When Do You Start Wearing Rubber Bands With Braces?

If you’re relatively new to braces, you’re probably familiar with rubber bands but don’t fully understand how they work. So if you’re anxiously waiting to start wearing rubber bands, this article is for you.

I’ll explain when you can expect to start wearing rubber bands, whether you need to wear them at all, and how long you’ll be wearing them. But first, we need to be on the same page about what rubber bands actually are.

When will you start wearing rubber bands?

I know you’re in a hurry, so I’ll give you the answer in a nutshell and then detail it below. In the rest of the article, you’ll find some interesting facts about rubber bands, what they are, and whether you need them at all.

So when do orthodontists start their patients on rubber bands?

If your case is more complex, expect to start wearing elastics 4-6 months into orthodontic treatment. These rubber bands will most likely be light, to ease you into the habit of wearing them. You will need to wear them until the end of treatment, or until the malocclusion is corrected, with short breaks in between.

If your malocclusion isn’t difficult to treat, you will most likely only get rubber bands in the last 6 months of braces. As you can see, the interval of wearing rubber bands varies greatly and is highly individual. It not only depends on the type of malocclusion but also on your orthodontist’s treatment style.

This is just an estimation, and some patients only get minimal time in elastics. Read on to find out which one is you.

What are rubber bands?

Rubber bands, also called elastics, are small, stretchy latex loops of various diameters, that are used to correct malocclusions by pulling groups of teeth in different directions. People often confuse them with ligatures – the small elastic rings that are used to hold the archwire in place. It’s a common mistake, but they’re hugely different:

Rubber bands are meant to be changed every day or several times per day, and patients learn to apply them to their braces by hooking the elastics onto metal hooks, ceramic hooks, clear aligner hooks, or buttons.

Rubber bands come in various sizes and force configurations. Light, medium and heavy is one way to categorize them, especially when describing them to patients, but in reality, orthodontists go by diameter and force.

So you may see your orthodontist recommending something like a 3/16” 6 oz elastic. 3/16” is the diameter, and 6oz is the amount of force when the elastic is stretched.

For ease of use, rubber band manufacturers use animals, or fruits to code them and make it easy for both patients and assistants to remember which type of elastic was prescribed. Here are some examples you may soon become familiar with:

Tiny elastic diameters are used for correcting crossbites, whereas medium diameters work best as “class” elastics that correct malocclusions and jaw misalignments. The biggest diameters are usually applied to special gear like face masks or headgears.

What you need to remember is that rubber bands are varied in size, specific, and very powerful. You always need to follow your orthodontist’s advice to a T when wearing them.

How do you know if you need rubber bands for your braces?

Most patients will need to wear elastics at least for a little while at the end of treatment. Some patients end up wearing them for the entire duration of the orthodontic treatment. But there are certain situations where you’re guaranteed to wear rubber bands, and your orthodontist should mention this in their treatment plan.

Expect to need rubber bands if you have:

  • A class III bite, also called an underbite;
  • A class II bite or overbite;
  • An open bite;
  • A midline shift;
  • Premolar extractions and spaces that need to be closed.

Even if your malocclusion is very mild and your bite is pretty good, you can still expect to wear elastics for a couple of weeks to a couple of months so that your bite “settles” at the end of treatment and your back teeth come together tightly before getting your braces off.

The good news is that rubber bands speed up treatment significantly if used right, but the bad news is that it’s up to you to wear them diligently. If you forget about them or ignore your orthodontist’s recommendations, you’ll only prolong treatment time or compromise results.

Why didn’t your orthodontist give you rubber bands yet?

Some orthodontists choose to introduce elastics early in the treatment, while others prefer to wait until the teeth are straight and secured by a heavy archwire before using rubber bands.

These two different and opposing treatment philosophies aren’t contradictory. The early elastic proponents use light forces and light archwires, and progress slowly, whereas the orthodontists who prefer to wait use heavier rubber bands right away.

So if it’s been a year and your orthodontist hasn’t offered rubber bands yet, when you clearly need them, it might be that it’s not their habit to use them until you’ve reached a certain wire.

If you’re curious, Damon system users (a self-ligating type of bracket) start off with elastics almost right away. On the other hand, MBT system users (which is most traditional braces) tend to wait for at least 10 months before introducing elastics. And there’s a lot of mix-and-match elastic wear in between.

It’s best to ask your orthodontist about rubber bands if you want to mentally prepare yourself in advance.

Are rubber bands the last step to braces?

If you’re already wearing rubber bands, or soon will, you’re probably wondering how long will this phase last. There’s no clear-cut answer, and while in some cases rubber bands are almost the last step to braces, the truth is that elastic wear overlaps with many braces phases.

But, if we were to follow the classic MBT philosophy, it would go something like this:

  1. Alignment phase
  2. Leveling phase
  3. Working phase – which includes space closure and elastic wear
  4. Finishing phase

So I guess you could call rubber bands the second to last step to braces. However, if you have a severe bite discrepancy, expect to wear rubber bands for a long time.

You can end up wearing rubber bands anywhere from 2 months to over a year or more. Your orthodontist will be the one telling you how long you have left and whether the elastics are working like they’re supposed to or not.

Conclusion

Starting to wear rubber bands is an important event for most braces patients, so it’s only natural that you want to know these things in advance. Depending on the type of problem you have and your orthodontist’s style of treatment, expect to get elastics anywhere between 4 months to a year into braces.

The only way to know for sure, though, is to ask your orthodontist. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to explain, especially when the struggle is to get patients to accept and comply with rubber bands in the first place.

Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth and gums 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:

  • An awesome mid-range electric toothbrush. Rotating electric brushes are much more effective, in my opinion, than sonic ones. You can keep your teeth white by using whitening replacement heads.
  • A countertop water flosser to blast out food debris between teeth. I know handheld models are tempting, but you’ll need a lot of water. You can almost replace flossing with this and your gums will be healthier.
  • Braces accessories to get into all the nooks and crannies: straight or angled interdental brushes, floss threaders, orthodontic wax or silicone. For pain management, have gel ice packs handy, Orajel, and Mouth Magic (a cool soothing solution for mouth sores).
  • For clear aligner patients, a tool like PUL helps both remove and seat your aligner or retainer. Don’t forget to use a cleaning product like crystals to keep your trays fresh and hygienic.

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