Traditional Braces: What They Are and Which Type to Choose

When you hear the words “traditional braces”, you might think of a mouth full of metal and a long, uncomfortable journey to straighter teeth. While it’s true that traditional braces have a reputation for being bulky and unattractive, they’ve also been around for decades and are still one of the most effective ways to correct crooked teeth.

Braces have come a long way, but conventional braces are still a huge part of my practice because they are so reliable. Patients also like them because they’re more budget friendly. So if you’re confused about which type of traditional braces to choose, it’s time to explore your options.

What are Traditional Braces?

Traditional braces, also known as conventional or classic braces, are a type of orthodontic device used to straighten teeth and correct various bite issues. The main thing to know about them is that they’re fixed on the front part of the teeth and can only be removed by a dental professional.

While metal braces are the most “iconic” look of traditional orthodontic treatment, classic braces now come in many shapes and materials. You can choose from ceramic, sapphire, composite and even gold. We’ll cover all these types of brackets in the sections below.

Another thing that separates traditional braces from modern braces is how they work. The brackets themselves are “old school”, with 4 wings and a horizontal slot in the middle. This slot hosts the main wire, which is then secured with a rubber band called an elastic tie, or O ring.

If this all sounds complicated, here’s how it looks:

The rubber bands come in different colors, or can be silver or clear to maintain a more discreet look. The colors are there just for fun (or to make braces more appealing to our younger patients), but the elastic itself serves the purpose of holding the wire in.

All types of traditional braces have this structure, but you should know that self-ligating braces have eliminated the need for these tiny rubber bands and use a small clip instead. We won’t cover self-ligating braces here, as they’re considered to be more modern and not fully “traditional”, but this is just an arbitrary definition.

Types of Traditional Braces

Traditional braces come in many shapes and sizes, and they’re typically divided by material. Here are your main options:

Metal Braces

Metal braces are the most traditional braces and also the most popular. They’re made of medical grade stainless steel, which is an excellent material because it’s durable, hygienic and easy to manufacture.

Metal braces are the most noticeable type of braces, but they are also the most affordable. They are often used for children and teenagers because they’re less bulky and therefore easier to clean, but adults also often choose metal braces.

Not all metal braces are created equal. Some are bulkier and sharper, while others are smaller with rounded edges. It all depends on the manufacturer and the orthodontist’s preference. Some of the most popular brands of metal braces include:

  • 3M Unitek
  • American Orthodontics
  • Ormco
  • Rocky Mountain Orthodontics

When you’re shopping for orthodontic treatments, you can ask your orthodontist which type of brackets they prefer to use, since brand quality is really important, but it’s ultimately up to your doctor’s preference.

Ceramic Braces

Ceramic braces are similar to metal braces, but the brackets are made of clear or tooth-colored ceramic material. They use the same system as metal braces, with rectangular brackets and metal wires, but you can also get tooth-colored wires and ligatures.

Ceramic braces are a popular choice for adults who want to straighten their teeth without the noticeable appearance of metal braces. The trade-off is that they’re bulkier and can stain after some time. You should note that some ceramic brackets can be less translucent than others, so choose your provider well.

Some of the most popular brands of ceramic braces include:

  • Clarity Advanced by 3M Unitek
  • Symetri Clear by Ormco
  • Glam by Forestadent

Sapphire Braces

Sapphire braces are even more translucent than ceramic braces, making them almost invisible, especially if you add a tooth-colored wire.

Sapphire brackets are made of monocrystalline sapphire, which is a clear and strong material. They work in the same way as metal and ceramic braces, with brackets and wires, but they almost act like a crystal and are the least noticeable of traditional braces.

These little jewelries are a popular choice for people who want something discreet for straightening their teeth and are willing to splurge on a more expensive option. Some of the most popular brands of traditional sapphire braces include:

  • PURE sapphire by Ortho Technology
  • Inspire ICE by Ormco
  • Radiance Plus by American Orthodontics

Composite Braces

Plastic braces, also called composite braces, use tooth-colored brackets made of composite resin material instead of metal. They are aesthetic but more fragile than ceramic braces and can stain more over time.

