braces types

The Ultimate-Mega Comparison Guide of 12 Different Types of Braces and Clear Aligners

BY Dr. Rooz

‘Brace’ yourself—this patient guide is a long one.

We’re sorry for the pun above. But honestly, who could pass up the opportunity?

In this comprehensive educational blog, we’re going to cover the need-to-know facts of more than a dozen orthodontic treatment options to help you decide which one is right for your orthodontic needs.

An Important Note About Braces!

Before we dive in, we want to mention that the fundamental science of moving teeth is ‌the same no matter which orthodontic appliance you choose.

‘Orthodontics’ is a specific type of dental treatment in which an appliance puts pressure on your teeth to move them slowly, and there are many different types of braces and clear aligners (aka Invisalign) that can do this. They differ in look, feel, design, cost, and quality, and the best way to figure out which type is right for you is to visit an orthodontist for an often complimentary consultation.

In the meantime, this guide will let you compare over a dozen orthodontic appliances so that you can understand the differences for yourself. Treatment time can influence the choice of ideal type of braces or clear aligners.

This blog is packed with so much information that you might want to use the table of contents below to head straight to the orthodontic appliance that you’re most interested in.

Jump to a teeth-straightening solution.


Types of braces:

Different types of braces & aligners

Fixed Orthodontic Appliances

Fixed orthodontic appliances are classic teeth-straightening systems that a trained orthodontist attaches to teeth. This kind of treatment has to be done in a clinic, and the appliance has to be adjusted periodically to help tooth movement to progress. Because they are “fixed,” these appliances can’t be removed. Fixed orthodontic appliances are a reliable treatment choice for patients of any age. Orthodontists also use elastics to correct misalignment of the bite.

Traditional Metal Braces

What they are: 

Fixed orthodontic appliances made from metals like stainless steel or alloys of materials like titanium, nickel, and chromium. 

How they work: 

An orthodontist attaches metal brackets to your teeth, and these brackets have a groove for holding the metal arch wire. This wire is then held in place by small rubber bands that are wrapped around the brackets. Every four to eight weeks, you’ll visit the orthodontist to have your tooth movement checked. The orthodontist will remove the rubber bands, adjust the arch wire, and then secure it in place again with the bands.

Average treatment cost: 

$3,000–7,000

Average treatment length: 

1.5—3 years

What they look like: 

Metal braces deliver that classic “braces look” that many people associate with teenagers. But metal braces aren’t just for kids—they’re also an excellent choice for adults who want straighter teeth. You can accessorize metal braces with rubber band colors of your choice.

What they feel like: 

Metal braces are definitely hard to ignore… at first! The metal brackets can feel bulky against the inside of your lips and cheeks, but you will get used to the sensation. Your teeth and gums may feel sore when you first get braces and after adjustments, but the discomfort is easy to manage with over-the-counter pain medication, ice packs, and oral anesthetic gels. If there is a piece of wire that is poking your mouth or gums, your orthodontist can repair it and even give you wax for cushioning sharp areas of your braces.

How to care for them: 

Brush your teeth (and around your braces!) from all angles, multiple times per day. Use a floss threader or orthodontic flossing device to clean in between your teeth. Avoid hard, sticky, crunchy or gummy foods as these can damage your braces. Your dentist may recommend that you use a fluoride rinse to prevent cavities during your orthodontic treatment.

Pros:

  • Effective and dependable treatment that’s provided by a professional
  • Often the most economical choice
  • Good for all ages

Cons:

  • Highly visible
  • Not removable
  • Must avoid certain foods during treatment

Self-Ligating Braces (e.g, Damon™ System)

What they are:

Fixed and self-ligating orthodontic appliances consisting of metal or clear brackets and a metal arch wire with no need for rubber bands around the brackets. Damon™ Braces is one of the most well-known brands of self-ligating braces.

How they work: 

“Self-ligating” means that these braces can adjust themselves into the right position without the need for ligatures, which is the technical name of orthodontic rubber bands. Self-ligating brackets have a lock mechanism inside that lets the archwire move freely as the teeth shift into new positions. An orthodontist cements the brackets to the teeth, just like regular braces brackets, but the archwire is locked in place with a sliding mechanism inside the brackets.

