How Do Braces Work?

In this blog, we will answer 5 common questions regarding braces and Invisalign:

  • How Do Braces Work?
  • Do Braces and Invisalign Work Differently?
  • When Will You Start to See Results from Braces?
  • When Will You Start to See Results from Invisalign?
  • Why Do I Need to Wear a Retainer After Getting Braces?

How Do Braces Work?

Though appliances for straightening teeth have existed for more than 200 years, braces, as we know them today, are far more common and accessible in helping achieve incredible results for patients who would otherwise endure a lifetime of medical and cosmetic issues. If you’re considering getting braces for yourself or a family member, you may wonder how the process works—how, exactly, do braces move teeth into alignment? Below is a detailed explanation and answers to other frequently asked questions.

The Parts of Braces

To understand how braces work, it is first necessary to understand their three main components: brackets, archwires, and O-tie strings.


Brackets are small metal components that are bonded to your teeth. Brackets by themselves don’t actually do anything to move the teeth; rather, because they have a central slot, they act as a handle for the archwires. Brackets come in different designs and styles, and your orthodontist will help you choose brackets that are appropriate for your specific tooth movement and are aesthetically appealing to you.

Your orthodontist will bond the brackets to your teeth using a dental adhesive similar to the material dentists use to repair a chipped tooth. This bonding material does not damage the tooth enamel, is used in numerous applications in dentistry, and is easily polished away once the braces are removed.


Archwire is a strong, yet flexible, strip of metal that is fed through the central slots of the brackets. At the beginning of your treatment, when your teeth are still misaligned, the orthodontist uses a thin diameter super-elastic archwire that follows the contours of your teeth. The archwire has “memory” so when it is deformed and inserted into the slot, the archwire returns to its original shape, moving the tooth along with it.

As your teeth become straighter, the orthodontist will use larger and stiffer wires, and make small bends in the archwires to follow the contours of your teeth. Every archwire bend exerts a light amount of pressure on your teeth to create the straightening process.

Orthodontic Ligatures (O-Rings)

Orthodontic ligatures, or O-Rings, are the small, colorful elastic bands which secure the archwires to the brackets. The O-Rings are changed at each appointment. This means that you can change the colors frequently or select O-Rings that are silver or clear to match the braces. Not all braces use O-rings; some use small clips to attach the archwire to the brackets. These types of braces are called “self-ligating” braces. Your orthodontist will discuss the options that fit your needs.

How Do Braces Move Teeth?

​​Now that you understand the main components of braces, it’s time to get to the reason you’re here—understanding exactly how braces use pressure to move the teeth into position.

Each one of your teeth is surrounded by fleshy tissue called a periodontal ligament. This is the tissue that holds the tooth in place in the tooth socket; attaches it to the adjacent teeth; and helps it resist the stresses of chewing. When braces start to shift your teeth into new positions, the periodontal ligament is stretched on one side and compressed on the other. When the cells in the bone detect compression of the ligament, a thin layer of bone next to the compressed ligament is dissolved away from the tooth. Likewise, when the cells in the bone detect stretching of the ligament, a new layer of bone is formed next to the tooth where the ligament was stretched. Thus, by relocating the bone around the tooth, the tooth slowly moves into its new position. This process is called bone remodeling. It’s normal for a tooth to loosen slightly during tooth movement, but eventually, new bone grows in to support the tooth’s new position.

Do Braces and Invisalign Work Differently?

Clear aligners—the most popular brand of which is Invisalign—have grown enormously in popularity over the past couple of decades. This tooth straightening option uses thin, clear aligners made of flexible thermoplastic to move your teeth into shape slowly.

The first step in starting an Invisalign treatment is creating a 3D image of your teeth. Your orthodontist will then use this image to create a series of customized plastic aligners, each slightly more aligned than the last. Depending on your orthodontist’s instructions, you’ll switch out one set of aligners for a new set about once a week. Typically, you’ll need to wear the aligners for 20 to 22 hours a day.

So, to answer the question, braces and clear aligners do work very differently—but they are both applying pressure to your teeth to move them. Which is right for you will depend on your lifestyle, alignment issues, and budget.

When Will You Start to See Results from Braces?

The answer to this question depends on several factors, such as bone density, misalignment severity, and age. However, you will generally notice changes within four to six weeks. The average orthodontic treatment falls between 16-18 months but can sometimes take 24 months or more.

Be wary of promises from anyone or any advertisement stating that you or your family member can have a straight smile in only six months. You want important steps to be completed and underlying correction issues addressed. Remember, having a healthy smile built to last is more important than a surface smile hiding alignment issues that will be of even more significant concern down the road.

When Will You Start to See Results from Invisalign?

This is an even harder question to answer because the success of your treatment depends so much on you!

Braces are attached to your teeth 24-7, and the interaction of the bracket slot and archwire is more definitive than plastic sliding across the saliva-coated surface of a tooth. This makes braces extremely effective. Clear aligner trays such as Invisalign, however, can be removed easily, and this can cause compliance issues for some patients.

The recommended time to wear Invisalign aligners is 20 to 22 hours per day. They should ideally only be removed for eating, drinking, brushing, and cleaning the aligners. However, many patients lack the discipline to do this. So, even though clear aligners are effective when worn as prescribed, the treatment can and often takes longer than anticipated. Again, when wearing them as prescribed, most start to notice results from their Invisalign treatment in the first 1 to 2 months.

It’s important to note, though, that Invisalign is typically used for cases of mild to moderate misalignment. So, it isn’t fair to say that Invisalign treatment is faster than braces, as braces can have more work to do. And, when considering equal alignment issues where either will work, braces are comparable to clear aligners.

Why Do I Need to Wear a Retainer After Getting Braces?

Because the periodontal ligament has memory, teeth can drift back to their original positions as soon as the braces are removed. Also, due to a natural process called mesial drift, teeth can move and shift over time. This is why front teeth become more crowded as one ages. Without regular retainer wear, your teeth may drift out of position,  reversing all your hard work (and expense)!

Need Braces or Invisalign in Raleigh? Stop by Walton & Maready!

If you are searching for teeth straightening services for yourself or a family member in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, Walton & Maready Orthodontics is here to meet your needs. Our experienced orthodontics will take a look at your teeth and provide suggestions for improving your smile. We also offer flexible financing plans that can help you pay for orthodontia in small increments over time. Stop by our office today for a free consultation!


Monday – Friday: 8:30am – 5:00pm


2305 Stafford Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27607