’s no way one can work without the other. Orthodontic wires come in many shapes and sizes, and the more you can understand how they work, the more you’ll be impressed by the complexity of your treatment.
So if you’re curious about what types of wires we use in the office and why, as well as the succession of wire sizes patients typically go through, then you’re in the right place. This article will serve as your basic guide, and you can revisit it whenever there’s a change in your braces.
Braces wire sizes & types in a nutshell
I’ll try to structure this in a way that’s easy to understand and is useful for you, the patient.
From start to end, there’s a logic to the way we use wires. We go from light to strong, from thin to thick and from round to rectangular. And while not everybody’s journey with braces will be so linear, most patients will go through these stages with their braces:
The light flexible wires
When starting off, you’ll most likely get a round, thin and very flexible wire that’s meant to easily get into all the nooks and crannies that typically come with very crooked or displaced teeth.
We don’t want to use an archwire that’s too light for your specific situation, so we’ll try to use the strongest one your teeth can handle. Most patients have sensitive teeth when first starting out, so it’s best not to force things.
A nice perk about these flexible wires is that most of them are heat treated. This means that they become stronger when in contact with your body heat, and deactivate (become weaker and more flexible) when treated with cold materials. So eating icecream in the first month of braces is a great idea!
It’s not uncommon to get multiple sizes of these flexible wires if your orthodontist wants to use a more gradual approach. So instead of just getting a starting wire, you might get two very similar light wires in succession.
- Wire size examples for braces nerds: .014 NiTi, .016 NiTi, .018 NiTi
The medium flexible wires
Once your teeth are reasonably straight, but not quite where we want them to be, you’ll graduate to larger thicker wires that are still flexible and have some give. If you jumped to a rigid wire straight away, the pain would be quite intense, not to mention your brackets would pop off.
These medium flexible wires are typically rectangular in section, meaning they’ll have edges to them. These edges will help control all kinds of 3D movements, especially the tilting of teeth.
Medium strength wires will also begin to expand your arch form into a wide beautiful shape. Your teeth will have a lot more room and your smile will look great.
We’ll talk more about wire sections in a minute, but that’s all you need to know for now: you go from round flimsy wires to stronger square or rectangular wires.
- Wire size examples for braces nerds: .016x.022 NiTi, .017x.025 NiTi, .019x.025 NiTi
The large rigid wires
The last step is getting to the holy grail of all wires – large rigid wires that are also rectangular in section. The only difference is that these wires have the power to expand the arches even further, and are meant to solidify the results we’ve obtained so far.
Rigid wires are made of stainless steel and they’re not flexible at all. This means that your teeth need to be perfectly aligned and leveled, otherwise the wire won’t go in.
We use the rigid wires for all kinds of movements: closing gaps and extraction spaces, opening gaps for implants, fixing a slanted or gummy smile, and making bends for the detailing stage. They’re called “working wires” for a good reason.
- Wire sizes for braces nerds: .017x.025 SS (stainless steel), .019x.025 SS, .021x.025 SS
Something in between
All the wires that I mentioned come in a variety of sizes, from thin to thick, and it’s easy to mix and match according to each patient’s needs. Most orthodontists have a set protocol for different types of malocclusions, so we tend not to stray too much from the wires we like to use.
Don’t be surprised if you go back a wire size or two – this happens sometimes when new teeth are added to the arch, or you’ve had missing/broken braces for a while. Some situations can call for double wires on the same arch, to bring down high canines and other impacted teeth.
You might even see wire segments used as accessories to connect certain parts of your braces together. The only limit in how we use wires is our imagination and knowledge of biomechanics.
Wires for all types of mouths
The last thing you should know about wires is that we can select them to fit your mouth shape. So if your face is very narrow and your dental arches are small, although we might want to change that, there’s a biological limit to what we can do. So we have the option of using smaller, more narrow wires for your particular case.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have patients with broad arches and large square jaws. For such patients, it’s best to choose an archform that’s equally broad and square. This helps maintain the delicate balance between teeth and face muscles.
We could also bend wires into shape in a custom manner, but that’s very labour intensive and old-school, so most orthodontists go with templates instead.
- Wire shapes for braces nerds: Tapered, Ovoid, Square
How do braces wires work?
Braces wires, also known as archwires, work by exerting a force on the teeth that stimulates bone remodeling, which allows the teeth to move into the desired position. This process is known as orthodontic tooth movement.
