Ask someone how long they'd like to wear braces. Most people would reply, "The shortest time possible." Unfortunately, braces can take years to straighten teeth.
Your choices can shorten or lengthen the treatment time. Skip appointments, for example, and you'll wear your braces for longer. But some issues, such as the condition of your teeth, are out of your control.
Aligners tend to transform teeth more quickly than braces. Adding vibration to aligners makes things move even faster.
Best ways to straighten teeth.
The amount of time required to straighten your teeth depends on the severity of your malocclusions. Most people have a few teeth out of alignment and do not need a mouth full of metal for years to manage the problem. They benefit from the fastest orthodontic options like these:
- Clear plastic aligners
- Lingual braces
- Six-month braces
- Vibrating aligner trays
Clear plastic aligners are an excellent treatment to realign teeth in less than a year. Lingual braces take a little longer, but they are behind the teeth so less visible.
Braces advertised as “six-month braces” or rapid braces use traditional metal brackets, but they can use orthodontic accelerators alongside braces to reduce pain and speed up the process. Some accelerators are like physical therapy for the jaw. Others are surgical options, including adjusting jaw size, shifting dental alignment, or removing teeth to help other teeth move into place.
Some clear plastic aligners use a type of orthodontic accelerator that vibrates the teeth while you wear the aligner. You should use this only as directed, as it is designed to loosen the teeth a little to shift them into place faster.
Ask your dentist about orthodontic accelerators that might work alongside your other orthodontic devices, especially if you are a good candidate for clear plastic aligners.
Gentle pressure moves your teeth.
Braces are affixed to the exterior of your teeth. But the real work happens deep below the gumline, where you can't see it. Every moment you wear braces, something interesting is happening to your bones.
Harvard Medical School explains the process in this way:
- Hardware connects teeth. Your upper teeth are linked with one wire, and the lower teeth connect via another wire.
- Wires shorten. Brackets must move based on pressure from that wire.
- Bone resorbs. Your bone contains living tissue, and it resorbs in response to pressure. As the bone breaks down, the tooth can move.
- New bone develops. When the pressure begins to ease, new bone is laid down to secure the tooth in place.
Your body needs time to finish all of these steps. Skip one, or ask your doctor to make your braces move faster, and your teeth could take up their old positions as soon as the braces come off.
How long do braces take?
Prepare to measure your time in braces in years, not months. Every mouth is different, of course, but most people wear braces for a very long time.
On average, experts say, people wear braces for one to three years. During that time, you will:
- Prioritize cleaning. Brackets sit on your teeth throughout treatment, and you cannot remove them. You can't take wires out either. Plaque can build up between teeth and underneath brackets. You must clean often to prevent tooth decay.
- Handle irritation. Your mouth isn't meant to play host to metal brackets and wires. Cuts, scrapes, and scratches are common, and they can really hurt.
- Make appointments. You must see your orthodontist to have wires tightened. You can't tackle this step at home.
Intense cleaning, pain, and hassle make for an unpleasant few years. Most people would like to shorten that timeframe.
In a study of that issue, 42.9 percent of adults said they wanted treatment to last between 6 and 12 months. That rarely happens.
For those with mild to moderate alignment issues, who want quick results with low hassle levels, aligners can be an exceptional choice.
These mistakes lengthen treatment.
While most people want to remove braces as quickly as possible, plenty of those same people make poor decisions that add weeks or even months to their treatment timeframes.
You might make these three top mistakes:
- You lack motivation. Researchers say motivation is a key part of treatment timeframes. When you want to work with your doctor, you follow directions to the letter. When someone pressures you into braces, you may let things slip and add time to the overall treatment schedule.
- You skip appointments. When you wear braces, wires are shortened in appointments. Skip one, researchers say, and this can add time to your treatment. Skip many, and you'll spend a lot longer in braces.
- You break appliances. Braces should stand up to normal wear and tear. But things like hard candy, corn on the cob, and ice can break brackets, bend wires, or both. That adds time to your treatment plan.
You can't control some treatment factors. You may already face a long time in braces if you're dealing with:
- Missing teeth. Your team must move teeth together to fill the hole. The process is delicate, and it takes time.
- Twisted teeth. Severe overcrowding leads to teeth that come in sideways or backward. Braces can straighten the mess, but it takes time.
- Severe underbite or overbite. Rubber bands attached to braces adjust jaw alignment. This issue adds time to your overall treatment plan.
It's best to assess how much you want braces and how committed you are to the process. Do that before the brackets are applied. But if you find you just can't stomach the idea of spending years in wires, you do have options.
Are aligners faster?
Aligners also apply gentle pressure to teeth, but they don't use wires or brackets. Instead, plastic sleeves cover your teeth and push them into proper positions. Aligners are often faster than braces.
Researchers say people who choose aligners have shorter treatment timeframes than those wearing braces.
But that's only true if you:
- Wear your aligners. Trays slip out for easy eating, drinking, and cleaning. But they should go right back in again. Leave the devices out for long periods of time, and treatment will take longer.
- Follow the treatment plan. Trays should swap out every few weeks, per the doctor's orders. Wear older sets for longer, and your treatment plan will extend.
- Report problems right away. If trays don't sit right or feel right, the team should know. You might need new aligners.
You can make aligner therapy even faster with vibrating tools. These devices sit between your teeth while they are covered in aligners. The gentle pulse helps speed bone remodelling, researchers say, and that means your teeth move faster.
Aligners aren't right for everyone. Some people with extremely crooked teeth aren't eligible, for example.
Are You Too Old for Braces? Harvard Medical School.
Do Braces Hurt? What to Expect. (December 2019). Medical News Today.
Orthodontic Treatment Time: Can It Be Shortened? (November 2018). Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics.
The Biology of Orthodontic Treatment Time; Days Versus Years. (2017). Semantic Scholar.
Factors Related to Orthodontic Treatment Time in Adult Patients. (October 2013). Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics.
A Comparison of Treatment Effectiveness Between Clear Aligner and Fixed Appliance Therapies. (2019). BMC Oral Health.
Moving Teeth Faster, Better and Painless. Is It Possible? (November 2010). Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics.