Demystifying Braces: Understanding How They Work

Girl at school with braces

Walk through any middle school or high school, and you’ll see them everywhere – braces! Getting braces is practically a right of passage for American kids, but plenty of adults wear braces, too! In fact, about 4 million Americans are wearing braces right now. But do you know how they actually work to move the teeth and create straight, gorgeous smiles? It’s not magic – it’s science!

First – let’s talk about the components of braces 

There are three components of braces: the brackets, the arch wires and the O-rings. The brackets are glued to the teeth semi-permanently (the bracket and glue are removed at the end of treatment). The arch wire connects all the brackets together. And the O-rings hold the arch wire in place along the brackets.

Using “the force” 

These three elements of braces work together to put pressure on the teeth and force them to move into different positions. The arch wire is specially designed to push and pull the teeth into the correct position to create a straight smile. Everyone’s arch wires are shaped differently because everyone’s smiles are created differently!

Aren’t teeth anchored into the jawbones? How do they move? 

Though your teeth are anchored into your jawbone, they’re not part of the jawbone itself. They can move!

Each one of your teeth is nestled into a socket in your jawbone. Between the jawbone and the tooth is the gingiva (your gum tissue) and the periodontal membrane (also called the periodontal ligament). Periodontal ligaments are incredibly strong, and they hold the teeth in place through the incredible force that is exerted while chewing. The average human jaw can exert nearly 200 pounds of pressure, so the periodontal ligament is a pretty big deal!

When a tooth moves via braces, the periodontal ligament either compresses or stretches, depending on the direction that the braces are moving the tooth. As a tooth moves to one side or another, a gap will be left on one side of the tooth. The jawbone will adjust to the movement to keep the tooth supported, so it will fill the gap with bone tissue and create space for the tooth to move into on the other side. Basically, as your teeth move, your jawbone accommodates the change by moving the socket along with it. This is called bone remodeling.

Of course, this all happens very slowly, which is why most people need to wear braces for about two years. For people whose teeth need to move a greater distance to create the desired look, braces can take even longer.

Even after you get your braces off, the jawbone’s process of rebuilding the bone tissue it needs to fully support your teeth can take up to a year, which is why is it critically important to wear your retainer after you get your braces off. Your teeth can – and WILL – move if you don’t use a retainer to keep them in place.

Want to know more about achieving a great smile with braces? 

Give us a call today. We’d be happy to answer all your questions and get you on the road to the Hollywood-gorgeous smile you’ve always wanted.