Clear Self-Ligating Braces: What to Expect

If you find self-ligating braces a convenient option but you want something even more discreet, know that there is such a thing as clear self-ligating braces.

These types of ceramic brackets work much like the traditional ones but have the added benefit of the self-ligating closing mechanism. This can be in the form of a metal or ceramic clip and eliminates the need for elastic ties that stain and collect bacteria.

But clear self-ligating braces aren’t perfect, and in this article, I want to warn you of some of the cons so that you can make an informed choice.

Ceramic or clear self-ligating braces are meant to be near-invisible, all while maintaining the functionalities of traditional braces. They compete with clear aligners in terms of beauty, but not everyone can get aligners, so if your case is more complex, self-ligating brackets are a great alternative.

The cosmetic factor is their biggest advantage. So if you find that important, clear self-ligating braces are probably worth it. Here’s what you can expect.

They don’t stain (as much)

Clear self-ligating braces will stain, but not as much as traditional ceramic braces. This is because the clip eliminates the need for an elastic ring that typically turns yellow in as little as two weeks.

Some Damon users argue that their clear Damon braces don’t stain at all, but that’s not really true. If you ever need a ceramic bracket replaced, you will see that the new one is much whiter compared to the brackets on your teeth.

The ceramic material does stain in time, not just the ligatures. How much they stain will depend on how often you consume pigmented foods and drinks, how well you brush, whether you use a straw, etc.

Keep in mind that even with self-ligating brackets, your orthodontist will still need to use power chains at some point, to close small gaps.

Power chains are made of rubber and they stain, and going for a colored option defeats the purpose of having clear self-ligating brackets, unless you enjoy that look.

They’re nearly invisible (depending on the clip)

Clear self-ligating brackets come in two versions: they can have a metal clip or a ceramic clip.

The ceramic clip will obviously be more aesthetic, but it will also be bulkier. The brackets may look well from the front, but from the side, they will visibly stick out. So keep that in mind if you already have an overbite and are self-conscious about that.

Metal clips work somewhat better, as they’re able to engage the wire better inside the bracket, but they’re more visible, which defeats the purpose of getting esthetic brackets.

Clear SL braces with metal clips

Most of the time, the choice is up to the orthodontist, but it’s best to ask or see a sample of the brackets they use in their office.

Fewer appointments

Ceramic self-ligating braces can be a fantastic option for busy, professional adults. Not only do they look great, but you also save time.

Most Damon users call their patients in for adjustments every 8 to 10 weeks. As you approach the last stage of treatment, you’ll be seeing your orthodontist every 4 to 6 weeks to fine-tune the results.

The adjustments themselves don’t take long thanks to the built-in clip. So if you’re pressed for time, consider getting self-ligating braces. You’ll forget you even have them.

I’ve been an orthodontist for 8 years, and I’ve witnessed firsthand the shift from classic metal braces to the new generation of clear ones that many of my patients love.

I’ve worked a lot with clear self-ligating braces, so I know the ins and outs – the everyday stuff you’ll deal with if you choose them.

If you’re getting your information from a shiny brochure, there are some significant downsides to clear self-ligating braces that can be a deal-breaker to many of you. So let’s go over the disadvantages:

Very bulky, your lip may get stuck

You should know that clear self-ligating brackets are twice the size of metal self-ligating brackets. Because they’re more fragile, manufacturers have to make them bigger so the mechanism doesn’t break.

While clear brackets that use a metal clip can be kept relatively low-profile, ceramic clips take up even more space.

For this reason, your lips may appear bigger when wearing clear self-ligating braces. For some, this is an added bonus, almost like a free botox session. But your plump lips will come at a cost: your lip will keep getting stuck above your braces.

So if you hate the idea of your lip getting stuck when speaking, eating, or just wanting to close your mouth, then clear SL braces aren’t for you.

Some patients claim that you get used to this after a while, and I suspect it’s because they get used to stretching their lips to accommodate their brackets.

Another downside to the clear bracket bulkiness is the fact that they make teeth that stick out even more obvious. If you have a severe overbite, keep in mind that these braces will add a few millimeters to your teeth’s profile. Plus, you may need extractions or surgery to fix it, which means metal brackets are a better alternative.

Not for everyone

You may want clear self-ligating brackets, but first you have to make sure you’re a good candidate. Because they’re relatively bulky, they’re not fit for small teeth and teeth on the bottom arch.

It may be challenging to bond ceramic SL brackets on teeth with significant crowding, because they simply won’t fit. As for small teeth, these brackets can completely cover them and interfere with brushing.

Clear self-ligating braces aren’t well suited for the bottom arch in most situations. This is because the bottom incisors are usually narrow and small. The top teeth often bite on top of these brackets so the bite needs to be adjusted quite a bit.

