Invisible braces are designed for adults and older teenagers; invisible braces are not recommended when baby teeth remain. Children and younger teenagers faced with orthodontic problems will require traditional metal braces with brackets/wires on the front of the teeth. However, only your dentist or orthodontist can determine if you are a candidate for invisible braces. The clear aligner treatment was designed primarily for adults due to the need for absolute and rigid cooperation; the trays are worn 22 hours per day and should not be forgotten or lost.

Types of Invisible Braces

Popular types of cosmetic braces include ceramic brackets, inside braces and clear aligners. Ceramic braces are just like metal braces, except that they use tooth-colored brackets (and sometimes tooth-colored wires) rather than metal to straighten teeth. Generally non-staining, the tooth-colored ceramic “blends” with your teeth, making them less noticeable than metal, but not as “invisible” as inside braces or clear aligners. Inside braces — also called as inside invisible braces, lingual braces or “iBraces” — and clear aligners go one step further, making treatment virtually invisible. Each alternative has its advantages and disadvantages.

“Ceramic, or “clear,” braces are made of composite materials that are weaker and more brittle than metal braces. Ceramic brackets are larger than metal brackets and require small rubber bands, or ligatures, (or built in spring clips on “self-ligating” brackets) to hold them to the archwire. Because the ligatures are white or clear, they can stain. However, staining is not a big problem because ligatures are changed every time you get an adjustment (generally monthly). The “self ligating” clips do not require retyping with wires or elastics.

Also like metal braces, ceramic brackets are not removable until treatment is completed, can produce irritation and discomfort, and may complicate regular tooth care, eating and speaking.

Because they are not as strong as metal braces, clear braces require a longer treatment time, since your orthodontist may need to apply a slower, more gradual force to ensure the strength capabilities of the clear brackets are not overtaxed. Ceramic brackets also are usually more expensive than traditional metal brackets (about $500 more). As a cost-saving measure, some patients may opt to have ceramic braces placed only on the most visible teeth — typically the upper teeth or just the upper centre teeth — while using traditional metal brackets on the remaining teeth that need straightening. Also, there is some possibility of tooth abrasion if the incisal edges of the upper front teeth touch the lower ceramic brackets.

Inside braces (including such brands as 3M’s Incognito Orthodontic Braces) are attached to the back of the teeth so they are hidden from view. Current iBraces use scanned images of the insides of the teeth to create special, computer-designed custom brackets that are attached to the insides of the upper and sometimes lower teeth. This makes them appealing to people who are often in public and might feel self-conscious about wearing clear aligners or braces with metal or ceramic brackets/wires on the front of their teeth. Whereas clear, removable aligners can be misplaced or lost, thereby delaying treatment, iBraces are fixed and not removable. Elastics can be used with iBraces to help hasten treatment. Such elastics are available for use with clear aligners but are more difficult to use.

Disadvantages of iBraces include a higher cost than traditional braces used on the front of the teeth due to the computer customization required to make the brackets. Since computer manufactured iBraces represent a newer technique, many orthodontists are not comfortable or experienced in performing invisible braces treatment and, therefore, shy away from offering them as a treatment plan. Speech, comfort, maintaining dental hygiene and removing dental plaque may pose challenges with iBraces.

Clear aligners (including such brands as Align Technologies’ Invisalign and ClearCorrect Inc.’s ClearCorrect) are a series of clear, removable aligners custom-fit to your teeth to provide virtually irritation-free treatment with minimal adjustment discomfort. Clear aligners are nearly invisible, minimally invasive and resistant to clouding from wear. With clear aligners, there are no brackets to come off or wires to break and poke. Clear aligners can be removed for eating, drinking and special events, making it easier to brush and floss.