What Does an Elastic Tie (Ligature) Actually Do?

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If you’re new to braces, you’ve probably wondered what those colored little rings do, aside from looking pretty. Well, they’re actually essential for holding everything together and moving teeth where they’re supposed to go.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the purpose of elastic ties, their pros and cons, and why you may not have gotten colored elastic ties on your braces.

We will also discuss the material of elastomers, the possible allergies to latex and its alternatives. Understanding the role that elastic ties play in the process of straightening teeth can help you have a better understanding of the treatment and what to expect.

What is the purpose of elastic ties (Ligatures)?

Elastic ties are also known as ligatures or O-rings. It’s easy to confuse these terms and refer to elastics as rubber bands, but there’s a huge difference.

Elastic ties are small latex rings that come in a variety of colors, while rubber bands are larger and stretch quite a lot, so you can be able to place them on the hooks of your braces. Your orthodontist secures the elastic tie during your visit, while rubber bands are meant to be worn by the patient and changed a few times per day.

The main purpose of elastic ties is to apply pressure to your teeth, helping them move into their desired positions. They work by connecting the brackets on your teeth to the archwire, which guides the movement of your teeth.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘tightening’ when talking to your orthodontist. Your elastic ties coupled with the archwire are what make your braces feel so tight. Brackets in themselves are passive, it’s the elastic ties and wire that do the heavy lifting.

Whenever your orthodontist changes your old ligatures with fresh ones, your braces become more active, so ligatures are very important for the course of your orthodontic treatment.

What are elastic ties made of?

Elastic ties, or ligatures, are made of a rubber-like material called elastomer. This material allows them to stretch when we applied to your brackets, and snap back into shape so they fit snugly around the bracket wings.

Elastomers are also known for their durability and ability to withstand the forces exerted on them during treatment, making them a reliable choice for use as elastic ties, but they do come with some disadvantages that we’ll cover below.

It’s worth noting that some people may be allergic to elastomers, particularly those that contain latex. Latex is a natural rubber that is commonly found in a variety of products, including elastic ties. If you have a history of allergies or sensitivities to latex, it is important to inform your orthodontist before starting treatment with braces.

You can still get braces with a latex allergy, although clear aligners are probably the best option. If you discover your allergy after getting traditional braces, don’t panic. Your orthodontist will most likely switch to latex-free ligatures and powerchains, or even switch to metal ligatures.

Elastic ties pros and cons

Elastic ties are the most widespread method of tightening braces, and they’re popular for a number of reasons, but they have some downsides too. Here are their pros and cons:

One of the biggest benefits is that they are very effective at moving your teeth into the desired position. They are also relatively inexpensive and easy to replace when they wear out. Since elastic ties are designed for temporary use, replacing them is always the fun part. They come in a variety of colors which is great for personalizing braces.

Another pro is that elastic ties mask the metallic aspect of brackets, making them look more flattering than the classic “metal mouth” we’ve all seen in movies. You can even play around with colors to make your teeth appear whiter, or match the color of your eyes.

On the other hand, the main drawback of elastic ties is that they lose elasticity after a couple of weeks, and a few of them can break or fall off. Check this article on what to do if your elastic tie comes off partially or completely.

Elastic ties can also be tough to keep clean, as food and bacteria can get stuck between the elastic tie and bracket. This causes them to swell and become unsanitary, which can contribute to a bad taste in your mouth, or even gum inflammation if your braces come in contact with your gums.

Some orthodontists may prefer self-ligating braces over traditional braces because they believe that elastic ties can create more friction with the archwire, potentially slowing down tooth movement. While this may be true, treatment times tend to level out with both conventional and self-ligating brackets.

Why didn’t you get colored elastic ties on your braces?

There could be a few reasons why you didn’t get colored elastic ties on your braces. One possibility is that you have self-ligating braces, which don’t require elastic ties because they have a built-in mechanism for holding the archwire in place.

You may have chosen self-ligating braces intentionally, or your parents may have chosen this option for you. If you’re a parent reading this, know that the highlight of having braces, for your kid, is getting to choose what color to wear each month. Kids don’t care much about straight teeth (yet), or oral hygiene. So it can be really disappointing when they don’t get to experience colorful braces like their friends.

You can still get some color on your self-ligating braces at some point during the orthodontic treatment. Your orthodontist will most likely use a powerchain for closing gaps, which looks a lot like connected elastic ties. This powerchain comes in a wide variety of colors, so you’ll be able to have a bit of fun.

Another reason for not getting colored elastic ties on your braces is your orthodontist’s preference. Some orthodontists like to work with metal ligatures because they’re tighter on your teeth and don’t need changing every 4 to 6 weeks. You can still get colored elastic ties, but you need to ask for them at your next appointment.

And lastly, if you’re an adult, your orthodontist might have assumed that you want something discreet and placed transparent or silver elastic ties on your braces. Honestly, this is less likely, since most orthodontists are very good at communicating with their patients, especially when it comes to aesthetics. But if this is the case, it’s an easy fix, and you can ask for color options next time.


From a patient’s perspective, elastic ties are a great way to fight boredom as you can mix and match colors to fit your personality and mood. But ligatures are so much more than that. And because they’re temporary, it’s essential you don’t skip visits, so they don’t become stained, unsanitary, and ultimately ineffective.

From an orthodontist’s perspective, elastic ties are a fast, convenient, and cost-effective way to treat patients, so I don’t imagine traditional braces going away very soon, and for good reason.

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:

  • The only electric toothbrush you’ll ever need for your braces. Rotating electric brushes are much more effective, in my opinion, than sonic ones.
  • The most popular water flosser with my braces patients. If you can, choose a countertop model that can hold a lot of water. You’ll need it, and your gums will thank you.
  • This beast of a blender to create ice cold smoothies and silky soups. Sipping on something cold is a natural pain reliever, and soft foods are perfect for those tough weeks ahead.

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  1. Hi, I just want to ask, is this considered normal?

    1. Adriana Sim, DMD Orthodontist says:

      Hi, yes, it happens sometimes and it’s not a big deal. If it’s on 3 wings, you can leave the band as it is.

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