8 Metal Braces Alternatives to Upgrade Your Smile

Are you looking to straighten your teeth but don’t like the idea of metal braces? Luckily, we have many braces alternatives to avoid that traditional metal “look.” Some of these options don’t even include braces at all.

I’ve selected 8 metal braces alternatives, so there’s something in here for everyone. Some solutions are more targeted, while others fix your entire bite. You’ll discover the basics and pros and cons for each so you can make an informed decision.

Why NOT metal braces?

Before we dive into all the alternatives, let’s look at why some people dislike traditional metal braces. If you’re one of them, at least you’ll have your doubts confirmed.

First up, metal braces accumulate a lot of plaque. Even the most diligent patients eventually get one or two cavities or white spot lesions at the end of treatment. Many of my teenage patients end up with discoloration on their teeth and learn about the importance of brushing the hard way.

Secondly, metal braces need a lot of adjustments and visits. If you eat the wrong thing, expect to pop off a few brackets. These emergency appointments coupled with monthly visits can get time-consuming and inconvenient.

For this reason, metal braces are not a good idea if you travel often or live far away from the orthodontist’s office.

Lastly, metal braces can be sharp and uncomfortable. Depending on the brand, their edges and hooks can cause sores and calloused cheeks.

Metal braces discomfort

These are just a few of their downsides, but, if you’re stuck with metal braces, they are still one of the most effective treatment options, so at least you can take comfort in that. Now let’s explore other solutions:

1. Clear aligner trays – The #1 Choice

Clear aligner trays are removable braces that use a series of clear plastic trays to align teeth. They’re custom-made to fit your teeth snugly, which makes them very comfortable.

While not exactly invisible, clear aligners mostly go unnoticed. People with more complex cases may get “attachments” on their teeth, which can be more visible. These small bumps of composite help move teeth more efficiently.

Depending on how crooked your teeth are, you’ll need to go through 20 to 30 aligner trays. Most people change them every week, which keeps them fresh and stain-free.

Another great thing about aligners is the fact that they’re removable. This means no dietary restrictions and regular brushing and flossing. 

You can still enjoy your favorite foods as long as you wear your trays for the requested 20-22 hours per day.

  • PROS: Clear aligners are highly esthetic, removable, and easy to clean. They also need fewer visits to the orthodontist than traditional braces.
  • CONS: Clear aligners may not work for severe cases or patients with compliance issues. They can also be more expensive than traditional braces.
Invisalign and attachments

2. Braces / Aligners Hybrid Treatment

Another option for correcting teeth alignment is a combination of traditional braces and clear aligners called Hybrid Aligner Treatment. This approach is recommended for individuals with more complex bite and alignment problems.

With this approach, you’ll wear traditional braces for a few months to correct the most difficult issues. Once the teeth have reached a certain phase in treatment, aligners like Invisalign are used to finish the straightening process.

The braces / aligners hybrid method removes some of the limitations of clear aligners, which means you can enjoy this discreet type of treatment even if your dental issues are complex. Ask your orthodontist if you’re a candidate.

  • PROS: This approach can fix complex orthodontic cases and achieve the same results as traditional braces in less time.
  • CONS: Wearing traditional braces is required for a period of time and not everyone will qualify for this type of treatment.

What the experts think:
“Some patients can be treated with aligners alone, but, in many cases, the aligners must be modified, or used with auxiliaries or fixed appliances as complete or segmented bond ups.”

Wheeler, T.T.: Invisalign material studies

3. Ceramic braces – Timeless Classics

If you’re not a candidate for clear aligners, the next best thing is ceramic braces. Ceramic brackets are made up of a tooth-colored material that blends right in.

Another option of clear braces is sapphire braces. They’re more translucent than ceramic brackets, but still fragile.

While clear fixed braces are beautiful, there’s no denying that they’re very sensitive and stain easily. To keep them looking pristine for longer, you’ll need to watch what you eat and clean them often.

Some people don’t like the look of metal wires paired with ceramic braces. You also have the option of tooth-colored wires to avoid any hint of metal on your teeth. 

Keep in mind, though, that the wire coating can come off if scratched, so it’s not an ideal solution.

  • PROS: Ceramic braces are less noticeable than traditional metal braces. They can be a good option for adult patients who want a more discreet orthodontic treatment.
  • CONS: Ceramic braces break easily and are prone to yellowing and staining. They’re also bulkier, which can lead to trapped food particles and plaque accumulation.
Ceramic braces

4. Lingual braces – Nowhere in Sight

Lingual braces are custom-made metal braces that sit behind the teeth. Since the brackets stick to the back of the teeth instead of the front, they’re truly invisible.

This type of bracket is much slimmer compared to traditional, front-facing brackets. However, some people still find them uncomfortable when pressing against their tongue.