However, composite braces are softer than enamel and less likely to damage teeth, making them suitable for bottom teeth where there is more risk of damage to top teeth when biting.

Plastic braces are also ideal for patients allergic to metal or with sensitivities to metal orthodontic appliances. They’re also the most affordable option out of all the clear traditional braces.

Gold Braces

Gold braces are a unique option that offers an interesting look. They are made of gold-plated stainless steel, which is exceptionally hygienic and doesn’t contain nickel. Gold braces work in the same way as metal braces, with brackets and wires.

If you’re wondering why gold-plated stainless steel instead of 100% gold, it’s because pure gold is very soft and easily bendable, and we don’t want that for braces. However, plating still gets the job done.

The Modern Version of Traditional Braces

Traditional braces have come a long way since their inception. Modern braces are much smaller, more comfortable, and less noticeable than the traditional metal braces of the past. In this section, we will discuss two types of modern traditional braces: mini braces and digital braces.

Mini Braces

Mini braces are a great option for patients with small teeth, as well as for kids and those who only need partial, short-term braces.

The brackets used in mini braces are much smaller than those used in traditional braces, which makes them less noticeable and more comfortable, which is why they were invented in the first place.

However, one disadvantage of mini braces is that the movements aren’t as accurate due to the bracket’s small size compared to the surface of the tooth. This can lead to longer treatment times and less precise movements.

As an orthodontist, I love having the option of mini braces but only use them when I absolutely have to.

Digital Braces

Digital braces are based on advanced technologies that allow for highly precise bracket positioning and customized treatment. We call them digital because new technologies are involved every step of the way.

First, we scan the patient’s teeth, then the brackets themselves are custom-made to fit the curvature of each tooth. Wires are also custom-bent, which is far more accurate than bending them manually.

And lastly, when it comes to application, these custom-made braces are cemented using a special 3D-printed tray that takes the guesswork out of bracket positioning. So every step of the way, we strive to take the human error out of the process.

This leads to superior results and faster treatment times. Because it’s a new technique, and also because clear aligners have recently become more popular, digital traditional braces aren’t so universally available, but we’re hoping this will change soon.

How to choose the right traditional braces for you

If you’re looking into traditional braces, you mainly have to decide whether aesthetics are important to you or not. All traditional braces get the job done, but some do it a little faster. So when it’s time to choose, here’s what to consider:

Age. Most young or teenage patients get metal braces for a good reason. Some of our teen patients struggle to maintain the perfect oral hygiene that braces require. As a result, their gums get inflamed, or worse, they get cavities. Metal braces are the easiest to clean, and the most durable. They don’t break as easily as their ceramic counterparts, and they don’t stain.

Budget. We all know that when money is tight, our budget makes our decision for us. So if you’re looking for the cheapest option, metal braces are the most affordable . Lucky for you, they’re also the fastest and most reliable, so it’s a win-win!

Job requirements. Whether your job demands that you look your best, or you just want to feel beautiful and not have to deal with the “metal mouth” look, it’s time to turn to composite, ceramic or sapphire braces. Composite is the cheapest of them all, but it also stains faster. Sapphire is nearly transparent, and ceramic braces are the most popular of clear conventional braces.

Allergies. If you have a nickel allergy (which is quite rare), then ceramic, sapphire or composite braces with nickel-free wires are a no-brainer. Gold braces also work, although they do contain some nickel underneath the gold plating. Or you can skip traditional braces altogether and choose aligners just to be safe.

Treatment complexity. Clear traditional braces get the job done, but sometimes they can lengthen treatment time because of the extra friction involved. Metal wires slide much better in metal slots, so if your case is complex and you’re dealing with extractions, surgery, and 24+ months of treatment time, it’s sometimes best to choose metal braces. But again, this is up to you. Your orthodontist will make it work either way.


So, there you have it – a brief overview of the different types of traditional braces available to you. While metal braces may be the most common, clear or tooth-colored braces and offer a more discreet option for those who are self-conscious about their appearance.

When it comes to choosing the right type of braces for you, it’s important to consider your lifestyle, budget, and personal preferences. Ultimately, your orthodontist will be the one helping you make your decision, so don’t be afraid to ask their opinion as well.

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