accessibility ACCESSIBILITY

Types of Braces

Types of Braces and Appliances

The purpose of this section is to illustrate different types of common orthodontic and orthopedic appliances.  Orthodontists use many different types of “appliances,” the word for braces or other devices, to move or stabilize teeth and jaws.  Sometimes an orthodontic treatment involves more than just moving the teeth.  The official name of the specialty is Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics

Orthodontists do more than align teeth; they modify and correct problems with facial growth.  Different orthodontic appliances are used for different purposes in an orthodontic treatment.  Some are designed to primarily move teeth (orthodontic), while others are used “orthopedically” to modify facial growth. Some appliances have both orthodontic and orthopedic treatment effects.

Appliances come in two types: ones that are fixed, or don't come out, and ones the patient can take out.  The kind the patients can take out are called “removable.”  The orthodontist selects either fixed or removable appliances based on an individual patient’s treatment needs and how much cooperation or compliance (following the orthodontist’s instructions) can be expected from the patient.  Removable appliances are easier to keep clean, but can be lost or misplaced.  Fixed appliances are worn all the time and are often indicated for problems that require a more aggressive or time-sensitive treatment.  Patients who have trouble wearing removable appliances can often be treated with fixed appliances. 

Fixed Appliances

Examples of fixed orthodontic appliances are the brackets, bands and wires most often associated with “braces.”  Dr. Green uses the traditional silver brackets.

Silver brackets
Silver brackets
Photo courtesy 3M Unitek

Your orthodontist may also use some fixed devices to hold teeth in place while other teeth are moved.  These common appliances include lingual holding arches, Nance appliances and transpalatal arches.  A quad helix is an appliance made of heavy wire that moves teeth, but can also have an orthopedic effect.  These types of appliances may have other names, but have common uses.

Examples of fixed orthopedic appliances are the various types of palate expanders and functional appliances.  Palatal expanders are used to make the upper jaw wider. The Hyrax and Haas expanders are examples.  Functional appliances are used to normalize growth discrepancies between the upper and lower jaw.   These are typically worn over extended periods of time.

Removable Appliances

Removable orthodontic appliances can have many shapes and appearances.  “Retainers” are examples of one type.  Retainers usually just hold teeth in their new positions after active orthodontic treatment (braces) is complete, but springs or elastics can be added to these types of appliances to move teeth.  Rubber bands, or “elastics,” are used in almost every treatment to help move teeth into a correct position.

Patient wearing Hawley retainer
Hawley retainer

 worn by patient


Expanders and tooth movers come in many shapes and forms.  The illustrations show only a few.  The orthodontist can prescribe and construct individual appliances suited to a patient’s individual and unique needs. 

 Orthodontists select the type of appliance that suits each patient's needs from these and other appliances.  As you can see, appliances can be as different as each patient seeking orthodontic treatment.  

©2006 American Association of Orthodontists