Self-Ligating vs Traditional Braces: An Honest Comparison

On the hunt for the perfect set of braces, it’s common to shop around and get opinions from various orthodontists. And you might run into a heated debate: self-ligating braces versus traditional braces.

Some orthodontists are all about self-ligating braces, saying they’re sleek and fast, while others stick to traditional braces, claiming self-ligation is overrated. Who’s got it right? We’re here to break it down with an honest comparison from a dental professional, so you can choose what’s best for your smile.

When it comes to orthodontic treatment, braces play a crucial role in aligning and straightening your teeth, but they’re not all created equal.

There are two main types of fixed braces: self-ligating braces and traditional braces. While they look similar, and may even have similar results, the process is significantly different. Let’s explore their mechanisms.

Mechanism of Self-Ligating Braces

Self-ligating braces work through a unique design that eliminates the need for elastic ties to hold the archwires in place. Instead, these braces have a small, specialized clip or a sliding door mechanism on each bracket.

This efficient orthodontic system allows for easier cleaning, more comfort, and reduced treatment time compared to traditional braces. It also offers a more modern and sleek look thanks to the smaller brackets and the lack of bands that can stain and draw attention.

Some advantages of self-ligating braces include:

  • Less friction between the wire and brackets
  • Better oral hygiene due to fewer places for plaque to hide
  • Potentially fewer and quicker adjustments

Mechanism of Traditional Braces

Traditional braces consist of brackets, wires, and elastic ligatures (small rubber bands) that apply pressure and hold the archwire in place. Even though traditional braces require more regular adjustments and can sometimes be less comfortable, they still offer excellent results.

Some points to consider with traditional braces are:

  • Various color options for elastic ligatures
  • Lower cost compared to self-ligating braces
  • Reliability in achieving desired tooth movements


There is no significant difference in the long run between self-ligating braces (SLBs) and traditional braces. However, some orthodontists who work exclusively with SLBs claim they are much faster than traditional braces.

A key factor in this comparison is friction. In orthodontics, low is generally good, but added friction can offer more control during treatment. Since SLBs are advertised as low friction, it’s important to understand what that means and how low friction can sometimes be detrimental.

Self-ligating brackets allow the wire to move freely. This helps with faster alignment compared to traditional brackets. But if the wire moves too freely, it can’t express certain important tooth movements like torque (teeth inclination). For most orthodontists, myself included, traditional braces are better at fine-tuning results.

Final results also depend on the brand of brackets, and there is a wide variability in both SLBs and traditional. In the end, it’s hard to say which is better since we can’t create a clear comparison between the two.


If you like colorful braces, traditional braces offer customization with different colored bands.

However, few patients know that self-ligating braces can also benefit from a pop of color at some point during the treatment. This is because your orthodontist will most likely use power chains to close small gaps. These power chains come in different colors, not just silver and clear.

If you’re interested more discreet look, SLBs appear smaller and sleeker, but you can make traditional braces less noticeable too, with metal ties or elastic silver ties.

Lastly, if you’re looking to get ceramic braces, both traditional and self-ligating brackets offer this option. Traditional clear braces are smaller and more low-profile compared to clear SLBs, but the ligatures on them do stain. In contrast, ceramic SLBs don’t turn as yellow, but they are much bulkier to be able to accommodate the self-ligating mechanism.

Clear self-ligating brackets


Both SLBs and traditional braces are equally comfortable. SLBs can be a bit more comfortable because they are smaller and often lack the bracket hooks that are traumatic for so many patients.

As for clear braces, traditional ones are smaller than clear SLBs, making them a more comfortable option for some. Ceramic braces, despite being bulkier, have rounded edges that make them easier to tolerate. However, their bulkiness may be an obstacle for some when it comes to closing their lips.

Treatment Time

SLBs are thought to have shorter treatment times, although more research is needed to support this claim. Proponents of SLBs often showcase patients achieving faster results, often twice as fast as traditional braces.

This, in my opinion, can be an exaggeration. I’m more tempted to believe the difference is something like 3-4 months. Treatment time also depends on the orthodontist’s skill and experience. SLBs are advertised as this magic bullet, but the truth is there is a learning curve, and if you don’t know specific tricks, they won’t work better than traditional brackets.


