If you’re looking to get clear braces, I’m sure you’ve seen those images of pristine, stunning ceramic braces. But do those stock photos and beautiful smiling models really reflect the truth? If you’re wondering whether ceramic braces stain in real life, you’re in the right place.
So let’s set aside all the marketing claims for a moment. I’m going to speak from real experience, from what patients have to say, and based on actual studies.
Ceramic braces do stain with use. Not only do the elastic ligatures stain and turn yellow, but so do the ceramic brackets themselves. The amount of staining varies greatly from brand to brand, and it highly depends on the patient’s eating and oral hygiene habits.
This is not to say that ceramic braces are bad, or not worth it. Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll adjust your expectations a little bit. And if you’re on the fence about ceramic brackets, you can think again about their pros and cons compared to traditional metal ones.
Do ceramic braces stain?
When you first get ceramic brackets, they will look as pretty as Swarovski crystals in your mouth. Some brands are more transparent than others, so your braces can almost disappear and blend in with your teeth.
But then, you get the wires, the ligatures, the power chains, and all kinds of accessories, and all of a sudden, your braces don’t look that discreet anymore. In fact, they may be more noticeable than you expected.
You certainly don’t want to make your clear brackets more obvious by staining them. So how easily do ceramic brackets really stain?
There are three components that can make ceramic braces appear yellow: the ceramic brackets themselves, the elastic ties or power chains, and the glue underneath the bracket base.
Clear brackets will stain in time, and become discolored with aging. The amount of staining will depend on the brand and the material of the brackets. This will become obvious whenever you change a bracket – the new one will be much whiter than the neighboring, older brackets.
In my experience, clear brackets accumulate pigment and start to stain after 6-8 months, depending on the patient’s eating and brushing habits.
Clear elastic ties and power chains will also make clear brackets look yellow and unhygienic. These ties can stain in as little as two weeks, but you’ll be changing them at every visit. It’s best to choose elastic modules that have a little bit of tint to them, such as a shimmery pearl, smoke, or even white. You can also partly avoid this issue by getting self-ligating clear braces.
Lastly, clear braces use the same glue as regular braces, and while most orthodontists do their best to remove excess glue around the brackets, some of it will still remain. This braces glue is essentially a resin, so it will stain much easier and faster than ceramic.
Patients with clear braces also have a harder time, overall, cleaning their teeth. Clear braces can be bulky and fragile, which means food can get stuck around the brackets, and most patients are afraid to press too hard when brushing. This will result in more yellowing of the teeth themselves.
Which clear brackets turn yellow the most?
I’ve used many brands of clear braces, and have seen big variations. Some brackets are opaque and maintain their whiteness, while others are completely translucent and reflect anything that’s underneath.
In short, when it comes to material, there are three main types of clear brackets: plastic braces, polycrystalline ceramic brackets (ceramic braces), and monocrystalline ceramic brackets (sapphire braces).
Let’s look at what studies had to say about how well these braces performed in staining environments.
Plastic braces may look great in the beginning, but they end up staining quite early because of their porous nature. Their main advantage is cost and softness. We often need softer brackets on the bottom teeth, because patients often bite their bottom brackets and can risk chipping their enamel.
So a good aesthetic compromise is to use these plastic brackets in the bottom arch.
Studies have found that plastic braces stain the most when using common drinks such as tea, coffee and wine. However, they don’t become much more yellow than the enamel itself, so they still blend in to some degree.
Ceramic brackets are made of a special type of porcelain that’s similar to dental crowns, and are therefore very stable and stain resistant. However, dental crowns are covered in heavy glazing that keeps the same color for a lifetime. Ceramic brackets don’t have tthis glazing applied, so they can still experience some permanent staining.
This study experimented with different types of ceramic brackets and found that the degree of staining depends largely on the brand and the manufacturing process.
You may also notice how different in shape and opacity ceramic brackets can be. Some are clear, while some almost have a milk-ish color. Some are small and some are bulky.
If you have naturally yellow teeth, opaque ceramic brackets will look much whiter (and possibly quite strange) on your teeth. Like in this picture below:
Sapphire braces are almost as clear as glass. The same study demonstrated that these types of clear braces stain the least and experience the greatest color stability over time.
However, since sapphire brackets are so transparent, the brand of glue we use underneath really does make a difference. Some types of glue turn more yellow than others, according to this study, but don’t expect a huge difference. It’s merely an explanation why translucent braces can turn yellow over time.
Foods to avoid to keep your braces clear
If you want to minimize staining while wearing clear braces, here’s a list of highly pigmented foods and drinks to avoid:
Most Staining Foods
Most Staining Drinks
Before giving up your favorite foods and drinks altogether, there are some things you could do. Sipping coffee and tea through a straw could be a solution, although moderation is always more effective.
Have a glass of water by your side when eating and take a swip & swish every time you eat something pigmented.
Brush your teeth as soon as you can after eating, with the exception of acidic foods, where it’s best to wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth so you don’t hurt the enamel.
Lastly, switch to lighter versions of your favorite foods as soon as you can: white wine instead of red, white tea instead of black, white vinegar instead of balsamic, etc.
And if you think all of this is too much work, and not worth giving up your favorite foods, perhaps consider getting self-ligating metal braces.
Other factors that lead to yellow teeth
Yellowing Braces Glue
Clear braces, held in place by adhesive or glue, can develop a yellowish tint over time because of this adhesive. Much like a composite restoration, the glue is easily affected by pigmented, staining foods.
Any discolored excess glue will look like a yellow halo around brackets and can’t be removed until it’s time to take the braces off.
Solution: The yellowing may be linked to your diet and brushing routine. Scheduling frequent trips to the hygienist and avoiding pigmented foods can minimize this issue.
Smoking is a well-known culprit for teeth staining, and it doesn’t spare clear braces either. The tar and nicotine from smoking can stick to both the braces and teeth, leading to noticeable discoloration.
Solution: Quitting smoking or reducing tobacco use can not only benefit overall health but also help preserve the appearance of your clear braces and teeth.
Some mouthwashes, containing chlorhexidine for germ control, can contribute to stained braces and teeth. Regular use of chlorhexidine mouthwash may result in brownish stains that affect the look of your smile.
Prevention: If you use a chlorhexidine-containing mouthwash, avoid using it for more than three weeks in a row. If your dentist recommended it, consider discussing alternatives.
What patients say about ceramic braces
I hit up forums like Reddit and Quora plus some private groups to find out what people really think about clear braces, and here’s the scoop.
Many expressed regret, wishing they chose metal braces because the clear ones aren’t as invisible as promised. Staining emerged as a big concern, with some feeling self-conscious about their clear braces turning into yellow “blobs” on their teeth. Others said clear braces were bulky and they had to get metal on the bottom teeth anyway.
On the flip side, there are those who found clear braces worth it, highlighting how it transformed their smiles for the better. Advice floated around regarding ligatures and what color works best for clear braces. Some suggested using pearl or smoke ligatures to make the braces less noticeable, while others claimed it didn’t really make much of a difference.
In a nutshell, opinions are all over the place. Some wish they got metal braces, while others are happy with clear ones. If you’re thinking about getting clear braces, be ready for a mix of reviews.
Whatever you decide, remember that ligatures are the ones that get the most stained and you get new ones at every visit. As for ceramic brackets, they don’t stain to the extent that they become more yellow than the teeth themselves. But don’t expect them to maintain their pristine look long term.
Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth and gums 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:
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