If you’re currently undergoing orthodontic treatment with us here at Sawgrass Orthodontics, chances are you already know quite a bit about your braces. It’s important to us that our patients are informed and aware of what to expect from the orthodontic process ahead of your actual treatment beginning. That means we talk a lot about the ins and outs of braces before the first bracket goes on, including:

  • how often your braces will need to be adjusted
  • what foods to avoid
  • how to take care of your teeth and braces during treatment
  • what results to expect from your orthodontic treatment
  • the estimated time you’ll be in braces

But what about the actual mechanics involved in moving your teeth? Knowing more about how braces are designed to align your teeth and jaw can give you a better understanding of what’s happening behind the scenes of your new smile. Let’s take a look at what your braces are made of, how they achieve movement, and what you can do to keep your teeth looking great once they come off!

The composition of braces

The first step in understanding how braces move your teeth is to familiarize yourself with the various parts they’re made up of.

Brackets

Made of metal or ceramic materials, brackets are the most visible part of your braces. They’re bonded to the surface of each tooth to keep them in place throughout your treatment.

Arch wires

These thin, rod-like metal wires are placed over each bracket. The arch wires are the essential component for creating pressure against the teeth that will gradually move them into the correct positions.

O-Rings

These small elastic bands are commonly referred to as ligatures, or ligature elastics, and they hold the bracket onto the arch wire. O-rings will usually be changed at each adjustment appointment, and we offer a wide variety of colors to choose from if you want to add a splash of fun to your smile! We also have clear or tooth-colored elastics for patients who prefer a more natural look.

These components work together to exert constant pressure on the teeth, which will gradually move them into their proper positions over the course of the treatment process. We sometimes use springs or rubber bands as well, in order to exert a bit more force in a specific direction. Now that you know what braces are made of, how exactly do they move your teeth?

Achieving tooth movement through bone remodeling

Having some knowledge of how your teeth are constructed will help you better understand the way braces work. Teeth are surrounded by gum tissue called gingiva at the top, while the bottom portion of the tooth is encased in the periodontal membrane. This is sometimes also referred to as the periodontal ligament, or the PDL. Next to both of these is the alveolar bone.


As the braces begin to put pressure on your teeth, the periodontal membrane stretches on one side and is compressed on the other, loosening the tooth. New bone then grows in to support the tooth. This is what we call bone remodeling, and it’s the real magic of orthodontics!

Bone remodeling is a biomechanical process; that is, the bones become stronger in response to the sustained load-bearing activity of braces. Once the load has been removed, the bones will go back to their pretreatment levels of weakness and inactivity. This is due to the makeup of our bones, which are a collection of cells called osteoclasts and osteoblasts. When the load on a bone is increased, osteoclasts are created, which will break it down in response to the load. When that load is removed, osteoblasts are created, producing new bone cells. This process is repeated throughout your treatmentthrough the repetitive motion of tightening and adjusting your braces, ultimately increasing the bone density of your teeth.

Each tooth is also socketed in bone – the maxilla for the upper teeth, and the mandible for the lower teeth. It’s the PDL that acts as a messenger between the teeth and surrounding bony sockets. Pressure between the PDL and bone creates osteoclasts, and then breaks down the bone to restore the normal spacing between the teeth and bone. There is a corresponding tension on the PDL behind the movement, causing the bone to create osteoblasts, effectively building new bone to fill in the difference. This will once again restore the normal spacing between teeth and bone. This process doesn’t require a large amount of force, just an amount of force that isn’t normally present.

The osteoclast (breakdown) process can take a few days to get going, while the osteoblast (rebuild) process can take up to three months, or sometimes even more. The end result can take up to a year to stabilize, which is why it’s so important to wear a retainer after your initial treatment has ended! Wearing your retainer as directed by Dr. Kristen and Dr. Penny will keep your teeth from shifting back to their original positions, undoing all your hard work.

The force behind your braces

You can thank your brackets and archwires for providing your teeth with the force needed to create the kind of pressure that will result in positive tooth movement. Archwires are usually made of materials that are activated by body heat to increase stiffness, but they tend to want to retain their normal shape. The initial wire we use is called a twist wire, and it’s like a small cable that wants to stay straight. When we put it on your teeth, this wire is activated by the heat of your mouth.

Dentist and orthodontist concept. Young woman smiling showing teeth with blue braces

Later in treatment, the twist wires will be replaced with wire that’s more flexible, usually one made of a nickel-titanium alloy. This wire is also activated by body heat to become stiff. When the brackets are placed on your teeth and then tied to the wires, it completes the transmission of forces from the archwire to the teeth.

It’s this desire of the archwires to remain straight that kicks off the kind of force necessary to get the biomechanical process of bone remodeling going. It’s also what keeps it going throughout treatment. Remodeling will eventually result in a beautifully aligned and fully functional smile!

A better smile is waiting for you at Sawgrass Orthodontics

Whether you’re just about to have braces put on, about to have them taken off, or anywhere in between, our team is here to support you. We’re always happy to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about your treatment planor process, or even if you just need a little bit of encouragement! Our team is passionate about providing the best orthodontic experience possible as we help you find your best smile with braces.

- Dr. Langford

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