SLBs take only seconds to open and close, saving time during appointments. In comparison, metal ligatures on traditional braces can take as long as 10 minutes, while colored ties take about 2-3 minutes.

Additionally, the newer generation of SLBs requires fewer total wires to finish up treatment, sometimes as few as three wires, while traditional braces typically need more wire progressions.

Changing wires less often can be beneficial for both the clinic and the patients. My patients often complain about the pain associated with their new wire, and reducing that discomfort is a huge advantage. Less work on the wires also means less chair time and fewer appointments.

So, from this perspective, I consider self-ligating braces to be better than traditional ones.


Both types of braces require similar maintenance efforts. Food can get stuck in any type of braces, but clear self-ligating braces are notorious for collecting debris around them since they’re so large.

Traditional braces with colored ties can become discolored and retain plaque, while metal SLBs are considered the most hygienic option. However, some studies point to SLBs retaining bacteria as well because of all the clips, springs, and small parts.


The cost of braces can vary widely based on several factors, including the type of braces, geographic location, and individual orthodontic needs. Self-ligating braces (SLBs) are often more expensive than traditional ones because of their advanced technology and the perceived benefits they offer, such as shorter treatment times and fewer office visits.

When considering clear braces, you can expect to pay slightly more for both self-ligating and traditional types due to the aesthetic appeal and material costs. Here’s an expanded table including clear options:

Type of BracesStandard Cost RangeClear Braces Cost RangeRetainer Costs
Traditional$3,000 – $7,000$3,500 – $7,500$300 – $600
Self-Ligating$4,000 – $8,000$4,500 – $8,500$300 – $600

The inclusion of retainers in the overall cost will depend on the orthodontic practice. Some may include the cost of post-treatment retainers in their initial quote, while others may charge extra for them.

You might be wondering about the proven differences between self-ligating braces (SLBs) and traditional braces. Let’s take a look at what some studies have to say.

One significant claim of SLBs users is that they can avoid extractions in most patients. This can sound encouraging, but I find it misleading. In one study, the researchers found that bracket type made no significant difference in the extraction decision. This means that both SLBs and traditional braces had similar results when it came to tooth extraction.

Another source states that torque and tip control might be compromised in SLBs due to the greater play of the archwire in the bracket slot. This means that SLBs might not be as effective in controlling the movement of your teeth as traditional braces. Recent developments have fixed this problem by using hybrid SLBs, a combination of passive and active self-ligating braces that allow more control.

This book on self-ligation in orthodontics points out that some studies have shown potential benefits of SLBs, such as reduced chair time and a more comfortable treatment experience for patients. This might be an appealing factor for you when considering your options for braces.

A paper discussing treatment efficiency with SLBs provides some conflicting information. They argue that there is not enough concrete evidence that SLBs consistently offer better treatment outcomes or shorter treatment duration when compared to traditional braces.

Remember that these studies are often done on a small batch of patients and involve multiple brands of traditional and self-ligating braces. The orthodontist’s style and preference also comes into play when researching braces.

Every patient is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. To make the best choice for your specific needs, consult with your orthodontist and ask them to provide you with their professional opinion on self-ligating vs traditional braces.

What to Consider

Before choosing the type of braces, consider the following:

  • Cost: Both SLBs and traditional braces have varying costs, depending on the specific system and materials used. Make sure to factor in the expense of each option when making your decision.
  • Convenience: While SLBs are often marketed as being faster than traditional braces, this may not always be the case for your specific dental needs. It’s essential not to rely solely on the claim that SLBs are quicker.
  • Aesthetics: Consider the appearance of the braces, as certain options may be more or less visible. Keep in mind that clear options for both SLBs and traditional braces may deliver slower results.

My Professional Advice

Based on my experience as an orthodontist, here are some suggestions for selecting the best braces for you:

  • If you want faster results, steer clear of clear options for both traditional braces and SLBs, as they tend to work more slowly.
  • Self-ligating braces aren’t always better than traditional braces. Thoroughly research both options and consult with your orthodontist to determine the best choice for your specific needs.
  • Check your orthodontist’s track record with SLBs. Remember that only 30-40% of professionals use them, and they’re not always that simple. You will need to learn how to control and manage SLBs properly.

In summary, weigh the factors mentioned above and make an informed decision when choosing between self-ligating braces and traditional braces.

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