Average treatment cost: 

$6,000

Average treatment length: 

1–2 years

What they look like: 

Self-ligating braces look similar to regular metal braces, but they are a little less visible because the brackets are slightly smaller and lack both rubber bands and the “wings” needed to anchor rubber bands. You can increase the esthetics by opting for clear brackets.

What they feel like: 

Self-ligating braces feel like regular metal braces, but they are often even more comfortable. This is because the self-ligating system puts less intense pressure on the teeth than regular braces with rubber bands on the brackets.

How to care for them: 

Brush your teeth as usual at least twice per day. Because self-ligating braces don’t have wings and rubber bands on the brackets, it’s easy to brush them and keep them clean. Remember to use an orthodontic flossing device, and stay away from foods like carrots, caramel, popcorn, chips, and other crunchy and sticky items that can damage your braces.

Pros:

  • Easier to keep clean
  • Slightly smaller than regular braces
  • No need for color ties

Cons:

  • More expensive than regular braces
  • The door can break and you need to change the bracket

Custom Digital Braces

What makes custom digital braces the best?

Simply the fact that this orthodontic treatment system focuses on finding the best solutions for you. Yes, it’s the personalization that makes all the difference.

Custom digital orthodontics is an approach that brings together the best of braces solutions we reviewed above. It combines remote consultations, treatment virtual check, and customize proactive treatment planning with the expert insights of an orthodontist. The virtually simulated treatment plan is likely lead into a high quality care at shorter period of time.

The result? 

A tailored treatment plan that’s customized to your unique goals, oral health condition, and esthetic priorities.

What they are: 

Custom digital braces are individually tailored orthodontic appliances that are designed to fit you perfectly and help your teeth move as quickly and comfortably as possible. The customization are in digitally designing the position of the brackets and using smart robotically bent wires to execute the treatment plan at a high precision.

How they work: 

The custom digital braces treatment approach incorporates the latest digital technology including:

  • Fully digital evaluations with no need for messy impressions
  • Virtual consultations
  • Virtual treatment progress checking options
  • In-office 3D printing technology to accurately position the braces
  • Treatment planning software that precisely simulate your final results and helps determine the best approach for straightening your teeth
  • Robotic-bent archwires for high precision
  • Customized brackets (placed with 3D-printed trays to ensure perfect positioning)
  • Clear aligners that are designed and printed on-site to complement braces

Average treatment cost: 

$2,000–12,000

Average treatment length: 

6 months to 2 years

What they look like: 

Any way you want them to look! Custom digital braces give you the freedom to choose an orthodontic solution that is as visible or invisible as you like. You can pick braces inside or outside of your teeth.

What they feel like: 

Custom digital braces feel great because you will have expert insights and care helping you along every step of the way. Right from the start, you’ll work with a skilled specialist who can help you decide on a treatment that will be as comfortable as possible for you without compromising on efficiency. The experienced orthodontic team will continue to assess your situation and can do so remotely for your convenience, if you’d prefer.

How to care for them: 

Your orthodontic team will teach you how to take excellent care of your digital custom braces. You’ll receive detailed instructions and suggestions for maintaining your oral health while keeping your fixed or removable orthodontic appliances clean, fresh, and functional.

Pros:

  • Personalized treatment plan
  • Qualified and competent professional care
  • Unlimited treatment customization options
  • Fast, efficient care
  • Convenient and easy appointments
  • Individualized financing options

Cons:

  • We can’t think of any drawbacks to this arrangement!

Clear Braces

Ceramic (Tooth-Colored) Braces

What they are: 

Fixed orthodontic appliances consisting of strong ceramic brackets and a tooth-colored metal wire.

How they work: 

Clear ceramic braces work the same way that metal braces do. An orthodontist attaches the brackets to your teeth and then fastens an arch wire in place over them with clear rubber bands. This wire will need to be tightened or adjusted at intervals during ‌treatment.

Average treatment cost: 

$4,000–8,000

Average treatment length: 

1–3 years

What they look like: 

Ceramic braces blend in with the color of the surrounding teeth, so they are much less noticeable than metal braces. That’s why you might also hear ceramic braces called “clear braces” or “esthetic braces.”

