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Self-Ligating Braces vs Metal Braces: Cost, Pros & Cons, Pictures, FAQs

Written by: Dr. Laura Edwards, Orthodontist

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Oleg Drut, Orthodontist and Diamond Braces CCO

Date: October 8, 2020

Patient smiling with self-ligating braces on their teeth

Self-ligating braces straighten teeth using brackets and an archwire, without the use of colored rubber bands. Instead of using the rubber bands to connect the brackets to the archwire, self-ligating braces use a specialized bracket that clips directly to the wire.

This creates a more streamlined, discreet braces treatment that doesn’t draw as much attention to the orthodontic appliance. Self-ligating brackets come in clear and metal, although the wire is usually metal-colored.

The installation and treatment process are the same as traditional metal braces: your orthodontist affixes brackets directly onto your teeth, and then bend the archwire across them, securing it at either end in specialized metal bands that go around your molars. Instead of connecting the archwire to the brackets with colored rubber bands, however, the self-ligating brackets are designed to hold the wire in place in a specialized slot where the wire slips through.

This treatment has become more popular in recent years, but it has been around for many decades. There are several benefits to self-ligating brackets that make them appealing to patients.

How Much Do Self-Ligating Braces Cost?

Self-ligating braces cost about the same as traditional metal braces: generally between $2,000 and $7,000. The cost is similar because the treatment is generally the same, although orthodontic visits tend to be slightly shorter, due to the lack of rubber bands, which need to be changed for metal braces.

The cost of self-ligating braces includes all the aspects of treatment: pre-braces examination, including x-rays and orthodontic visits, as well as all materials used, such as brackets, archwires, and bands, and regular visits to the office. Your follow-up retainer care may be extra, since not all orthodontists offer retainers as part of the cost.

Insurance often covers some portion of self-ligating braces: talk to your insurance provider about using insurance to pay for some portion of your orthodontic care.

Self-Ligating Braces vs Traditional Metal Braces

Self-ligating braces are similar to traditional metal braces, but there is one important difference: the design of self-ligating braces does not require elastic rubber bands to connect the brackets to the archwire.

Instead, the brackets are designed so that a small spring-loaded door closes over the archwire, locking the wire into place against the brackets without the use of rubber bands.

The absence of rubber bands has several advantages:

  • Fewer colors and accessories makes braces less noticeable (self-ligating braces also come in clear brackets)

  • Food less likely to get trapped in the brackets, making it easier to brush and floss

  • Smaller brackets are more comfortable

  • Shorter office visits without the need to change out rubber bands

In addition, the cost is the same as traditional metal braces, so you don’t need to worry about a large cost increase for the benefits of self-ligating braces.

Traditional metal braces, however, offer some advantages: many patients enjoy the colorful rubber bands, which are a fun personalized accessorizing opportunity. In addition, for more severe cases, self-ligating braces may not be able to apply as much pressure as traditional metal braces, offering less precision for the orthodontist. And due to the small size of the brackets, self-ligating braces may be less effective compared to traditional braces with larger brackets.

Treatment times may be slower due to a greater tendency for breakage: the “locking door” of the self-ligating brackets can break or loosen, which requires repair and may slow down treatment times.

Pros & Cons

Pros of Self-Ligating Braces

  • No colorful rubber bands allows for less visible orthodontia

  • Easier to clean and to brush and floss teeth

  • Smaller brackets tend to be more comfortable

  • Shorter office visits without needing to change rubber bands

Cons of Self-Ligating Braces

  • May offer less precise movements due to bracket design

  • For complex cases, may cost more than traditional braces

  • The locking mechanism may break or get stuck, requiring repair and slowing down treatment

  • Smaller brackets may be less effective when rotating larger teeth

What Conditions Do Self-Ligating Braces Treat?

Self-ligating braces can correct a wide variety of orthodontic conditions. They are very similar to traditional metal braces, which means that orthodontic malocclusions that can be treated with this kind of braces can generally also be treated with self-ligating braces.

Conditions like crowding, gaps, excessive overjet, and overbite are all conditions that respond well to treatment with self-ligating braces.

Self-ligating braces are a good treatment option for severe cases that may not respond as well to clear aligner treatments like Invisalign, or as a combination with Invisalign. For instance, impacted teeth can be drawn out with self-ligating braces, followed by treatment with Invisalign if a patient is seeking a more discreet orthodontic solution.

If you are interested in achieving straight teeth and a healthy bite, self-ligating braces are an excellent, reliable, cost-effective treatment choice. Talk to your orthodontist if you are interested in this kind of orthodontic care.

Who Should Get Self-Ligating Braces?

Self-ligating braces are an excellent treatment option for anyone who wants straight teeth with a comfortable, efficient orthodontic method. They are best for those who want as fast a treatment as possible, want fewer office visits, and are comfortable with the appearance of braces affixed to the teeth, which does tend to be noticeable.

Anyone who needs orthodontic care can get self-ligating braces: they are a useful treatment for correcting a wide number of orthodontic conditions.

They are also a good option for those looking to straighten their teeth without a larger cost: self-ligating braces are on the less expensive side of braces treatments, along with traditional metal braces. For a comfortable, efficient, and easy-to-clean treatment, self-ligating braces are a natural choice. You can expect great results from this effective treatment.

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