You recently got braces for the first time and you might have a lot of questions. Like, what the heck are those colored dots on your otherwise monochrome braces? You probably asked for a discreet version, like metal brackets and silver ligatures, or opted for clear braces and wanted everything to blend in.
Don’t worry, your orthodontist didn’t trick you – our patients’ aesthetic needs are important to us. Those annoying dots will eventually come off, although they don’t always do without intervention.
The colored dots on braces are markings that help the orthodontist select the correct bracket for each tooth. The markings are meant to be temporary and will either wash off immediately or after thorough brushing. Sometimes, a colored dot may linger on, in which case you can carefully scrape it off.
Not all brackets are created equal, but they all have some kind of ID – colored or permanently etched into the metal. In this article, I’m going to explain some rules for bracket placement and help you get rid of those pesky dots at home.
Bracket placement rules
Placing brackets correctly is a complicated medical act – that’s why your appointment takes so long. There are many rules on how to angle them, and position them at the right height and as central as possible. Precision is the name of the game in orthodontics.
But the colored dots aren’t meant to help with positioning – their scope is to help the orthodontist select the right bracket for each tooth. Except for lower incisors, where all brackets are the same, each tooth gets its own bracket with a specific set of instructions on how we want that tooth to behave.
Brand-new brackets often come in a small box, neatly organized for each tooth. They also come with a chart showing how the brackets are color-coded, so it should be easy to identify them.
But can you accidentally misplace those brackets? You bet! I had the misfortune of spilling a huge set of 100 braces on the floor, and then had the monumental task of putting them back to their right spot and sterilizing them. Thankfully, the colors helped guide me, but even so, the colors are sometimes too similar to each other.
So to make sure we get it right, we also look at the shape, size, angulation, and presence or absence of hooks when organizing or placing the brackets, because sometimes the markings are so subtle that we can easily confuse an upper bracket with a lower bracket.
Colored dots on metal brackets
Depending on the manufacturer, your metal braces will have either red dots all around, or a multitude of color codes. Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal rule for color coding brackets – it would’ve made our job slightly easier.
The brackets on your left side will have markings on the upper left corner for the upper teeth and the lower left corner for the lower teeth. Similarly, the right side brackets will have markings on the upper right corner for the upper teeth and the lower right corner for the lower teeth. So, away from the midline and towards the gums.
Some brackets, like the metal tubes located on the molars, will sometimes have permanent colored dots because aesthetics isn’t usually an issue that far back inside the mouth.
Often, colored dots will expose a groove in the metal once they come off, or a tiny number etched into the metal. This helps identify the bracket under a magnifying glass. It’s useful if multiple brackets need to be placed again, so they don’t get mixed up.
And lastly, some metal braces (especially self-ligating ones) don’t have colored dots at all, but have permanently engraved numbers instead.
Colored dots on ceramic brackets
Ceramic brackets are just as diverse when it comes to colored markings. They must be handled with care because the markings are less sticky and can rub off easily. I’ve rarely seen markings on clear braces last more than a day.
You’ll either see single-colored dots away from the midline, close to your gums, like with the metal braces or double dots, usually on the lower arch. Because they’re so hard to see, some clear brackets also have colored lines to help with positioning them on the right axis.
Once the colored markings come off, you may notice a round groove, or “hole”, where the color once stood. This is a common feature and helps identify the bracket if it needs to be checked.
How do you remove the colored dots from your brackets?
Your orthodontist probably informed you that the color IDs are temporary and will wash off once you brush your teeth. But here you are, weeks later, and a couple of annoying dots are still staring at you in the mirror.
Will your orthodontist think you’re not brushing enough? Or you’ve just had enough because they’re the first thing you see when you open your mouth. Not to worry, we’ll help you out.
Those colored dots are nothing but a waxy paint that’s sometimes stickier or thicker than usual, so it holds on to the bracket. All you have to do is gently scrape it off. Grab a pointy tool, like a needle, a safety pin, or a sharp toothpick, and use it to remove the paint. Brush off the rest, rinse and repeat until it’s all gone.
- Do NOT press too hard or push from an angle – you risk causing your bracket to come off.
- Do NOT use your fingernails – they’re not precise enough and you can accidentally hook the entire bracket and remove it.
If you’re not comfortable doing this at home, just wait for your next appointment and ask your orthodontist to do it for you – after all, it’s not your job to mess with your braces, but it’s not rocket science either.
And remember, any time you get a new bracket, you might encounter the same colored dots, so it’s about time you knew what they were and how to deal with them.
It’s perfectly normal to be worried about looks when it comes to braces. That first glance in the mirror after getting your brackets on is a memory to last you a lifetime.
When placing clear braces, I always take the colored IDs off immediately, to reveal the pristine ceramic or sapphire to my patients. But with the metal ones, I admit, I sometimes forget to get rid of those pesky dots. Now that you learned how to do it, you can solve this problem on your own.