Clear braces serve as a cosmetic alternative to traditional metal braces by minimizing the visibility of the braces on the teeth. Typically, these clear orthodontic braces are made of ceramic or plastic alloys, but function in a similar manner to traditional metal braces. Most commonly chosen by adult patients, clear elastic ties and white metal ties are available to be used with these clear braces to help keep the appliances less noticeable. Usually, clear braces cost more than metal braces.
Clear braces are often made of ceramic materials. Ceramics are similar to glass, and like glass, ceramic braces tend to be brittle. Unlike metal braces which can absorb a fair amount of force without breaking, ceramic braces do not absorb forces very well and can break easily. As a result, some orthodontists avoid placing clear orthodontic braces on lower teeth as they can fracture when the patient bites.
If you are considering getting braces, but do not know whether to go with the metal or clear ones, know that clear braces are more brittle than metal braces. Thus, taking the clear braces off at the end of orthodontic treatment can be more difficult and time consuming. Usually, the orthodontist will use a special plier specifically designed for removing clear braces to minimize breakage. Even if a clear bracket does not totally detach from your tooth, your orthodontist can still polish the broken bracket from your tooth without any harm to your tooth.
To counter the problem of breakage, orthodontic companies now make ceramic braces slightly bulkier to resist fractures. The increased bulkiness is not very noticeable to patients. However, these ceramic braces can still fracture when subjected to heavy forces.
Another characteristic of ceramic braces is friction. In order for the braces to move teeth and slide along the wire, little to no friction is preferred. If there is too much friction, the wire would bind too tightly to the braces and the teeth would not move. Compared to all types of traditional metal braces and self-ligating braces, ceramic braces have the highest component of friction.
So do teeth move slower with ceramic braces? Not necessarily. You may notice that most clear braces are not 100 percent ceramic. Often there is a metal slot in the clear braces for the wire to sit in. This metal slot reduces the friction of the bracket and also adds a little flexibility to resist breakage. Most orthodontists can treat just as well using clear braces as they can with metal braces.
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Dr. Charchut is a Board Certified Orthodontist practicing in both Lansing and St. Johns, Michigan. Read more about Dr. Charchut.