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Self-ligating braces are a popular alternative to traditional metal braces that use small elastic ties or “ligatures” to hold the wire in place. Instead, self-ligating braces use a specialized door or clip to secure the wire, which can potentially reduce treatment time and discomfort.
There’s been a lot of debate on whether self-ligating braces are faster or better than regular braces. Is this closing mechanism so game-changing? As an orthodontist, I’ve seen first hand how powerful self-ligating brackets can be, but they’re not for everyone.
In this article, we’re going to explore the 9 potential benefits and drawbacks of self-ligating braces, and help you determine if they are the right choice for you.
Disclaimer: I’m a licensed orthodontist on a quest to make information on dental braces accessible and easy to understand. However, I’m not YOUR doctor, so please check with your orthodontist before doing anything to your braces, and don’t be afraid to ask them any questions you might have.
1. Self-ligating braces need less tightening
Self-ligating braces can be a great time-saver for orthodontic treatment. Not only do they typically require fewer office visits than traditional braces, but they may also reduce treatment time overall.
Many orthodontists claim to be able to treat their patients in 12 visits or fewer using self-ligating braces, which can be super convenient for busy people or those who live far from their orthodontist’s office.
While traditional braces need to be tightened every six weeks or sooner, you can go as long as eight weeks between visits with self-ligating braces. This is because the elastic ties on regular braces loosen up and no longer hold the wire as tightly in place, while the clip on self-ligating braces is unaffected by saliva or food debris.
If the average orthodontic treatment lasts 18 to 24 months, that could mean 9 to 12 sessions, basically cutting your visits in half. All while the self-ligating system is continually applying light forces to your teeth.
2. Self-ligating braces can reduce treatment Length
So far, there haven’t been any convincing studies to prove that self-ligating braces (or aligners for that matter), can align teeth at a faster rate. However, many orthodontists are sold on Damon and other types of self-ligating braces because, clinically, they really do seem faster than classic braces.
I believe that alignment, the initial stage of braces, is where self-ligating braces shine. This is because the archwire friction is so low. Metal slides better on metal, compared to metal on elastic ties, making the self-ligation alignment process fast and seamless.
As a result, orthodontists can save as much as 3 months off their initial estimation by speeding up the initial stages of treatment. Obviously, this will depend on the type of misalignment you have and on your orthodontist’s skill.
3. Self-ligating braces are less painful
Pain is highly subjective, and that couldn’t be more true if you’re wearing braces. Many patients tend to say the same thing about self-ligating braces: they hurt the most the day after bonding, and then it’s smooth sailing from there.
According to this study, traditional braces hurt the most after the second appointment and hurt for a longer time overall, while the self-ligating braces were reportedly less painful over the course of treatment.
While it would be interesting to hear from patients who have personally experienced both types of braces, these studies will have to do for now.
4. Self-Ligating Braces are more comfortable
Self-ligating braces are often considered more comfortable than traditional braces because they have a smoother profile and don’t have sharp bracket wings that are used to support elastic ligatures. Some don’t even have hooks.
The absence of these features means that self-ligating braces don’t have sharp or protruding edges that can irritate the lips, cheeks, or gums, which can be a common problem with traditional braces. As a bonus, they’re easier to clean, too.
While metallic self-ligating braces are generally considered to be very comfortable, ceramic self-ligating braces may not be as impressive. They may have smoother edges than regular ceramic brackets, but the bulky ceramic clip adds to the bracket’s volume.
Some patients wearing ceramic self-ligating braces complain about having difficulties closing their lips over the braces, but this can be true for traditional ceramic braces as well.
5. Self Ligating braces are more discreet
Self-ligating braces are more discreet because they have a more uniform and sleek appearance compared to traditional braces, and most importantly, they don’t stain. Regular braces use elastic ties that can be noticeable and start to look bad after a couple of weeks, especially if you choose light colors.
Self-ligating braces don’t need these elastic ties because they have a small clip or door that does the same thing. Plus, metal self-ligating braces are smaller in size compared to traditional metal braces, which makes them even more subtle.