What they feel like: 

Just like metal braces, ceramic braces will feel ‌bulky in your mouth for a while as you get used to the feeling of having a fixed orthodontic appliance attached to the outside of your teeth. You will quickly adjust, however. If you experience any discomfort after an orthodontic adjustment, you can soothe it away with over-the-counter medication, an ice pack, or an oral numbing gel.

How to care for them: 

Brush your teeth and brackets thoroughly from all angles at least twice per day. Make sure to brush the fronts of the brackets, and then angle your toothbrush to clean them from above and below. Do this on both the upper and lower sets of braces. Use an orthodontic flosser to reach under the arch wire to clean the spaces between your teeth. Keep dark-colored foods and beverages to a minimum because these can stain the clear rubber bands.

Pros:

  • Effective and dependable treatment that’s provided by a professional
  • More esthetic and less visible than metal braces

Cons:

  • Slightly more expensive than metal braces
  • Clear rubber bands can become stained, which would make your braces noticeable
  • Not removable
  • Can limit your food choices for the duration of treatment

Invisible Braces

Lingual Braces

What they are: 

Fixed orthodontic appliances consisting of metal brackets and wires attached to the inside surface of teeth.

How they work: 

Lingual braces work just like regular metal braces. The only difference is that they are placed on the inner side of your teeth instead of on the outer surface. A trained orthodontist will cement the brackets to the side of your teeth that is closest to your tongue (that’s what “lingual” means, by the way) and attach a wire to them. Brackets that are custom-designed tend to be the most comfortable.

Average treatment cost: 

$10,000

Average treatment length: 

1–2 years

What they look like: 

The best part about lingual braces is that they look like you’re wearing absolutely nothing on your teeth! You would have to open your mouth really wide and tell someone to look at the inside of your mouth in order for them to see that you have braces.

What they feel like: 

Lingual braces can be ‌rough on the tongue, but getting the brackets customized makes them much more comfortable.

How to care for them: 

Brushing and flossing around lingual braces can be difficult, so it’s a good idea to use powered devices like electric toothbrushes and water flossers. As with other types of braces, you will still have to avoid chewy, sticky, or crunchy foods that can get stuck in your braces or damage them.

Pros:

  • Truly ‘invisible’ for the best esthetics
  • Compared with regular braces, less likely to affect your ability to play certain musical instruments
  • Can be customized for the most comfortable fit and most effective tooth movement

Cons:

  • More expensive than regular braces
  • Not ideal for young children who need orthodontic treatment
  • It can take more time to get used to talking with lingual braces
  • Few orthodontists have experience in placing lingual braces

Clear aligners also know as Invisalign treatment

Clear aligner treatment is popular these days for patients of all ages and it’s readily available in many family dentistry practices besides orthodontic practices. Quality of orthodontic treatment with clear aligners is often varies between care provided by orthodontists vs dentists.

In most cases, professional clear aligner treatment is prescribed by a qualified doctor, and the aligners are made outside the practice by a large company. Nonthless, services are avaiable to directly provide aligners to patients.

There are now several such companies that are constantly innovating and developing patented processes to produce better clear aligners.


Invisalign® Clear Aligners

What they are: 

Clear aligners made from Invisalign’s patented SmartTrack® material. This material used to be a unique product yet with advances in new plastic, many better alternative plastic are on the market.

How they work: 

When you visit an Invisalign provider, the doctor will take a scan of your teeth and upload it to a computer where the Invisalign software will generate a simulation of what your teeth will look like at the end of your treatment.

Your Invisalign doctor will then approve your computer genreated treatment plan. Next, the treatment plan goes off to Align technology where they fabrictae a sequence of clear aligner trays per your doctor’s prescription. Your doctor will receive your aligners, deliver it to you and you’ll wear each set of upper and lower trays for 1 or 2 weeks until your teeth have moved and are ready for the next set of trays.

Average treatment cost: 

$3,500–7,000

Average treatment length: 

6–24 months

What they look like: 

Invisalign clear aligners are transparent and have a subtle texture that makes them just cloudy enough that they resemble the appearance of natural teeth. The aligners have scalloped edges that follow the gum line. Other people won’t be able to tell that you are wearing the aligners unless they look closely.

What they feel like: 

You will notice a difference when you put Invisalign trays on for the first time. Despite being made from thin plastic, these clear aligners are strong and you’ll feel the added thickness over your teeth. It’s normal for your teeth to be sore for a day or so when you put in a new tray.