Because of how customizable they are, lingual brackets are a good fit for all types of adult cases. In the right hand, lingual braces can fix complex bite and alignment issues.

  • PROS: Lingual braces are virtually invisible from the front. No one will know you’re wearing them, and you’ll have fun noticing your smile improve.
  • CONS: Lingual braces are more difficult to clean and maintain than traditional braces. The price will likely be higher, and finding a practitioner who offers them is more challenging.
Lingual braces

5. Partial braces – The Shortcut

Partial braces are an orthodontic device that only focuses on correcting a few teeth at a time. They’re mainly a cosmetic treatment focused on aligning the front teeth.

Orthodontists use partial braces on children as a temporary solution until it’s time to get full braces. But adults can enjoy partial braces, too. Usually, adults will opt for partial ceramic braces to make them even less noticeable.

Partial braces are great at treating minor relapses if you’ve had braces before. They’re also effective at aligning mild crowding or closing small gaps.

  • PROS: Partial braces are a cost-effective cosmetic solution for people with mild misalignments. It’s best to resort to partial braces only if you have a healthy bite.
  • CONS: Partial braces are not suitable for patients with complex orthodontic issues. You will also need a retainer afterward, which increases their cost.

6. Retainers – From passive to Active

Retainers are a type of appliance designed to keep teeth in place once they’re aligned. They come in many shapes and sizes: some will look a lot like aligners, while others are more bulky and visible.

Certain retainers can be modified to work as “active” devices and put pressure on teeth. With the right amount of force, retainers can align slightly crowded teeth or close gaps in record time

Such retainer types include Hawley retainers and a device called the Inman Aligner.

  • PROS: Retainers are easy to wear, comfortable, and, best of all, removable. They’re esthetic and quite affordable. Once the treatment is over, you won’t need a new retainer and can wear the one you have to maintain the results.
  • CONS: Retainers are only suitable for treating minor issues. They’re usually slower and less effective compared to conventional braces. Retainers only focus on straightening the front teeth. They can’t correct your bite.
Active Hawley Retainer

7. Veneers – Seeking Perfection

Veneers are a cosmetic dental treatment you can get at your dentist’s office. It involves placing thin custom-made shells over the front of teeth to improve their look. 

These shells can be made from ceramic (the most expensive) or resin (the most affordable). 

There are two types of veneers: no-prep and traditional veneers. No-prep veneers are very easy; your dentist simply glues them on. Traditional veneers sacrifice part of the enamel so that the result looks more natural and less bulky.

If you have mild spacing or crowding, with the right setup it’s possible to achieve straight teeth with veneers. Keep in mind that patient selection is very important. Ask your dentist if you’re a candidate.

  • PROS: Veneers are a quick and effective way to improve the appearance of teeth. You’ll love the difference if you have discolored, misshapen, or crooked teeth. Veneers are also more conservative than full crowns or other types of restorations.
  • CONS: Veneers are strictly a cosmetic treatment. They don’t address any underlying orthodontic or bite issues. No-prep veneers are not suitable for everyone, and traditional veneers can be invasive.
Traditional Veneers

8. Bonding & Enamel Reshaping

Whenever we add tooth-colored resin to reshape and improve a tooth, we call that bonding. Enamel reshaping takes care of certain areas of teeth, like sharp cusps and irregular edges that don’t look too flattering.

Bonding adds to the teeth, while enamel reshaping removes some tooth structure. Both methods make teeth look smooth and beautiful.

Orthodontists often use bonding and enamel reshaping besides braces, that’s how they achieve that influencer smile. But your dentist can also achieve a similar effect without resorting to braces. 

Bonding and reshaping address tooth irregularities and can’t influence your teeth’s position. If you have moderate crowding, you will still need braces.

  • PROS: Bonding and reshaping are quick and affordable ways to improve irregular teeth. They can also be a more conservative option than full crowns or other restorations.
  • CONS: Bonding and reshaping are cosmetic treatments and aren’t meant to replace braces. They also need some removal of natural tooth structure, which can be irreversible. Composite resin is less durable than other types of restorations.

Choose what works for You

Ultimately, you’ll be the one living with your braces, so you have to be at peace with your decision. Some orthodontists can be more assertive and convince you to choose an option that you don’t like or have the budget for.

Here’s a bit of advice from your friendly orthodontist:

  • You CAN change your mind. If fixed braces don’t work for you, you can switch to clear aligners and vice versa. There will be extra costs, but it’s possible.
  • Clear aligners are not really clear. As you’ve seen in the picture above, attachments, buttons, elastics, and saliva bubbles make aligners visible from up close. However, they have many advantages, so I still believe they’re worth it.
  • Whatever you choose, be patient. Most braces, fixed or removable, will take longer than expected. Check this article on what to do if braces are taking too long. Hang in there, and do your part.

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