Why Do Braces Feel So Tight? It’s All About the Wire

Braces are dynamic. They do their job but they don’t always work at the same intensity. I’m sure you’ve noticed that after each appointment your arches feel much tighter and you may even experience some pain. Why is that?

Braces feel tight after most adjustments because your orthodontist is changing the old wires with new, stronger ones and/or tightening your metal ligatures. The ties on your teeth also get replaced or a bracket may be changed to a new position, which also contributes to a tightening sensation.

Changing wires is the number one cause of a lasting feeling of tightness, but they don’t necessarily get changed every session. And no, don’t imagine your orthodontist “tightening” your braces with a twisting motion. Read on if you want to discover how everything works and learn when this tightness will go away.

what Causes braces to feel tight?

For most patients, going to the orthodontist means “getting your braces tightened.” But what does that even mean? I like to call my appointments “activation” sessions because we introduce new forces that act on the teeth.

Braces are made up of brackets, wires, and ligatures, among other components. The brackets are the passive part and the wires are the active part. When first bonded, most teeth don’t sit in a straight line (even when your teeth seem straight) and the wire going through each bracket will bend and apply pressure.

Since the wires are NiTi (Nickel titanium), they have shape memory and fight to get back to their original straight shape. Hence the force that’s being exerted on your teeth.

As the teeth experience force, they become loose inside the bone and start to move to the ideal position, the one determined by the wire. Soon enough, you’ll stop experiencing tightness, because the archwire will no longer be so distorted.

So wires don’t become loose, and neither do brackets – teeth do, and then they move and are no longer crooked.

However, there are some components of braces that may become loose and need tightening or replacing:

  • Elastic ties (or O rings) are made of rubber and will loosen and need replacing (not to mention get gross from saliva and bacteria). If you have self-ligating brackets, you won’t need this;
  • Long metal ligatures will loosen as the teeth shift into new locations – these ligatures are meant to secure groups of teeth into place. Your orthodontist will replace them or just tighten them.
  • Broken brackets will need replacing and the teeth may be more crooked or the bracket may sit in a new position. This will cause extra tension, which translates into tightness.

when does the tightness go away?

It depends. I hate that sentence, but everyone is different, and I can’t make assumptions about your case. That being said, most patients feel relief about 3 days after the adjustment:

  • little tightness at the actual appointment;
  • most pain and tightness after 24hrs;
  • tightness gradually subsides within 72hrs.

If you just got your braces, you’ll experience tightness (and pain) for about a week and it will slowly taper off over the course of two weeks. The sooner you resume normal eating, the faster your teeth will start to move through bone.

Can the orthodontist make the braces too tight?

Your orthodontist may tighten ligatures a little more than usual or replace your wire with one that’s a little stronger than what you expected.

This often happens when going from a round NiTi wire to a square-section NiTi wire that is bulkier and puts more pressure on your teeth. Or even from a NiTi wire to a steel wire, which is considered to be the “working wire”.

Archwire Sequence. Source

You’ll tell the difference between round and square when looking in the mirror – the square-section wire will fill up more of the brackets’ slot and appear thicker and more obvious.

You might be wondering, since your orthodontist placed a significantly bigger wire, can you skip wires to finish the treatment faster? And the answer to that is no, you need to be patient. A wire too big would apply too much force, causing brackets to snap out of place. So it’s not even physically possible until the teeth are more straight.

Tightening ligatures and twisting them too hard will cause them to snap, or the bracket to come off, so it’s impossible to get ligatures excessively tight, but usually orthodontists pay attention to these things.

Either way, extra tightness doesn’t mean your teeth will be damaged – it’s just that the wire is working harder than before, causing new movements to the teeth in multiple planes.

What if it doesn’t feel like the orthodontist is tightening your braces?

Not all appointments lead to wire changes or bracket replacements. In fact, the recommendation is to leave the wire to do its job for multiple months.

Here’s a simple example of what I mean:

  • Starting round wire – 3 months
  • Second round wire – 3 months
  • NiTi rectangular wire – 3 months
  • Second NiTi rectangular wire – 3 months
  • Steel (working) wire – 6 months
  • Finishing wire – 3 months

I intentionally left out details and wire sizes because all orthodontists have their own preferences. Some may even use just three wires and leave them in for longer times.

So if you feel like the braces aren’t doing anything after an appointment, don’t worry. The archwire will always apply gentle pressure until it’s time to move to the next.

Toward the end of the treatment, particularly during the finishing stage, you may feel like not much is changing, but this period is important for stabilizing your bite and making small corrections that may not be obvious to you. So hang in there, and trust your orthodontist.


Braces will feel tight from time to time – it’s a sign that they’re working, but everyone will experience this tightness differently. For most people, braces tightness goes away within 3-4 days. After some appointments, you won’t experience tightness at all, which shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Your teeth are still straightening, or they’re resting inside the bone until it’s time to move again.

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