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Dental braces and retainers

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Dental braces and retainers are appliances used to help straighten your teeth.
  • Your dentist or orthodontist may recommend braces if you need to correct your bite, have a problem with jaw function or want to improve your smile.
  • There are different options for dental braces so you can work with your dentist or orthodontist to find one that suits you.
  • Orthodontic treatment is usually done when you’re a teenager.
  • These appliances usually take 1 to 3 years to straighten your teeth.

What are dental braces?

Braces are dental appliances commonly used to straighten your teeth. Braces are usually made up of:

  • small brackets fixed to your teeth
  • wires connecting the brackets

The wires put gentle pressure on your teeth, pulling them into the right position. Braces are fixed, meaning that you can’t take them off.

Braces correct problems with:

  • crooked teeth or gaps
  • jaw or bite alignment

What are the different types of braces?

Traditional metal braces with wires have been used for around 100 years. Metal braces are:

  • placed on the front of your teeth
  • most cost-effective
  • most reliable

Ceramic braces are a more recent alternative. These are a similar colour to your teeth, so they are less noticeable. Ceramic braces are also called ‘modern braces’.

Lingual braces are also made of metal, but are stuck to the inside of your teeth. They are hard to see but are more expensive.

What is a tooth aligner?

Clear aligners are an alternative to traditional braces. Clear aligners are thin plastic trays that are worn over your teeth to straighten them. Aligners are clear but not invisible.

Aligners are custom made for each person. If you get aligners, you will need to always wear them, other than when eating and drinking. Ask your dentist or orthodontist if clear aligners are suitable for you. It may depend on how much correction is needed to straighten your teeth.

What is a retainer?

A retainer is a device that is usually used to help keep your teeth in position after having braces.

If your teeth are only slightly crooked, a retainer may be all that’s needed to get them straight.

A permanent retainer is a line of metal that is attached to the inside of your teeth to stop them moving.

A temporary retainer does the same thing, but can be put in and taken out. It’s usually worn only at night.

What are the benefits and risks of dental braces, aligners and retainers?

Using dental braces, aligners or a retainer to straighten your teeth can help with:

  • stopping tooth wear from clenching and grinding your teeth
  • gum damage
  • stress on your jaw joint
  • making it easier to keep your teeth clean
  • confidence in your appearance

There can be risks from using dental braces, aligners or a retainer such as:

  • scratches and mouth ulcers from the braces rubbing
  • tooth decay or discolouration due to poor dental hygiene
  • gum infection
  • your teeth moving again if you don't wear your retainer as advised

How do I get dental braces, aligners or a retainer?

Start by asking your dentist or orthodontist if your teeth should be straightened.

Braces are usually fitted by an orthodontist, a specialist dentist who has done extra training. Many general dentists also provide some orthodontic treatments.

You don’t need a referral to see an orthodontist, and you can choose which one to use. Your dentist may recommend someone.

Your dentist and orthodontist will work as a team and exchange information about your treatment.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Does my child need braces?

Ask your dentist if your child should see an orthodontist. Some problems are easier to treat in young growing jaws. You don’t have to wait until the teenage years to see an orthodontist for the first time.

What happens at my first appointment with an orthodontist?

Your orthodontist will perform a thorough examination of your face, teeth and bite. They may recommend a panoramic x-ray of your teeth and jaws.

Your orthodontist will discuss with you the most suitable treatment for your situation.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How are dental braces fitted?

If you are getting braces, your orthodontist will make a digital or plaster mould of your teeth. This is so that custom dental items can be made to fit.

You may need spacers put between your back teeth, to prepare for the fitting of your braces.

It will take up to an hour to fit your braces. Individual brackets are carefully attached to your teeth. Then the wires are added. The process can be uncomfortable.

How will my teeth feel after having my braces fitted?

You may be uncomfortable for a couple of days after your braces are fitted or adjusted. To relieve your discomfort, you can:

  • take pain relief medicines
  • drink ice water
  • use ulcer wax

Your orthodontist will give you information on how to care for your braces and how to keep your teeth and mouth clean. Ask your orthodontist for advice to help you feel comfortable with your new braces.

How often do I need to have check-ups while I have braces?

You’ll need to visit your orthodontist or dentist regularly to have your braces adjusted. This is usually, every 6 to 8 weeks.

Adjusting your braces involves changing the wires or adding elastics to help move your teeth.

When your teeth have moved to their new position, your braces will be removed. At this point you will get a retainer.

How long will it take to work?

Having braces fitted and wearing them is a long and slow process. You might wear braces for 12 to 24 months followed by a retainer for another 12 to 24 months or longer. You should keep your regular dental appointments over this time.

After treatment, you should look after your teeth by practising good oral hygiene. If you need to, you should continue to wear your retainer.

How much do dental braces and retainers cost?

The cost of dental braces and retainers depends on a lot of factors. Ask your dentist or orthodontist for a quote or estimate.

Are there alternatives to dental braces and retainers?

You can ask your dentist or orthodontist about:

Resources and Support

Find out more about teeth straightening and braces at teeth.org.au.

You can read all about braces, aligners and retainers or search for an orthodontist at Orthodontics Australia.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2023


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