This is why you’ll often see adult patients wearing clear brackets on the top and metal brackets on the bottom.

Harder to clean

Ceramic braces, with their bulky design, are notoriously difficult to clean around. The fact that they also have a clip that can hold on to food debris makes them even more challenging to brush three times a day.

Orthodontists don’t typically recomend ceramic braces to children or teenagers because they require more care.

If you decide to go with these braces, interdental brushes and water flossers will be your best friends. You can maintain their pristine look by cutting down on caffeine, tea and red wine, as well as staying away from curry.

Regular trips to the hygienist every 2 months can also be of great use, but that extra time spent at the dentist’s for cleaning may make these braces less convenient than they seem.

Treatment time is slower

When it comes to adjusting your bite, clear self-ligating braces often take a slower route compared to their metal counterparts.

If you have a complex case, such as a deep bite or need extractions, clear brackets may extend the treatment duration by a minimum of 3-4 months.

The progress with clear braces can be less predictable because of the added friction of ceramic and tooth-colored wires. Not to mention all the extra appointments whenever a bracket breaks.

But all patients are different, and bone density plays a huge role.

If efficiency and speed are top priorities for your orthodontic treatment, and especially if you’re dealing with a severe malocclusion, metal self-ligating or conventional brackets might be the more practical choice.

More sensitive to breakage

Clear self-ligating brackets, while beautiful, are more fragile than metal brackets. Their wings and clips are prone to breaking, either at home, or during the tightening procedure. This not only disrupts treatment but can also make it more expensive and inconvenient.

For orthodontists, stocking up on spare brackets becomes a necessity, but it’s an expensive one. And if the ceramic clip breaks, it can complicate the treatment process, as each breakage requires attention and potentially extended treatment time.

Potentially difficult to remove

The removal process for ceramic brackets is known for being challenging, although it shouldn’t be. Clear brackets need specific instruments unique to each brand for their safe removal.

Even with those instruments, clear brackets often fracture into smaller pieces when removed, and some of those sharp pieces remain stuck to the teeth.

When this happens, the remnants must be meticulously burr-drilled from the tooth surface with a diamond burr. This can accidentally hurt or scratch the enamel, not to mention it can be an uncomfortable experience for the patient.

More expensive

The cost of beauty comes at a price, and clear self-ligating braces are no exception. They typically come at a higher price range due to the specialized materials used.

While exact pricing can vary widely depending on the orthodontist and the region, expect to pay a premium for the discretion these clear brackets offer.

If budget constraints are guiding your choice of braces, it’s best to choose conventional brackets instead.

If you really want clear self-ligating braces but are torn between the metal and esthetic option, know you can have both. In fact, it’s better to get metal SL braces on the bottom arch and ceramic SL braces on the top arch.

Top ceramic self-ligating braces, bottom metal self-ligating braces.

Damon users go as far as to bond ceramic SL braces only on the top front teeth, from canine to canine, where the braces are most visible. The rest of the brackets, both in the back and on the bottom arch are metallic.

As you can see, there are many ways to customize your self-ligating braces, so if esthetics and functionality are important to you, you can have the best of both worlds.

Most of the patients looking to get self-ligating braces have only ever heard of Damon. But did you know that there are dozens of brands offering self-ligating braces, perhaps at a smaller price?

Ultimately, the type of self-ligating clear bracket you’ll get depends entirely on your orthodontist. But you can go the extra mile and research the brand of SL brackets they’re using to see if they’re a good fit for you.

Here are some popular options on the market:

  1. The Damon System: This includes self-ligating ceramic braces and is highlighted for its popularity over the last two decades​​. The Damon clear braces feature a ceramic clip and are fully esthetic.
  2. 3M™ Clarity™ Ceramic Brackets. Featuring a ceramic clip Clarity Ultra Self-Ligating Brackets are a popular brand among orthodontists.
  3. Empower® 2 Clear Brackets: Empower 2 Clear are robust ceramic brackets that use a metal clip to secure the wire.
  4. Clear21 by OC Orthodontics: The Clear21 system uses revolutionary aesthetic self-ligating bracket technology designed for precision. Fully clear, they use a ceramic clip.
  5. TruKlear® by Forestadent: Full ceramic body and clip, TruKlear brackets are made in Germany and are more popular in Europe.

In the end, clear self-ligating braces are a bit of a mixed bag.

Yes, they’re nearly invisible, and they cut down on the number of dental visits. They don’t stain as easily as their traditional counterparts, and for many, these benefits outweigh the downsides.

However, it’s important to go into this decision with eyes wide open to the potential drawbacks: the bulkiness that could lead to discomfort, the extended treatment time, the delicate nature of the brackets, the challenges in removal, and the additional cost.

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