How do braces work?

Dental braces correct crooked or crowded teeth, often during adolescence or later in life. Traditional stainless steel braces are held on by wires and bonding material attached to the teeth. Orthodontists typically specialize in all types of braces, using them to treat misaligned teeth.

Braces can achieve fantastic results for people whose teeth would otherwise give them a lifetime of cosmetic and medical issues. While it may seem like magic, it’s actually pretty easy to understand how braces work! Keep reading to learn exactly how braces move teeth and how an orthodontist can help you achieve your dream smile.

Under pressure

Braces work by applying consistent pressure on your teeth over a prolonged period. The pressure helps your teeth and jaw change positions and alter the smile. The orthodontist glues the brackets to your teeth to hold the archwire in place and maintain that pressure. Over time, your teeth will move to the desired position as the shape of your jaw adapts to conform to this pressure.

We tend to think of our teeth as connecting directly to the jawbone. However, your periodontal ligaments — the soft tissue surrounding the teeth and bone — are what control the position of your teeth. These ligaments respond to the pressure that braces place on your teeth by adjusting accordingly.

Pulling together or pushing apart

Depending on your condition, you may need your teeth spread apart or pushed together. Braces will correct overcrowding and gaps in two separate ways:

  • Gaps: Braces slowly correct gaps by utilizing wires and brackets. The periodontal ligaments holding the teeth in place can stretch or compress as teeth move. When braces shift a tooth to the right, the right ligament compresses and new bone forms on the left to fill the gap.
  • Overcrowding: Overcrowding occurs when the jaw is too small, or the teeth are too large. Braces move teeth back, forward and across to correct overcrowding and make room for teeth to sit side by side. Some patients might also need an expander to increase their jaw size.

Correcting bites

Braces can also correct underbites, overbites, cross bites and open bites by shifting the teeth and aligning the jaw properly. The types of bite issues that braces correct include:

  • Overbite: An overbite is when the upper teeth overlap the lower, typically protruding forward.
  • Underbite: An underbite is the opposite of an overbite, occurring when the lower teeth overlap the upper.
  • Crossbite: A crossbite occurs when the upper teeth fit inside the lower teeth, typically affecting a single tooth or groups of teeth involving the front teeth, back or both.
  • Open bite: An open bite is when the top and bottom teeth don’t touch when the mouth fully closes, creating an opening between the top and bottom teeth.

The process of correcting bites involves moving the teeth so that the upper and lower jaws fit together comfortably and healthily. An orthodontist might use a palate expander for a crossbite to make the upper jaw wider before braces.

As the teeth move into correct alignment, your jawbone will adjust to the movements by generating or absorbing jawbone tissue as needed.

How long do braces take to work?

Braces typically begin moving your teeth two months into treatment, though some people notice it sooner. They are not uncomfortable, though teeth can be sore for the first few days after orthodontists affix them to your teeth. Treatment length will vary depending on the person, though most wear braces for one to three years to fix their smiles.

Each part of the braces works together to help shift the position of your teeth:


When patients get their braces, orthodontists will bond brackets to the teeth with an adhesive. These ceramic, plastic or metal brackets allow orthodontists to grab onto teeth to move them.

While this process can feel uncomfortable at first, it’s not painful. The brackets allow the pressure to spread evenly across your teeth.


Bands are metal rings placed around the brackets that fit around the molars or back teeth. Also called ligatures, bands add pressure to the jaw and are typical of most traditional braces treatments. Each has a metal attachment welded on the outside where the archwire connects. Orthodontists use special dental cement to hold bands onto the teeth.


Archwires connect to the brackets and bands on your teeth. The archwires apply pressure to your teeth with periodic tightenings to move them into place. As gaps close, teeth slide along the archwire like a track. Archwires can be stainless steel, nickel-titanium or copper titanium.


Spaces are rubber bands or metal rings your orthodontist places between your molars during an appointment. Spacers push your jaw forward by adding space between your back teeth. They also help make room for braces if the back of your mouth is too tight for them to fit correctly.

Not every patient needs spacers. Orthodontists typically only use them for a week or two at a time to push the teeth apart enough for bands to fit around them.


Orthodontists might also place coil springs on the archwires of your braces. These springs adjust spacing and crowding issues, pushing teeth apart or drawing them together by applying pressure between the teeth.


While rare, patients whose teeth need special correction may need to wear headgear at night. This band attaches to your braces to put extra pressure on the teeth.

Fix up your smile

Braces can correct several issues, whether that’s a bite problem, overcrowding or gaps between teeth. And while the most visible benefit is teeth alignment, orthodontic treatment focuses on overall oral health, including helping the jaw and mouth grow correctly.

No matter your particular issue, Dr. Caspersen, Dr. Lowe, and their team at Rappahannock Orthodontics can help you achieve your dream smile. We pride ourselves on providing various types of braces to improve your smile, from metal to clear ceramic to Invisalign® clear aligners.

Dr. Caspersen and Dr. Lowe have years of experience delivering premier orthodontic treatment. Our caring staff will help you feel comfortable and relaxed as soon as you walk through the door and throughout your appointment. Each of our braces options can effectively straighten your teeth for a smile you’ll want to show off for years to come.

To schedule your free consultation, fill out our online contact form.