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What’s the difference between braces and retainers?

March 25, 2022
What’s the difference between braces and retainers?

If you’re just beginning your braces journey, whether for your child or for yourself, the different treatment options can seem a little overwhelming, especially when it comes to the types of braces and retainers that are available. To help you navigate the key differences, we take a look at some common questions.  

What are braces?   

Braces are a fixed dental appliance used by orthodontists to move teeth into better alignment and correct any jaw or bite issues. They work by applying a constant, even pressure onto teeth to move them into the desired position. Regular visits to an orthodontist are required to check the progress of the teeth and adjust the tension as required. Not only do braces help straighten your smile, but they can also treat serious conditions such as misaligned or underdeveloped jaws as well as supporting good oral health. 

What are the types of braces?   

There are a number of different types of braces available, and depending on your individual needs, your orthodontist may offer you several choices.  

  • Metal braces: Traditional metal braces are still considered the most common form of orthodontic treatment recommended by specialist orthodontists when teeth need to undergo significant movement that can’t be predictably achieved with removable clear aligners. They consist of metal brackets attached to the teeth and connected with a thin metal wire that is adjusted at regular intervals. 
  • Ceramic braces: The main difference between metal braces and ceramic braces is their appearance. Using clear or tooth-coloured brackets and wires instead of the traditional metal ones gives them a subtler look that is popular with adults. 
  • Lingual braces: Lingual braces are clear braces placed on the inside surface of the teeth rather than the front. They’re not visible from the outside, making them a good option for patients who don’t want to wear traditional metal braces that can be seen by everyone. 
  • Clear aligners: Clear aligner treatment, such as Invisalign®, Spark® and 3M Clarity uses a series of clear plastic aligners to ease your teeth into a new position. Each aligner in the sequence has minute differences that apply gentle pressure to the teeth that need to move. Treatment may require the use of attachments or ‘buttons’ that help the aligners to grip the tooth and move it more effectively. 
puffy gums with braces

What are retainers?   

Retainers are plastic or metal devices used as a follow up to braces to ensure newly straightened teeth stay in place and can either be fixed or removable. They aren’t an alternative to braces however, in extremely mild cases, for example, if you have one or two crooked teeth, clear aligners may help straighten them.  

So what is the difference between clear aligners and retainers? While they may look the same there is one slight difference: clear aligners are designed to gently push your teeth into a different position, while your retainer is made from a mould of your straightened smile and is designed to keep them in place. In fact, the final step in a clear aligner treatment plan is with a clear aligner retainer. 

Which option is best for me? 

When it comes to braces and retainers, it’s not a choice between them but rather a combined effort to give you a long lasting, perfect smile. While you may prefer subtler treatments such as clear aligners, it is important that you receive the right treatment for your smile which may include traditional braces. The only way to know for sure which option will be best suited to you is to make an appointment with your specialist orthodontist and have a proper consultation. 

Looking to book a consult with a specialist orthodontist? Use our handy finder tool to locate one near you.

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