How Do Braces Work & How Do They Straighten Your Teeth

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For a lot of us, braces are a rite of passage. If you’ve ever wondered, how do braces work?, one answer is that it is a gradual and scientific process. While you may ask your orthodontist every visit how much longer you have to wear them, the fact is that braces work best if they apply pressure to your teeth slowly and gradually. If the process is hurried, it won’t be effective and you won’t be happy with the results. To understand more why that great smile takes some time, read below.

How Do Braces Work?

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Braces work by applying just the right amount of pressure to your teeth to move them into a new and straighter position. The technical term for this process is biomechanical response, or remodeling. While getting braces is considered a dental procedure, you usually see an orthodontist to have it done. 

An orthodontist is a dental specialist who concentrates in correcting irregularities in the teeth. We will discuss the specifics of this process below, but first we need to look at the various components that make up a set of braces.

Equipment Used in Braces

The first piece of equipment used in traditional braces is a bracket. This small, typically metal, deviceis bonded to the front of each of your teeth. It is built so that wires and bands can be attached to it. The archwire is a pre-shaped wire with an arch shape. The orthodontist will attach the wire to all the brackets on your teeth.

These wires are special in that they have a tendency to want to reshape into an arch, even after they have been manipulated to hook into the brackets. It’s their tendency to straighten that moves your teeth and eventually gives you that beautifully straight smile you’ve been dreaming about. The archwires come in varying thicknesses and shapes depending on your specific treatment plan and needs.

If you have an overbite or underbite, you may also need some jaw movement. For this, the orthodontist will use elastics. These are rubber bands that attach to your brackets to realign your jaw. They are removable, and your orthodontist will tell you when it is necessary to install them. Your orthodontist could use a few other items like springs, headgear, or spacers if needed.

The Science Behind “How Do Braces Work?”

Contrary to popular belief, our teeth are not growing directly from our jaw bones. If they were, it would be impossible to manipulate them into a new position. The roots of our teeth are surrounded by a membrane called the periodontal membrane. This membrane can grow and break down the cells in the roots to make it possible to move them to a new permanent position.

When a tooth is moved because of the constant and gentle pressure of the archwire, it is moving away from the periodontal membrane on one side and closer to it on the other. On the side where the tooth is moving away, bone growing cells called osteoblasts are produced, making this new position permanent. This process is called deposition. Deposition takes an average of three months.

On the other side of the tooth where the archwire is pushing the tooth into the periodontal membrane, the pressure breaks down bone in a process called osteoclasts. This breakdown makes room for the tooth in a process called resorption, which takes about three days. Every time your orthodontist adjusts your braces, this process takes place.

The Different Types of Braces

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While the science behind “how do braces work?” is true for all types of braces, there are options for you and your orthodontist to choose from. In most cases your orthodontist will choose the style that works best for your treatment plan. Many patients are in adolescence when braces are applied, but adults can get braces too, and your age may be a determining factor for the type you choose.


Traditional braces have the classic metal brackets with the metal archwire. The archwire is held on by tiny elastic o-rings. To make the brackets a little less visible, most orthodontists offer ceramic or clear brackets. Depending on the quality of the material, these brackets can yellow.


If you prefer your braces to be invisible, you can request lingual braces. They are made the same way as the traditional ones, only the brackets and archwire go behind your teeth. One thing to watch out for with these braces is that your tongue might accidentally brush up against the metal, causing some discomfort.


A new style of braces is calledaligner trays. These braces are clear plastic molds of your teeth that get changed out periodically in order to slowly re-align your smile. They fit on almost like a mouth guard, and this style is very appealing because they are clear. Since the patient can remove these braces, they are not recommended for younger children.

Things to Know Before You Get Braces

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Some teens look forward to the day when they get their braces. The newness is exciting. Others might dread it because they’ve heard stories about the soreness, or they are afraid others might tease them. It’s a privilege, and the beautiful smile you have when the orthodontist takes them off will be worth the time and any mild discomfort.


When the day comes for your braces to be installed, it may take anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour for your orthodontist and his team to finish the job. You won’t feel any pain or discomfort during the process, and typically there isn’t any soreness this first go around. The wiring in your mouth will take some getting used to, and your orthodontist will give you some wax to cover any parts of your braces that are making the inside of your mouth sore.

Follow Up and Care

You will probably see your orthodontist every eight to ten weeks for adjustments, and after these adjustments you may feel a little sore. This can easily be fixed with some ibuprofen or tylenol, and possibly a milkshake. A milkshake here and there won’t hurt, but it is very important that you take care of your teeth while wearing braces. This means no popcorn, hard candy, or chewing gum.

It’s advised that you brush after every meal and floss with special flossers specifically for braces. Some patients use water picks to help clean in and around the brackets.

You may miss some snack foods, and flossing and brushing with braces will take some getting used to, but typically you will only wear them for one to three years.


Retainers are plastic inserts you wear that help maintain your new smile. The braces, retainer, and all the visits in between is an investment, and the overall financial cost averages $5,000. Typically orthodontic offices will let you pay this in installments. Overall, it’s a small price to pay for that new beautiful smile.


Now that you know the answer to the question “how do braces work?”, you can appreciate all that goes into a beautiful smile. Using a series of slow and steady pressures, your teeth can be taken from crooked to straight, and the results will leave you full of confidence. Getting braces is a commitment, but it is one you will never regret.

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