What do the wires actually do in a brace… why do they have to be changed so often… and why do they keep breaking?
Let’s consider the “stages” of a typical treatment for a patient who has crooked teeth.
Getting Things Straight
The first thing we like to do with teeth is to line them up so that they look… well… straight! We call this the “alignment stage”.
(They may still be sticking forward, there may still be gaps, the uppers may not even fit properly with the lowers when you bite together… but those things will be dealt with later.)
These “aligning wires” are made of nickel titanium (NiTi) alloy and they have special properties. (This alloy was developed during the Apollo mission that put Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969… but not to straighten his teeth… its use in orthodontics came much later)
When a NiTi wire is bent (e.g. when being attached to an in-standing tooth) it tries to spring back into shape. It is this “spring back” force which moves the tooth forwards.
This happens to all crooked teeth at the same time when we put the first wires in… which is why there is quite a dramatic improvement in teeth in the first few visits.
It is also why your mouth feels a bit achy after your braces are fitted… all your teeth are on the move at the same time!
Minding the Gaps
Once teeth are straight it is then time to pull the front teeth back and close up any gaps. This stage is called “space closure”.
We need a different type of wire for this… one that is rigid so that as front teeth move backwards they stay upright and straight. (If we used our aligning wires, the teeth would just buckle inwards… not a good look!)
Stainless steel is alloy of choice (steel is iron and carbon…made “stainless’ by the addition of chromium). These wires are strong… which is why they feel very “tight” when they are fitted to your brace.
Once they are in place we often use stretchy “power chain” or possibly small springs to pull your teeth backwards. We may also give you “elastics” to put on yourself.
This is also the stage where we can sort out all the other things such as your bite.
The finishing line
Some minor brace adjustments may be needed towards the end of treatment to get that perfect result. We call this “detailing” and may involve re-positioning a few brackets, putting a few little bends or, quite commonly, the use of “elastics” to improve the bite of your teeth.
These elastics are attached to the brace by the patient and are usually worn 24/7. This may involve going back to some of the early “aligning wires”. Breakages are less common at this stage as our patients usually know by then the principles of good brace care!
Why do breakages happen and how can I prevent them?
The problems are mostly with the early aligning wires. Because the wires have to be thin so they can curve around the twisted teeth, it means that they are easily broken or can “flick out” at the back.
If you have had teeth out, there is the added problem of the wires “flexing” over the gaps when you are chewing food.
Here are a few helpful tips:
- Follow the advice that we give you when braces are fitted. Most importantly, chew gently and avoid hard or sticky foods
- Try to avoid chewing over gaps if you can. If you have had teeth out on the left, try chewing on the right!
- If wires “flick out”, you may be able to pop them back in with your fingers
Things do get easier! As we progress through your treatment, the wires get thicker and stronger.
About Weber Orthodontics
We offer orthodontic treatment for children and a range of modern white and “invisible” braces for adults of all ages such as Invisalign. FREE consultations are available… you can either call us for an appointment at (816) 746-1200 or schedule through our website.