How to care for them: 

Take your Invisalign trays out every time you drink or eat anything other than plain water. Clean your trays thoroughly and often with a clear soap and room temperature water or an Invisalign-approved aligner cleaning and soaking solution. Store your trays in their container where they’ll be safe whenever you aren’t wearing them. Practice excellent oral hygiene throughout the course of your treatment to prevent bad breath- and cavity-causing germs from getting trapped under your aligners.

Invisalign teen is a similar product to Invisalign which is packaged for teens. Basically, all clear aligner options are available to fix crooked teeth in teens.

Pros:

  • Convenient removable aligners let you eat whatever you like
  • Takes just as long as braces and can be even faster
  • Esthetic orthodontic solution
  • Relatively easy oral hygiene

Cons:

  • Aligners are easy to misplace or damage, which can stall your treatment progress
  • Aligners must be worn 20–22 hours per day, and it’s easy to forget
  • May not work well for complex tooth alignment problems
  • More expensive than online clear aligners

ClearCorrect® Clear Aligners

What they are: 

Clear aligners made from medical-grade plastic by the Straumann Group, an international company that has specialized in esthetic dentistry for decades.

How they work: 

Similar to Invisalign clear aligners, ClearCorrect aligners are prescribed by a participating dentist who takes digital scans of your teeth, maps out a treatment plan using state-of-the-art software, and then orders several sets of custom-fitted clear aligners. You wear the aligners for a minimum of 20 hours per day, taking them out only to eat, drink, and clean your teeth.

Average treatment cost: 

$2,500–5,500

Average treatment length: 

6–18 months

What they look like: 

ClearCorrect aligners are slightly thinner and lighter and more transparent than Invisalign clear aligners. When you wear them, no one will notice a thing.

What they feel like: 

ClearCorrect clear aligners might be a bit thinner than Invisalign, but they will still feel snug when you put them on your teeth. Your teeth and gums may feel a bit sore whenever you take the aligners off, but this is fairly common with all kinds of clear aligners.

How to care for them: 

Keep your ClearCorrect aligners sparkling-clean and fresh by rinsing them every time you take them out, which you should do every time you eat or drink anything that isn’t cool water. Prevent bacterial growth by cleaning them with clear soap or an aligner cleaning solution your dentist or orthodontist provides. Keep your teeth clean, as well! Brush at least twice a day and floss at least once. Keep your ClearCorrect aligners inside their case whenever you aren’t wearing them.

Pros:

  • Truly “invisible” orthodontic appliance
  • Excellent esthetics
  • Scalloped along the edges to avoid pressing on the gums
  • Provided by a qualified dental professional
  • More affordable than Invisalign
  • Convenient and removable

Cons:

  • Newer than the Invisalign brand of aligners
  • Aligners are a bit stiffer than Invisalign aligners
  • Treatment with ClearCorrect could take longer than treatment with Invisalign
  • Aligners are easy to misplace or damage, which can stall your treatment progress
  • Aligners must be worn 20–22 hours per day, and it’s easy to forget

Spark™ Clear Aligner System

What they are: 

Clear aligners designed by Ormco, the same company behind Damon Braces, using their patented TruGEN™ material.

How they work: 

Just like any other doctor-prescribed clear aligner treatment, Spark clear aligner treatment starts with a visit to a qualified orthodontist who will scan your teeth and use on-site software to design a treatment plan. The orthodontist will place an order for your clear aligner trays with the Spark company, you’ll receive your aligners, and then you have to start wearing them for 20–22 hours per day until your orthodontist says you’re ready for the next set.

Average treatment cost: 

$3,500–8,000

Average treatment length: 

6–18 months

What they look like: 

Spark clear aligners are ultra-transparent for the most “barely there” look possible. The edges of the aligners are scalloped and polished to make them comfortable and keep them away from the gum line. They’re also designed to be more stain-resistant than other clear aligners. When you’re wearing Spark aligners, no one else would notice them.

What they feel like: 

Spark clear aligners are designed to be lightweight, efficient, and comfortable. You will notice the difference when you first wear Spark aligners—your teeth might feel bulky under your lips. But you’ll soon get used to the sensation.

How to care for them: 

Rinse your Spark aligners every time you take them out and give them a thorough washing every day with a dentist-approved aligner cleaning solution. Never wash your aligners in hot water, and take them out of your mouth every time you eat or drink something that isn’t plain cool water. Store your Spark aligners in a safe place whenever they are out of your mouth, and practice good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily so that you don’t trap food debris and germs under your aligners when you put them back in.

Pros:

  • Spark aligners are more clear than Invisalign
  • Removable
  • Potentially more comfortable and more efficient than Invisalign
  • Easy oral hygiene

Cons:

  • Requires you to be diligent about wearing the aligners for 20+ hours per day
  • Removable aligners can be easy to misplace
  • Only available from orthodontists

uSmile™ Clear Aligners

What they are: 

Clear aligners made of Zendura® FLX thermoplastic material and hybrid treatments developed by uLab™ Systems, a team of experienced orthodontic experts who helped develop clear aligner technology decades ago.

How they work: 

The clear aligners by uSmile may be printed either at the orthodontist’s office or at uLab’s state-of-the-art USA-based printing site. When you visit an orthodontist that offers uSmile clear aligners, he or she will scan your teeth and use the uLab software to create a personalized treatment plan that could combine clear aligners with a fixed orthodontic appliance.

For example, depending on your unique treatment needs, you might start your orthodontic treatment in braces, but then finish it up with custom-fitted clear aligners. Or you might need to wear braces on your lower teeth while wearing a clear aligner on your upper teeth.

Average treatment cost: 

$3,500–7,000

Average treatment length: 

6–24 months

What they look like: 

uSmile clear aligners look very similar to other clear aligners. This means that when you’re wearing them, no one else will even notice unless you tell them.

What they feel like: 

uSmile clear aligners provide a unique treatment experience because they allow you to combine different kinds of orthodontic treatment. So depending on your individual treatment plan, 

How to care for them: 

Carefully follow the orthodontist’s instructions for caring for your uSmile clear aligners. You might have a unique treatment plan that includes both braces and clear aligners, so you’ll need to follow the right cleaning process for the appliances you have been prescribed.

Pros:

  • Personalized orthodontic treatment plan that can combine different orthodontic appliances for best results
  • Treatment is provided by a qualified orthodontist
  • Invisible or nearly invisible esthetics
  • Only provided by orthodontists

Cons:

  • A new clear aligner system compared to Invisalign
  • More expensive than box aligners

Online Clear Aligners | Box orthodontics

An online clear aligner is the least desirable orthodontic treatment option because it doesn’t come with the professional supervision that other treatments do. When you order clear aligners online, you’re getting a prescription from someone who doesn’t personally know you and can’t give you an accurate diagnosis. As a result, there’s a higher risk of complications.

Despite this, ordering clear aligner treatment online is still an affordable and attractive orthodontic option for many people.

SmileDirectClub™ Clear Aligners

What they are: 

Clear aligners made of a thermoplastic material that are prescribed for patients based on remote diagnoses.

How they work: 

SmileDirectClub became the trendsetter when they popularized the model of DTC (direct-to-customer) clear aligner treatment. All you do is request an at-home impression kit which you use to take an impression of your bite and then mail back to the company. Alternatively, you visit SmileShop for a digital scan. SmileDirectClub has licensed dental professionals who will approve your proposed treatment plan, and then the company will send you all the aligner trays to complete your treatment.

You can also choose a plan that suits your goals. Classic SmileDirectClub aligners need to be worn for at least 22 hours per day and they will get you quick results in about six months. The company’s new SmileDirectClub Nighttime Aligners™ treatment plan allows you to wear your aligners for just 10 hours a day, or overnight. This treatment will take longer, however, given that you aren’t wearing the aligners as often.

Treatment cost: 

$2,050

Average treatment length: 

4–6 months for daytime treatment, 10 months for nighttime treatment

What they look like: 

SmileDirectClub aligners look similar to any other average clear aligner.

What they feel like: 

SmileDirectClub aligners are made with Comfort Sense technology for an easy fit. 

How to care for them: 

As with any other clear aligner, care for SmileDirectClub clear aligners by rinsing and cleaning them regularly, never eating while wearing them, and practicing excellent oral hygiene.

Pros:

  • Removable and convenient
  • Affordable
  • Can be sufficient for correcting very mild cases

Cons:

  • Ineffective for complex tooth alignment cases
  • Without x-rays and a thorough evaluation by a qualified dental professional, some potential problems could slip by unnoticed
  • If something goes wrong, it can be hard to get the help (or compensation) you need
  • Higher risk of complications during treatment

Candid™ Clear Aligners

What they are: 

Clear aligners offered through a hybrid model. The plastic aligners are shipped directly to customers and treatment is monitored remotely, but you must visit a participating dentist in-person to get a prescription for these aligners.

How they work: 

Candid clear aligners are prescribed based upon a scan taken at a participating dentist’s office. The full set of aligners are then sent straight to you in a kit that includes a teeth whitening foam and Candid Monitoring™ materials which help you take scans of your teeth at home. You’ll wear the aligners as prescribed by your dentist and then send photo scans of your teeth to them every two weeks so that they can track the progress of your treatment.

Average treatment cost: 

$4,000

Average treatment length: 

4–12 months

What they look like: 

Candid clear aligners look similar to other clear aligners.

What they feel like: 

The aligners feel tight when you first put in a new set of trays, but your teeth will quickly adjust to the sensation as they shift.

How to care for them: 

Care for Candid clear aligners by rinsing and cleaning them regularly, never eating while wearing them, and practicing excellent oral hygiene.

Pros:

  • Remote monitoring by dental professionals
  • Removable compared to fixed braces
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Ineffective for moderate to complex tooth alignment cases
  • If something goes wrong, it can be hard to get the help (or compensation) you need
  • Fewer options for customizing your treatment

byte® Clear Aligners

What they are: 

Direct-to-consumer clear aligners that are prescribed and ordered online. 

How they work: 

Treatment starts by ordering an at-home impression kit. You’ll send in your completed impression to the byte company where one of their licensed dental professionals will review it, create your treatment plan, and send you your aligners. 

byte offers two clear aligner treatment plan options: one for daytime wear and one for nighttime wear. Like SmileDirectClub’s nighttime aligner plan, treatment with byte will take longer if you want the plan designed to let you only wear the aligners overnight, leaving your teeth free of any dental appliance during the daytime. 

The kit includes a whitening treatment, retainer, and a device called HyperByte which is intended to speed up tooth movement. Wear your aligners per the plan you selected and the directions that come with your kit. Daytime aligners should be worn for 22 hours per day, and the nighttime ones should be worn for 10 continuous hours overnight.

Average treatment cost: 

$1,895 for the daytime aligner plan, $2,295 for the at-night aligner plan

Average treatment length: 

4–6 months

What they look like: 

byte clear aligners look very similar to other clear aligners.

What they feel like: 

Some discomfort is typical when wearing any clear aligner, but byte tries to minimize the pain with their HyperByte device, a proprietary high-frequency vibration device that helps seat the aligners and speed up treatment. The company states that if you feel any pain lasting longer than 10 days, you should see a local orthodontist.

How to care for them: 

Care for byte clear aligners by rinsing and cleaning them regularly, never eating while wearing them, and care for your mouth during treatment by practicing excellent oral hygiene.

Pros:

  • Cost of treatment includes extras like teeth whitening, a retainer, and the HyperByte device
  • Includes a lifetime guarantee
  • Removable and convenient
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Not as effective as in-office aligner treatment
  • Without x-rays and a thorough in-person evaluation by a qualified dental professional, some problems could slip unnoticed
  • If something goes wrong, it can be hard to get the help (or compensation) you need
  • Higher risk of complications during treatment

Takeaway

Clearly, there’s more than one way to straighten teeth. But the very best way to improve your tooth alignment is to see a qualified expert who uses modern techniques to create a personalized treatment plan.

So don’t waste time on DIY teeth straightening techniques and gimmicky DTC online clear aligners! Even big brands like Invisalign and ClearCorrect can’t deliver the level of personalization that a custom digital orthodontics provider can.

You only have one smile, after all! Give it the quality of care it deserves and by visiting a digital orthodontist.

Dr. Rooz Khosravi, DMD, PhD, MSD, is an expert on digital orthodontics and founder of PORTH™ Personalized Orthodontics in Sammamish and Bellevue, Washington.