For some, braces take 3-4 years to come off, whereas other people get their braces off in 1-2 years…why? Is there a way to speed it up and make it go faster? Let’s discuss why braces take so long and what you can do as a patient to minimize your time in braces.
“My teeth look straight, but the dentist won’t take my braces off”
Generally, there are two stages of treatment when it comes to wearing braces.
Stage 1: The teeth become aligned or straightened in the top and bottom arches. This stage occurs rather quickly and often in just a few months. This is when the patient notices that their teeth look “straight.” So why don’t the braces come off when the teeth “look” straight? Because this is when the second stage kicks in.
Stage 2: This is the phase where your bite will become aligned. Your top and bottom teeth might look straight, but your teeth are like a zig-saw puzzle, so the top teeth need to fit into the bottom teeth perfectly, or there will be long-term consequences. Once the top and bottom teeth fit into each other’s grooves perfectly, plenty of other things will improve too, like chewing, speaking, lip posture. But more importantly, good alignment of the BITE (not just the teeth) decreases the risk of trauma to the front teeth and decreases tooth wear in the long run.
“I found a company online, that promises to straighten my teeth in 6-12 months.”
BE CAUTIOUS! You will find plenty of companies on Google, Instagram and Facebook, who are now selling “do-it-yourself” clear aligners, and they are promising to straighten your teeth in less than a year, at half the price. But here’s the problem with that: they will ONLY straighten your TEETH, not your BITE! This is why many patients have problems with chewing, speaking, tooth wear and gum disease in the long run. I have personally met patients who CANNOT touch their top and bottom teeth together after getting clear aligners from online companies. You will notice that the teeth are perfectly straight, but unfortunately, the top and bottom teeth don’t touch, therefore, they can’t perform the task they were made for…chewing. This is what we call an open bite (shown in the photo below).
Please don’t take short-cuts and try to reduce your time in braces or clear aligners by using tooth straightening products at home. I promise you that you will spend 10x longer trying to fix the bite alignment issue, and end up paying double in the long run. Thus, it’s better to straighten your teeth properly by a professional the first time around.
How Fast do Braces Normally Work?
The average time for braces for you may vary between 18 months to 30 months and sometimes longer. After all, no two sets of teeth are the same; even in siblings or twins (a.k.a me) for that matter!
Due to the limitations of our natural anatomy, there is a maximum limit to how fast teeth can move safely. Teeth move within the bone and the ligament (known as periodontal ligament) that holds them in the bone. If teeth are moved too fast, the bone and ligament are damaged which increases the amount of pain experienced by the patient AND it can even lead to the breakdown of tooth roots. Therefore, it is very important to understand biological limitations in order to achieve a healthy & straight smile, without causing long-term damage.
Age & Case Complexity Determine Treatment Time
The alignment of your teeth and jaws can play a significant role in treatment time. Generally, the more crooked the teeth are and the more complicated the bite is, the longer the treatment. Also, age plays a significant role. The teeth of children and teenagers tend to move faster because they are often in a growth phase, where their jaws and bodies are rapidly growing. Adults who are past their growth spurts have teeth that move at a much slower pace in comparison to teenagers. On top of that, adults are at a greater risk of gum disease if oral hygiene isn’t maintained, this can lead to the jaw bone deteriorating which can slow down teeth movement.
Can You Make Braces Work Faster?
YES! Patients can do 3 things to make the process of braces go faster, and avoid delay in getting the braces off.
1. Hygiene: Maintaining oral hygiene and keeping the teeth and gums clean is very important. Plaque contains bacteria, which can accumulate around braces. If this plaque is not frequently removed, then the teeth can develop white spots which may turn into cavities. The gums also respond to this plaque build-up by becoming red, puffy and swollen. They can get so swollen that they make the braces “tightening” process more difficult & painful for the patient and the dentist. Thus, braces may need to be taken off temporarily to get the plaque under control. Unfortunately, this can delay your treatment time.
2. Attend your Appointments: Patients undergoing orthodontic treatment with braces usually visit the orthodontist every 4-6 weeks. The teeth move slowly and continuously, as the braces get “tightened” every month. However, missing appointments can drastically slow down this progress.
3. Compliance (Play your part): The patient’s role in treatment is equally as important as the job of an orthodontist or dentist. As a patient, you must ensure brackets are not broken, because studies have shown that each broken bracket leads to approximately an extra month of treatment time. Moreover, you may be instructed to wear rubber bands or elastics to help coordinate the jaws and achieve a proper bite. If you do not wear these bands as instructed, then the bite will take much longer to align which will also increase your treatment time.
Since every patient has a unique set of teeth and jaw, treatment times can vary between individuals. Thus, it’s important to talk to your orthodontist or dentist about factors, which are specific to you and may affect your treatment time.
For further reading, please click here, if you want to learn why wearing rubber bands (also knows as “elastics”) with your braces is extremely important, and why it’s a common reason behind treatment delay.
Bukhari, O. M., Sohrabi, K., & Tavares, M. (2016). Factors affecting patients’ adherence to orthodontic appointments. American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial_Orthopedics, 149(3), 319-324. Proffit, William, Henry Fields, David Sarver. Contemporary Orthodontics, 5th Edition. Mosby. pg 607.
Tsichlaki, A., Chin, S. Y., Pandis, N., & Fleming, P. S. (2016). How long does treatment with fixed orthodontic appliances last? A systematic review. American journal of orthodontics and_dentofacial orthopedics, 149(3), 308-318.