Self-Ligating Braces Explained: Are They Better?

Self-Ligating Braces Explained: Are They Better?

Mar
1
2024

Self-Ligating Braces Explained: Are They Better?

The technology of fixing smiles by straightening teeth has steadily improved and expanded throughout the years — including braces! Although they may look similar to braces from the past, this orthodontic method of addressing problematic teeth has several variations and advancements that make straightening teeth more efficient and effective. If you are confused by the options available today, you are not alone! Here is a helpful insight into self-ligating braces, and even better, Dr. Carroll and Dr. Sutton and the friendly, professional team at Carroll & Sutton Orthodontics can help you understand the best treatment for your unique situation and goals!

Are you considering self-ligating braces for your orthodontic treatment, but don’t understand exactly how they work? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Self-ligating braces can seem a bit complex, and often not the “holy grail” they’re advertised to be.

Like any type of braces, self-ligating brackets are just a tool. The first thing patients do when looking to straighten their teeth is find an orthodontist they can trust. Some orthodontists prefer to use traditional metal braces, while others rely more on self-ligating braces like Damon.

So, your orthodontist’s personal experience plays a huge role in the type of appliance you’ll get. If your orthodontist leans into using self-ligating braces and you trust their expertise, then go for it!

How Are Self-Ligating Braces Different?

Self-ligating brackets as we know them today were invented in the 80s to solve some of the problems of traditional fixed braces. As a result, self-ligating braces are smaller, more hygienic, and most of all, more convenient for busy orthodontic practices.

From an orthodontist’s point of view, self-ligating braces are better because we see patients less. This allows for a more streamlined approach to orthodontic treatment, not to mention the ability to take on more patients.

But what does this mean for the person wearing the braces? Are self-ligating braces better than their conventional counterpart, or just more convenient? Let’s compare them and find out.

Self-Ligating Braces Vs. Traditional Braces

The main difference between self-ligating braces and traditional braces is how the wire is secured to the bracket.

With traditional braces, tiny elastic rings or ligatures are wrapped around each bracket to hold the wire in place. This elastic ligature eventually loosens up and becomes contaminated with plaque, which makes it ineffective and well, a little gross.

Self-ligating brackets use a small metal clip instead of elastic to secure the wire. This mechanism is what makes self-ligating braces more sophisticated, but it also changes the way teeth move and straighten.

Since the wire can slide freely inside the self-ligating bracket slot, it allows for faster, unrestricted movement in the first few months, when the wire is round and thin.

As the treatment progresses, and we go to bigger wires, the clip holds the wire tightly inside the bracket, expressing even more intricate movements of the teeth.

Is Treatment Faster With Self-Ligating Braces?

Self-ligating braces often come with the promise of a quicker treatment time compared to traditional braces. This is because self-ligating systems are designed to reduce friction, which is something we want in orthodontics.

Patients might enjoy a slightly shorter journey to their perfect smile, depending on their individual case. Typically, you can expect your treatment to be 3 to 4 months shorter using these braces. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a lot.

By the time we get to bigger wires, the speed of self-ligating braces tends to level out and they become as efficient as traditional braces. This is because bigger wires generate more friction. Plus, we actually want some friction in the final stages of treatment so we can better control the outcome.

My experience with self-ligating brackets has been mixed, with some of them actually taking longer than traditional ones. Granted, I used passive self-ligating braces in those particular cases and waited for a long time for the bite to level out.

The efficacy of self-ligating braces will highly depend on the brand and the orthodontist’s experience.

Ceramic self-ligating braces actually work slower than metal braces in general, so that’s another aspect to keep in mind.

So, don’t trust claims that self-ligating braces are twice as fast. It’s simply not true and highly depends on the patient’s particular bite, teeth, and bone. Lastly, treatment length also depends on the orthodontist’s style and what they call a “finished” case.

Self-Ligating Braces Need Less Appointments

With self-ligating braces, fewer adjustments are typically needed. In fact, they barely need adjusting at all, since the clip can hold the wire in place until it’s time to change it.

However, we still prefer to see our patients about every 8 weeks to monitor their progress and do two things:

  • Check if teeth are moving how we’d like them to move;
  • Take the wire out and clean it, or switch to a new wire when necessary.

Some cases get solved in 10-12 appointments or less. That’s beyond convenient for most patients and orthodontists alike. But, like I said, not all people will be so lucky, so it’s best to adjust your expectations.

Self-Ligating Braces And Color Options

Traditional braces have the upper hand when it comes to expressing your personality with colored elastics. For younger patients, this is sometimes their sole motivation for wanting or accepting braces.

Self-ligating braces are very discreet, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a time when you can use color.

During orthodontic treatment, some spaces and gaps can open up and they need to be closed. For that purpose, we use a continuous elastic ligature called power chain on top of self-ligating braces.

Power chains come in many colors, and you can choose a different one at every appointment. So that’s a fun way to make your braces pop.

If you’re wearing rubber bands, those come in different colors too, just ask your orthodontist.

Most people wearing self-ligating braces aren’t interested in wearing color, so that’s why their orthodontists assume they want something discreet. But it’s still good to know you have options.

Understanding Self-Ligating Brace Design

Passive Vs. Active Self-Ligating Brackets

When it comes to self-ligating braces, there are two main types: Passive Self-Ligating Braces (PSLB) and Active Self-Ligating Braces (ASLB). The primary difference between them lies in their design and how they interact with archwires.

Passive self-ligating braces have a deeper slot, and their clip sits away from the wire, allowing the wire to move freely.

On the other hand, active self-ligating braces feature a shallower slot, and the clip is spring-loaded and pressed onto the wire, providing more control over tooth movement. In a way, ASLBs are closer to traditional braces in terms of how they work.

Interestingly, studies have shown that ASLBs are often more efficient than passive braces, and I also found that to be true in my practice.

I know the difference between ASLB and PSLB can be confusing, and you’re not required, as a patient, to be familiar with these terms. Ultimately, it’s your orthodontist who decides what tools to use routinely in their practice.

Metal & Ceramic Self-Ligating Braces

You’ll find that self-ligating braces are available in both metal and ceramic options. The choice depends on your aesthetic preferences as well as how they feel in your mouth. Typically, ceramic braces are smoother than metal ones.

Metal self-ligating brackets are small, low profile, and quite easy to clean around. The fact that they’re all-metal makes them visible, but low-key. Metal braces are the most effective and come with many advantages.

Ceramic self-ligating braces are tooth-colored and can have metal clips, which are more visible, or ceramic clips, which makes them super discreet.

Self-ligating ceramic braces don’t stain as much as traditional ceramic braces, because they don’t have elastic ligatures that turn yellow.

But the downside is that the ceramic clips can make ceramic self-ligating braces quite big and some people have trouble closing their lips.