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Metal Braces vs Clear Braces: Understanding the Difference

Your smile is one of your most defining features. MyOrthodontist of Chapel Hill, North Carolina understands this better than anyone. Today we’re going to address the issue of metal braces vs clear braces. If you had braces when you were young, they were probably metal braces. Advancements in orthodontics have made clear braces possible, and metal braces have improved as well.

How Do Braces Work?

The goal of braces is to realign your teeth. Maybe you have an overbite, underbite, or a crossbite. Perhaps you have a single tooth out of alignment. These bite issues can lead to more dental problems in the future as your teeth wear down irregularly. Most notably, however, an awkward bite can make you feel self-conscious about your smile.

Braces fix all of these problems by attaching a bracket to each tooth. A wire is threaded through each bracket and secured in the back. Brackets on the rear molars have a mechanism that allows us to tighten this wire. Your teeth change alignment due to the constant pressure on the wire. Each time you visit our office, we adjust the tension and pressure slightly. Over time, your teeth will shift into the perfect smile!

How long it takes for braces to complete their task depends on the amount of correction needed. Light corrections can be done in about a year, while more severe ones can take up to two years. This is true regardless of which type of braces you choose.

Traditional Metal Braces

If you had braces when you were younger, chances are you had metal braces. You might remember them being uncomfortable or awkward, but designs have improved significantly over the years. These aren’t your father’s braces. When we apply metal braces, we use a special type of cement to adhere the brackets to your teeth. The brackets we use today are much smaller than the ones used in the past. Rubber bands called ligatures are used to hold the wire against the bracket.

Smaller brackets mean more comfort for you. Large, clunky brackets often snagged the inside of patients’ cheeks or lips. Now the brackets are out of your way and are much easier to get used to. However, many people are reluctant to sign up for metal braces because of how they look. If you care about how noticeable your braces are, you should consider clear alternatives to metal braces.

Clear Braces: Alternatives to Metal

All realignment systems operate under the same basic concept of constant pressure. The obvious drawback of metal braces is how noticeable they can be. Clear braces are the perfect solution. While getting metal braces in your teenage years is perfectly normal, it’s not as common to see on an adult. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider braces if you’re older. Clear braces offer a discreet alternative for older patients.

We offer two clear alternatives to metal braces. Ceramic braces are quite similar to metal braces. Another option, Invisalign, uses a very different system but is just as effective.

Ceramic Braces

Ceramic braces eschew metal and opt for a bracket made of ceramic or porcelain. Sometimes a very durable plastic may be used. Unlike metal, we can match the color of the ceramic brackets to the color of your teeth. The result is a nearly seamless appearance when you smile. From just a short distance, your ceramic braces are almost impossible to see.

Even the wire can be made clear today. You can go to your important job interview or that big wedding with a confident smile. Ceramic braces truly are an incredible cosmetic improvement over metal braces.

Metal Braces vs Clear Braces

The most prominent advantage of clear braces is their appearance. Ceramic braces look much more natural than metal braces. However, there are some disadvantages to consider. Ceramic brackets tend to be a bit bigger than modern metal brackets. Although this is rarely a problem, it may bother some people. Fortunately, they are less likely to snag or cut your mouth. Metal braces are more durable and can take more stress. This makes them more suitable for extreme corrections that demand more pressure.

On the other hand, ceramic brackets may break due to impact or excessive tension. Metal brackets are simply more likely to come off of the tooth. In both cases, dislodged brackets are relatively normal during the course of the treatment. When this happens, just pay us a visit to have the bracket reseated. Let us know right away so that your treatment doesn’t get delayed. Young athletes who practice football or other contact sports like hockey may want to stick with metal braces.

Finally, ceramic braces require more attention to dental hygiene. Food is more likely to get trapped around or under the bracket. Brush regularly and thoroughly to avoid any issues.


There is one other alternative to metal braces that we haven’t discussed yet. Invisalign is another type of “clear braces.” Invisalign is the registered trademark for a series of molded plastic mouthpieces. If you had metal braces, you probably received a retainer when you were finished with your treatment. Invisalign clear aligners are exactly like those retainers.

Just as when we install braces, the first step begins with an impression mold of your mouth. A computer then analyzes this data and determines how many steps are needed to reach your final perfect smile. In the Invisalign system, a new aligner is used every week or two. Each one is slightly different from the last one. In this way, you get the constant pressure needed to achieve realignment.

This method does not require any hardware to be permanently installed. That means you can take out your aligner to eat. Even when inserted, they are even less noticeable than ceramic braces. However, you must be responsible with your treatment. Invisalign can take longer if you don’t wear your aligners enough. It is also more expensive than metal or ceramic braces.

What Kind of Braces Should I Choose?

We get this question frequently as many people struggle with the decision between metal braces vs clear braces. Regardless of your decision, we know you will be happy with your results.

Reasons to Choose Metal Braces

Simply put, metal braces are the standard for a reason. They can handle any type of correction and tend to accomplish this in less time compared to clear braces. Although clear braces don’t usually cost much more than metal braces, some insurers do not cover them. Therefore, metal braces may be your only cost-effective option.

Metal braces are definitely the right choice if you expect significant impacts to your mouth or jaw area. As mentioned, athletes should opt for metal braces as they are less likely to break. Plus, modern metal brackets are much smaller. Children won’t find them as uncomfortable as they did in the past. In addition, most kids like choosing color combinations for the rubber ligatures.

Reasons to Choose Clear Braces

Clear braces are the right choice if you are more concerned about how your smile will look in the interim. Braces are a commitment and often take up to two years to complete.

If you don’t want all your pictures to feature obvious metal braces or a closed-mouth smile, then clear braces are the answer.

Is It Time to Get Braces?

Getting braces for your children is an important decision that will have a positive effect on their future. If you’re an adult who didn’t get braces and need them now, it’s never too late. Our clear braces give adults a safe path to a perfect smile.

Typically, your dentist will recommend braces for your children during a routine checkup. Once the dentist sees adult teeth coming in unevenly, braces will be needed. Of course, all adult teeth need to be present to begin the process.

You can ask your dentist for their opinion on the metal braces vs clear braces debate. Since you will continue to see your dentist with braces, it’s a good idea to let them know what you decide to do.

Schedule a Consultation

You don’t have to wait for your next dental visit to decide to get braces. Instead, you can schedule a consultation with us at any one of our North Carolina or southern Virginia offices. Rest assured, all of our staff are qualified and able to provide whatever kind of treatment you desire.

If you have more questions or would like to schedule your first appointment, visit MyOrthodontist of Chapel Hill, North Carolina today. We can’t wait to help you have the perfect smile you’ve always dreamed of.

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