The wires are typically made from a shape-memory alloy, such as nickel-titanium, which allows the wire to return to its original shape when heated. This property enables the wire to exert a constant force on the teeth, even as the wire is bent and twisted to fit the individual shape of the patient’s mouth.
The final wires are typically made of medical stainless steel (SS). Stainless steel archwires are commonly used in orthodontics due to their high strength and stiffness, which makes them ideal for applying higher forces in the more advanced stages of treatment.
SS wires can be adjusted many different ways by the orthodontist without breaking, which allows for precise control of the tooth movement. They are also less prone to deformation than other types of archwires, which means that they can be used for longer periods of time before needing to be replaced.
Your orthodontist will select a wire size and material based on your specific needs and treatment plan. For example, a thicker wire may be used to apply greater force and move the teeth more quickly, while a thinner wire may be used to apply a lighter force and allow for more gradual movement. The wire is attached to brackets that are bonded to the teeth using a special dental adhesive. The brackets have small slots that allow the wire to be threaded through and held in place.
As the teeth move, the wire may need to be adjusted or replaced with a larger size to maintain the pressure and continue the movement. This process is known as wire changes or adjustments, and it typically occurs every 4-8 weeks. Your orthodontist will also use other components of the braces, such as elastics, powerchains and springs, to apply additional forces and move the teeth where they need to go.
Overall, braces wires work by applying a controlled force to the teeth that stimulates bone remodeling and allows the teeth to move into the optimal position and create the perfect bite. The wire size and material, along with other components of the braces, are carefully selected by the orthodontist to achieve optimal results for each individual patient.
Braces wire Q&A
What does a thicker wire on braces mean?
If you’ve noticed that your orthodontist placed a significantly thicker wire, it doesn’t mean your braces treatment is close to an end, but it does mean you’re making great progress. By now, your teeth should be relatively straight, you should be seeing wonderful changes in your smile, and the new, stronger wire should help your orthodontist do one of these things:
- level your arches
- close or open gaps
- correct your bite
- make fine-tuning bends
Expect to continue orthodontic treatment with your thicker wires for at least 6 months or more. If you’re curious what stage you’re in, it’s best to ask your orthodontist, since all patients are so unique.
What’s the tightest braces wire?
“Tight” is a relative term in orthodontics, so the best answer to this question is what’s the biggest size in a braces wire? The short answer is .021x.025. This is a thick wire that has a rectangular cross section that will perfectly fit the cross section of brackets like a key in a lock.
Bracket slot sizes are typically .022 inch in height and .028 inch in depth, so you see how a wire that’s .021 by .025 inch can almost entirely fill up this space. Most of the times, this is not practical – this is, after all, a very large and rigid wire. I personally like to go with one size smaller: .019x.025 inch.
Braces come in two slot sizes: .018 and .022, so if your orthodontist uses the .018 version, your wires will typically be smaller in cross-section.
But these are all technicalities, in the end, what you need to know is that the biggest strongest wire is the one that almost fills up the bracket grooves and makes the brackets work to their maximum potential. You’ll get to the biggest wire gradually, and once you have it in, you need to give it time to work.
What’s the last wire in orthodontic treatment?
During the finishing stage, orthodontists use a thick, rectangular stainless steel or beta titanium wire, to complete the straightening process. These wires are great for finishing bends and making minor adjustments to ensure that the teeth are perfectly aligned.
This final wire will not necessarily be thicker than the wires used earlier in treatment, during the working phase, so you’ll probably be accustomed to how it feels by the time you get to the finishing stage. The bends or bracket repositioning are what give this wire the extra tension and tightness.
Do braces wires come in different colors?
Braces wires typically come in silver, which is the metal alloy color, whether that’s steel, nickel titanium or copper alloys. In some rare cases, orthodontists may use gold wires paired with gold brackets, but that’s not typical.
If you’re wearing ceramic braces, you may ask for tooth-colored wires. These types of wires are coated with a special layer of white paint that blends in with your teeth. This paint is either a polymer or teflon coating.
White coated wires are indeed beautiful, but the problem with some brands is that they scratch and some of the paint may come off. So if you want to avoid chipping and an uneven look, it’s best to stick with regular wires.
Hopefully you’ve learned a lot about what orthodontic wires are and how they work. Whether you’re going back a wire, you just got a wire changed and now it hurts or you’re anxious to get to the end of your treatment, it’s best to trust that your orthodontist is doing a good job selecting the right type and size of wire for your particular case.
Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth (and your health) during orthodontic treatment is crucial. That’s why I’ve put together a list of orthodontist-recommended tools that will make caring for your braces a breeze: