How Do Braces Actually Work?

Treatments & Care

Teenage boy smiling after getting orthodontic braces put on

Braces can achieve incredible results for patients who would otherwise ensure a lifetime of cosmetic and medical problems. It’s no wonder people want to know how the biomechanics of braces work. So here's a broken-down version to help you understand the process. 

How Do Braces Move Teeth?

Braces work by exerting constant pressure on teeth and jaws to change their position and alter the smile. The brackets glued to teeth hold the archwire in place which places pressure on teeth. Over time teeth move into the desired position. 

The soft tissue that surrounds the teeth and bone are periodontal ligaments. These ligaments hold teeth in place and can stretch or compress as teeth move. When braces move a tooth to the right, the ligament on the right compresses and new bone forms on the left to fill the gap.     

Correcting Overcrowding 

Overcrowding occurs when the relationship between the jaw is too small and/or teeth are too large. Braces move individual teeth back, forward and across to make enough room for teeth to sit side by side.  

Some younger patients with overcrowding benefit from an expander to increase the size of their jaw. If the palate has already fused, the expander alone is no longer an option, and a patient might have to have some small pins placed from the expander into the roof of the mouth to assist with expansion, or the assitsance of an oral and maxillofacial surgeon will be requested to make some incisions on either side of the upper jaw to enable the expander to expand the jaw structure.  Tooth extraction may also be frequently considered as an alternative cto make more room. Of course your orthodontists will work through all the options with carefully considered issues.

Correcting an Overbite 

An overbite is the vertical overlap of the top and lower teeth, and overjet is the protrusion of the top teeth relative to the lower teeth. Both cases may require movement of both the top and/or bottom teeth. To treat the overbite, upper front teeth may be moved up, lower  front teeth moved down or a combination of both or the lower back teeth may be brought up to make the lower jaw swing open slightly. For the management of the overjet or protrusion, the front teeth may be moved forward or the lower teeth moved forward or a combination of both dependent on the patient’s individual circumstance.back or the lowers to move forward. Braces do this by applying constant pressure to slowly move the teeth into the desired position. As the teeth move, the bone around them changes shape to accommodate their new position. You can learn more about how braces can correct an overbite here

Moving Teeth Forward 

People think of braces being able to push teeth towards the palate, but braces can also pull teeth out towards the lips. An archwire with a shape memory is made of nickel-titanium and can pull teeth forward. The wire is bent to meet the bracket on the tooth, but with time the wire returns to its original U shape carrying the tooth forward. 

What Problems are Usually Fixed First with Braces? 

For most patients, the treatment phase is broken into three steps:

1. Level and Align 

The first stage is to move your teeth so they sit side by side. Teeth may move up or down and across, so the edge of teeth are in a straight line. 

2. Bite Issues

The second step is adjusting the braces to correct any bite problems - an overbite, underbite or crossbite. For patients who have one or more gaps between their teeth, we’ll also close the gaps during this phase.

3. Fine Tuning

During the final months of treatment, we’ll complete any fine tuning and tidying up so all teeth are sitting in the best position before we remove the braces.

When Will You Start to See Results? 

Braces are applying constant pressure, but your teeth will not move everyday. You may notice your teeth are sore for a few days after an adjustment, while your teeth get used to the new pressure. The rest of the time before the next appointment, the braces are holding your teeth in the desired position.  

Braces need to move teeth slowly for comfort and effectiveness. If an orthodontist tries to move teeth too fast, it’s not only painful, but can damage the roots of the teeth and the bone around your teeth. Our teeth need time to move into the desired position and for the bone to either reabsorb, or make new bone, depending on the direction the teeth are moving. 

Every orthodontic case is different! Some people who require only minor, cosmetic changes to their teeth may wear braces for as little as six months. Other patients requiring complex treatment to fix multiple orthodontic issues with their teeth and jaw, may need to wear braces for as long as three years. 

Is There Any Way to Shorten Braces Treatment Time? 

You can ensure your treatment time is as short as possible by following your orthodontist’s instructions. Breakages can increase treatment time. It’s important that patients make an appointment as soon as they notice a breakage to have it fixed. It doesn’t take long to undo hard work when a wire or bracket is broken.   

There are several components to braces that can speed up treatment time. Springs, implants or small titanium pins placed in the jaws, headgear and elastic bands can move teeth and jaws into their desired position, faster than brackets and archwires alone.   

What Happens at Each Appointment?

You will visit the clinic every four to eight weeks to check on the progress of your teeth and to adjust your braces. The archwire is adjusted or changed to increase pressure on the teeth so they continue moving into their desired position.     

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The Parts of Braces

Braces are made of several different components. The more complex the orthodontic case is, the more parts may be needed.


The archwire is the component of the braces that does most of the work. The wire may start out flexible, but as treatment goes on, a more rigid wire may be used to apply more pressure. They can be made of stainless steel or tooth coloured materials. 


Brackets are the squares bonded to the front of each tooth that hold the archwire in place. Elastics can also attach to brackets on the top and lower arches. Brackets can be stainless steel, tooth coloured ceramic or plastic. The brackets for lingual braces are bonded to the back of teeth.       

Elastic Bands

Elastics are small rubber bands that connect to the brackets. While braces are efficient at moving teeth, they sometimes need a helping hand with elastics. Attached to the brackets of braces, the elastic bands are attached from one jaw to the other. They apply pressure to move an individual tooth or a group of teeth in a specific direction.

Metal Bands

A metal ring is placed over the back teeth to act as anchors for the braces and to hold the archwire in place. 


A-chains are connected strings of elastic that attach to brackets to apply more force than the archwire alone. Treatment time can decrease when a-chains are used. 


All patients need to use fixed or removable retainers to hold their teeth in place after braces are removed. Retainers are the most important part of post-braces care. They are used for many years to ensure teeth and the surrounding gum, bone and ligaments have all settled into their new position.  

If you have any questions about how braces will solve your orthodontic issues, make an appointment to see one of our experienced orthodontists today.

Category: Treatments & Care