Claims of faster treatment are easy to make and we would all like this but is it realistic? In the 1960’s and 70’s Begg braces/brackets were very popular and were thought to provide faster treatment as they allowed very rapid tipping and alignment. However this was at the price of less control over the root position which took more time to recover later and so they are seldom used nowadays. Other bracket designs that allow tipping have been shown to actually be slower than conventional brackets when closing extraction spaces.

More recently self-ligating brackets such as the Damon bracket, Smart-Clip, In-Ovation, Quick and more were introduced with claims of faster treatment. This was marketed well and became quite popular but with little evidence to support the claims. Dr Miles conducted the first prospective clinical trial and found there was actually no difference during initial alignment which was later confirmed by other researchers. The most recent evidence suggests that despite the claims of faster treatment, the self-ligating brackets may actually be slower than conventional #braces by about 2 months! Braces claiming to be fast are using brackets and wires just like conventional systems and so would not be expected to be any quicker. They claim lower friction but this allows the greater tipping and lack of control seen in earlier systems that proved to be slower. Let’s look at an analogy – when you build a house the frame goes up quickly but then seems to slow when the smaller jobs are taking place such as the painting, tiling, etc. – but you don’t want to move into your new home without this done do you? The same with braces – the initial alignment of teeth can be quite rapid but these are the simple tipping movements and the roots have not been moved into their correct and more stable positions. Your bite may need correction with elastics or other techniques and this is also a slower movement. These are the ‘detailing’ stages of #orthodontics and are slower and less obvious but very important for the most aesthetic and stable result possible.

The skill of the practitioner in placing the brackets as accurately as possible and using the correct wires, mechanics and appointment intervals affect your treatment duration. However treatment time is also affected by patient cooperation (e.g. are you wearing your elastics as directed?) and biological variation – everyone is different and their teeth move at different rates and respond in varying amounts. The same wire and adjustments will have differing responses in different people and your orthodontist will adjust your treatment based upon what they observe. Even extremely precise methods of bracket positioning using computer-aided design and manufacture, or robotic wire-bending are prone to the same problems of variation in response. Orthodontists are aiming for the best outcome possible for you and this variation is why your #orthodontist cannot give precise times to the eternal question; “When am I getting my braces off?”.

Dr Peter Miles is the orthodontist at Newwave Orthodontics in Caloundra, Australia and teaches orthodontics part-time at the University of Queensland and is a visiting lecturer at Seton Hill University in the USA. Peter is one of the editors and authors of the orthodontic textbook, ‘Evidence-Based Clinical Orthodontics‘.