You could go with conventional ceramic braces, but they have the same staining problem. The transparent elastic ties that hold the wire can turn yellow in as little as a couple of weeks, making your teeth look yellow in the process.
The clip on ceramic self-ligating braces eliminates this problem, so if you’re willing to go for a slightly bulkier, but whiter bracket, choose this option instead.
The aesthetic downside of self-ligating braces is that they still need elastic power chains to close spaces between teeth. These power chains share the same features as elastic ties and can sometimes stain and become noticeable.
6. Self-ligating braces cost more
The cost of self-ligating braces can vary depending on multiple of factors, such as the specific type of self-ligating braces, the severity of the orthodontic issue being treated, and the duration of treatment. In general, self-ligating braces tend to cost more than traditional braces, although the difference in cost may not be significant for some patients.
Self-ligating braces are more complex to design and build, and orthodontists purchase them from manufacturers at a higher cost, which justifies a slightly higher price tag. However, you have to keep in mind that you’ll mainly be paying for your doctor’s resources and expertise, so in the end, the treatment costs will even out.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), the average cost of orthodontic treatment in the United States is around $5,000 to $6,000 for metal braces and $6,000 to $7,000 for ceramic braces, so consider adding up to $1000 to that cost when choosing self-ligating braces.
7. Self-ligating braces break more frequently
You can often expect a bracket to pop off while wearing conventional braces, but self-ligating braces have an even bigger problem: the door can become unhinged or the clip can break, making the bracket unusable.
These clips are made of a durable material, but they can still break if they are subjected to too much force or if they are not properly maintained. Some common causes of clip breakage in self-ligating braces include:
Replacing damaged self-ligating brackets is expensive and not all orthodontists have spare self-ligating brackets readily available, which can slow down treatment.
8. Self-ligating braces aren’t suited for difficult cases
While self-ligating braces can be effective in most cases, they may not be the best option for more complex or severe orthodontic issues. As we described above, certain parts of the brackets can break or become stuck, requiring bracket replacements and slowing down treatment.
Cases that call for extractions and/or orthognathic surgery can take more time than average, and using self-ligating braces can add roadblocks to the treatment instead of making it quicker.
Since they’re so small, self-ligating braces aren’t great tools for straightening rotated teeth, especially if your teeth are on the larger side. Moving teeth long distances using small brackets can also prove a little more difficult.
But these are all technicalities, many doctors have managed to treat plenty of cases of all complexities using self-ligating braces, so it all depends on their confidence and skills.
9. You’ll still need to wear rubber bands with self-ligating braces
Some patients expect their treatment with self-ligating braces to be on auto-pilot. That’s not really the case. You’ll still need to go through a succession of wires and wear rubber bands to settle your bite.
Many patients confuse rubber bands with elastic (or rubber) ties, those colorful O rings that go on each tooth. Well, if you haven’t done your research already, rubber bands are larger latex rings that you hook on multiple brackets and change multiple times per day because they lose elasticity.
You’ll most likely need to wear rubber bands with your self-ligating braces whenever your doctor instructs you to. This will help correct and settle your bite, which braces can’t do on their own.
If your braces don’t have hooks and aren’t protruded enough to support elastic wear, your orthodontist will probably install hooks on your archwire.
Are self-ligating braces worth it?
Lastly, you’re probably wondering if self-ligating braces and their many perks are worth it for YOU. That depends, what are your goals?
Are you on a budget, or are you looking for a treatment option for your child? Go for traditional metal braces, they work just as well and have been the most popular option for literally a century.
Are you a busy professional with no time to go to the orthodontist’s office every 4 to 6 weeks? Go for self-ligating braces and take great care of them so you won’t have to go in for repairs.
Metal or ceramic? Both are great options, and both are discreet, but keep in mind that self-ligating ceramic braces can be a little bulkier. But who knows, that might change soon.
Overall, I recommend choosing self-ligating braces if your doctor offers this option. Not all orthodontists will work with self-ligation, either because their patients can’t afford them in their part of the world, or they’re just not familiar with the mechanics and prefer regular braces to do the same thing.
But if you shop around and do your research, I’m sure you’ll find a great office that offers them. Good luck with your braces journey!
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: