A Complete Guide to Clear Braces

What are clear braces?

Clear braces – also known as invisible braces – provide dental patients with a range of discrete treatment options that can help to align both the upper and lower teeth. This realignment of the teeth could include the use of clear braces to improve upon moderate crowding (moving the teeth apart from one another).

The option of clear brace technologies may also be offered to the dental patient as a means of improving mild to moderate spacing (moving the teeth closer together). 

Clear braces commonly present a discreet alternative to traditional metal braces a great option for people who may want to re-straighten teeth following a relapse – meaning the patient does not have to wear traditional metal braces.

Clear braces are suitable for use in solving orthodontic crowding and gapping issues in adult patients. Depending on the type of treatment plan put forward by the dentist, different types of clear braces may be chosen for the optimal outcome.

Types of clear braces include:

  • Aligners 
  • Lingual braces
  • Ceramic brackets 

Patients should be aware that each type of clear braces treatment is designed to provide specific orthodontic advantages. This means that specialist advice from an orthodontist is advised (patients are not advised to attempt to pay for clear braces treatments without professional supervision).

Most dental procedures relating to clear braces require the patient to commit to a treatment schedule of around six months to two years. This time frame will vary depending on factors such as the age of the patient and the extent of treatment required to align the teeth.   

What are clear braces made from?

Depending on factors such as the type of clear braces and the manufacturer of the clear braces, the materials used in the construction of various clear braces may vary.  

Materials are selected based on qualities such as resistance to staining and high durability (in order to withstand any potential impacts with food and cutlery when eating, for example). Ceramic/porcelain is used to fabricate discrete or clear brackets for braces attached to teeth. This is similar to the materials used in creating prosthetic crowns. Polycarbonates (plastics) are used in the construction of the clear braces. 

Where the dentist selects ceramic brackets as the most suitable treatment, a metallic wire is used to connect the individual brackets. The wire is metallic-grey in colour. However,white coated wires may be available depending on the different services on offer from each dental practice. Patients who are interested in ceramic brackets are advised to enquire about clear wires during the dental consultation stage. 

What are the different types of clear braces?

Clear braces – or ‘invisible braces’ – entered the market as a discrete solution to the undesirable visual aesthetic of traditional metal braces. The range of products available reflects the differences in a patient’s lifestyle, treatment needs and preferences, and budget.  

Below is a description of the different types of clear braces that may be offered to a patient by the dentist following a dental consultation for teeth alignment treatment.  

Ceramic braces

Clear ceramic braces are used the same way as traditional braces to correct both simple and complex orthodontic cases (treatment should be ideally overseen by a Specialist orthodontist). The major difference between clear ceramic braces and traditional metal braces is that ceramic brackets are used instead of grey coloured metal brackets.  

The wire used to connect the ceramic brackets may also be available in clear or ‘tooth coloured’ format, depending on the service available from dentist to dentist. The obvious advantage of opting for a clear wire is that the visibility of the braces is lowered further than if a metallic wire were to be used. 

Clear aligners

Clear aligners are also known as ‘transparent braces’, ‘see through braces’, and ‘clear teeth braces’. 

Clear aligners constructed from either plastic or ceramic material. Each clear aligner resembles a transparent mould of the teeth – one aligner for the upper set of teeth, and one aligner for the lower set of teeth as required. The clear aligners are removable and fit over the teeth in a way similar to that of a retainer. 

Clear aligners are used to exert a low pressure on the teeth, moving the teeth gradually into a new and more cosmetically pleasing position. Due to the low force exerted on the teeth when the aligners are in position, the system can take relatively longer than other treatment plans to achieve the desired result. In total, the process of straightening the teeth using clear aligners takes around 9 – 18 months.  

Patients can expect to require anywhere from 18 to 30 custom built clear aligners to complete the teeth alignment process using this system. 

Patients should also be aware that clear aligners may be susceptible to potential discolouration if not properly maintained. Cleaning crystals and other denture cleaning products are available to help to maintain the appearance of clear aligners (the dentist will recommend cleaning products).

Lingual braces

Lingual braces were developed as a completely concealed teeth alignment treatment option. Much like traditional braces, lingual braces use a bracket and wire system where the brackets are fixed to the teeth and the connecting wire is tightened to achieve alignment over time. The major difference is that lingual braces are fitted to the lingual surface of the tooth (the lingual surface of the tooth is inner surface that touches the tongue inside the mouth). 

By placing the braces on the back of the teeth, the treatment system remains out of sight throughout the entire process. One of the advantages that lingual braces hold over ceramic braces and clear aligners is that lingual braces are able to provide a wider range of alignment solutions (for both adults and children). This means that lingual braces may be the preferred ‘clear braces’ method where the patient presents alignment issues that would not benefit from a short-term gentle pressure approach.

If the patient plays a sport or if the patient plays a musical instrument, for example, lingual braces present a much safer and less impactful solution in terms of continuing to carry on these activities. 

Patients should be aware that due to being placed on the inside of the teeth, lingual braces present different and potentially more complex maintenance considerations. For example, the patient may require longer sessions with the dentist in order to adjust the braces. Cleaning the braces may also take longer compared to other treatment options. Patients report that lingual braces produce a greater level of initial discomfort compared to other types of clear braces. 

What is the clear braces process?

The aim of the clear braces process is to achieve the desired aesthetic outcome as agreed by the dentist and the patient during the treatment consultation. Ultimately, this means creating a smile that gives the patient confidence. 

Following a consultation – during which the various clear braces options will be outlined to the patient – a series of moulds / digital scans / X-rays / photography will be taken as required. Based on the data / imagery, the orthodontist or dentist will plan the best treatment plan relative to the patient’s level of required treatment and in keeping with the patient’s desired outcomes.

Clear aligners

Where the dentist opts to fit the patient with clear aligners, a pre-aligner (also known as a passive brace) is constructed so that the patient may trial the system. This gives the patient an opportunity to become accustomed to the look and feel of the clear aligners, as well as developing first-hand experience of maintenance.  

Where the patient is happy to proceed with the treatment, the first of the custom-made clear aligners will be manufactured and delivered. Approximately 18 – 30 clear aligners may be required to complete the treatment over a 9 – 18 month time period. A final retainer may be required to complete the clear aligner treatment process. 

Ceramic brackets / Lingual braces

Alternatively, where the optimal treatment plan involves ceramic braces or lingual braces, the dentist will invite the patient to be fitted with the brackets. 

First, the attachment sites in the centre of each tooth are polished with a dental polish. The dentist will dry and prime the teeth with a conditioner. A dental cement is added to the ceramic brackets and each bracket is fitted in place (any excessive bonding cement is removed at this stage). The cement is ‘hardened’ using a curing light. Depending on the type of curing light being used, this process can take anywhere from between 3 – 20 seconds per bracket / tooth.

Next, the wires are fitted in place. (Note: different dental procedures may involve the use of molar bands for increased stability, but this is not necessarily required for all types of treatment). Patients can expect the entire process to last approximately 20 – 30 minutes. 

How do clear braces move my teeth?

Depending on the type of clear braces selected for the alignment process, the way in which the teeth will be moved in the mouth will differ. For example, where a patient is undergoing clear aligner treatment, each aligner must be replaced more frequently as compared to the frequency with which fixed braces are tightened – this means the teeth are moved more gradually.

Clear aligners

Clear aligners are specially designed to move the patient’s teeth in small increments – this means that the aligner must be changed around once every two weeks. The clear aligner is slightly offset from the current position of the teeth, exerting a gentle pressure that moves the teeth gradually by a fraction of a millimetre with each new aligner.   

The dentist will work with other dental technicians in designing a bespoke set of clear aligners that will achieve the desired outcome (around 18 – 30 sets of clear aligners may be required).

Because clear aligners are removable, the patient may continue eating and drinking any preferred food and beverages as desired – simply remove and replace the braces around meals. The same is true for cleaning the teeth – remove the braces and follow the oral hygiene advice from the dentist, remembering to replace the clear aligners afterwards.

Due to the gentle but constant pressure exerted by this type of clear braces, the treatment can take a minimum of twelve weeks to fix minor alignment issues.

Ceramic brackets / Lingual braces

Where ceramic brackets or lingual braces are chosen as the optimal clear braces format to be used in a patient’s teeth alignment treatment, the teeth will move via a bracket and wire system. This involves using a dental cement to fix the ceramic brackets to the front of the teeth (or in lingual treatments metal braces may be fixed to the back of the teeth). 

A metal wire is used to connect the brackets. The tension from the metal wire delivers a slight pressure on the teeth, which over time can achieve a greater degree of teeth alignment. The wire must be tightened at regular intervals of roughly six weeks. Patients can expect this treatment to last for between one and two years. 

What’s the difference between metal braces and clear braces?

Different types of braces provide different alignment benefits. For example, Invisalign and clear aligners can now perform the majority of orthodontic cases as would be expected from brackets / ceramic braces. More advanced cases with clear aligners must be completed by a specialist orthodontist. The treatment can focus on the whole mouth including how the teeth perform in terms of bite and appearance.

On an aesthetic level, the main difference between clear braces and metal braces is how noticeable or prominent the braces appear when smiling. Metal braces are grey in colour and stand out against the white background of the teeth. Metal braces also appear to protrude from the teeth at a greater height compared to clear aligners and ceramic braces (this is especially notable from side-on angles).

What are the benefits of clear braces?

Clear braces provide patients with multiple benefits. First, the option of clear braces presents patients with a teeth alignment option that removes the stigma associated with metal braces. This means that patients wishing to undergo teeth alignment benefit from removing the commonly perceived hurdle of embarrassment (experienced by children and adults).

During the treatment (which can take anywhere from a minimum of around 12 weeks up to a maximum of around 2 years), the less noticeable clear braces continue to alleviate embarrassment.

In terms of function, the patient will benefit from an improved bite – where the upper and lower teeth did not previously fit together, the teeth will now align.

In terms of health benefits, patients should note that properly aligned teeth are associated with fewer issues relating to gum disease, dental decay, and a build-up of plaque acids. This is because teeth and gums that fit together properly present a much easier maintenance task – flossing and thorough brushing is difficult where teeth overlap, for example. Properly aligned teeth also prevent uneven pressure on the jawbone, which can lead to pain. 

In terms of aesthetics, the patient will benefit from greater confidence when smiling throughout the treatment due to the low-profile appearance of the clear braces and clear aligners. 

Do clear braces stain over time?

Where high quality materials are used in the construction of the clear braces, the likelihood of staining is minimal. 

In the case of ceramic brackets, staining is not a concern as the materials used in the brackets are resistant to discolouration. However, the clear elastic bands used to hold the wire in place on top of the ceramic brackets are susceptible to staining over long periods of exposure to foods such as curry and other rich cooking sauces – but this slight susceptibility to staining is typically unproblematic as the rubber bands are changed each time the patient returns to the dentist have the wire tightened. In most cases, patients can expect to return to the dentist to have the wire tightened roughly once every six weeks. 

In the case of clear aligners, staining is again a consideration where the patient eats food with a deep or strong colouration (such as curries and tomato-based cooking sauces). While the patient is advised to remove the clear aligner during meal times, any potential discolouration from the food may nevertheless transfer onto the clear aligners from the teeth. For this reason, patients are advised to brush and floss teeth thoroughly before replacing the clear aligner after all meals. 

Clear aligners are typically replaced around once every two weeks – meaning any accidental slight discolouration should not present long-term issues. 

Can clear braces be used on top and bottom teeth?

In the case of both clear aligners and ceramic braces, the dentist will determine whether the patient is a suitable candidate for treatment on both the upper and lower teeth. This is because considerations need to be made regarding the patient’s current amount of overbite. Where the overbite is likely to mean that the upper teeth would make contact with braces placed on the lower teeth, ceramic braces would typically not be offered for the lower teeth.

The explanation for this is that ceramic braces present a heightened risk – compared to metal braces – of causing damage (i.e. chipping) to the teeth where contact is made. 

With the individual circumstances of the patient taken into account, the dentist may devise a clear braces treatment plan that includes both ceramic braces and metal braces.

FAQs

What is Invisalign?

Invisalign is a near-invisible teeth alignment system. Each custom-made clear aligner is specifically designed to fit over the teeth so as to encourage the teeth to move a small amount. Multiple clear aligners are required to move the teeth into the desired position. This means that each aligner must be replaced every 1-2 weeks (the patient is given a set of aligners to last several changes between return visits). Around 18 – 30 clear aligners are typically required. 

Invisalign clear aligners may be used to treat the upper and lower teeth. Each clear aligner is also removable, meaning patients can remove the aligners when eating or brushing/flossing (the patient is required to wear the clear aligners for around 22 hours per day).  

The Invisalign system may be used to treat: 

  • Deep bite
  • Underbite
  • Open bite
  • Crossbite
  • Gapped teeth
  • Crowded teeth

Do I need a retainer after clear braces?

A retainer is a custom-made piece of mouth apparatus that dental patients are required to wear for a period of time upon completing a course of orthodontic treatment involving braces. Different types of retainers are available – the orthodontist will make a decision on the best fit solution on a patient by patient basis. Options include both fixed retainers and removable retainers. 

The purpose of the retainer is to prevent the newly aligned teeth and the general new mouth shape from moving out of position. 

Patients are required to leave the retainer in position for a certain number of months as recommended by the orthodontist. 

As each individual patient’s treatment plan is unique, there is no standard time frame associated with the use of retainers. However, patients should expect to wear retainers for a number of months as opposed to weeks or days.

How much do clear braces cost?

Orthodontic treatments such as clear braces vary in cost relative to the extent of the teeth alignment issue (i.e. the course of treatment may be relatively shorter or longer depending on individual patient needs).  

As a general rule, patients may expect the cost of different types of clear braces to reflect similar costs of traditional braces, meaning prices in the region of €3,500 – €4,500 for clear braces (also known as ceramic braces) and around €3500- €5,000 for a complete course of the Invisalign system. 

Is everyone suitable for clear braces?

Orthodontic clear braces are suitable for teens and adults. Not only does this ensure that the patient has strong and fully developed adult teeth that may be moved permanently into place, but advice over keeping ceramic brackets and clear aligners clean is less likely to be followed by younger patients (metal brackets are typically the preferred option for younger age ranges). 

How long do clear braces take?

Patients can expect a complete treatment plan for different types of clear braces to take approximately the same amount of time as traditional braces. This means that for most people, alignment issues can be resolved within 18 – 24 months (minor alignment issues may be resolved in a shorter period). 

The patient will be involved in the discussion over expected time frames before committing to a treatment plan for clear braces.

Can I spread the cost out for clear braces?

Price plans are typically available for orthodontic clear braces treatments. Patients who are interested in spreading the cost of treatment are encouraged to enquire about finance options during the consultation stage – dental professionals are best placed to advise the patient on different payment plans that may suit the patient.

Do clear braces hurt?

Orthodontic treatments to reposition the teeth over time using braces will naturally involve applying pressure to the teeth in order to achieve the desired outcome. 

Therefore, minor discomfort can be expected each time braces are tightened (or each time an aligner is replaced in the case of clear aligners).

Where the orthodontist anticipates any increased levels of initial or ongoing discomfort, a course of pain relief may be prescribed. 

Clear aligners also significantly reduce the potential for friction between the braces and the inside of the mouth, as can sometimes be experienced with traditional braces. 

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