Understanding How Self-Ligating Braces Work

The invention we call "braces" has a much more extensive and colorful history than most people realize. Early Egyptians used catgut (the intestines of animals) in much the same way that modern orthodontists use the arch-wire.

Luckily, by 1752 when Dr. Pierre Fauchard got to work on early modern braces, he used metal, silk and linen for his materials. By the late 20th century, braces were really coming into their own, and today in addition to clear braces, aligners and treatment accelerating appliances, we now have self-ligating braces that offer simpler hardware and reduced treatment time.

These advances make now a great time to begin orthodontic treatment. Perhaps this is why, in addition to the millions of tweens and teens, more than one million adults are also receiving care. By understanding self-ligating braces, you can decide if this cutting-edge orthodontic treatment method may be the right fit for your family.

The Mechanics of Self-Ligating Hardware

Understanding self-ligating braces first requires understanding the terms "ligature" and "self-ligating."

The word "ligature" means "to bind or connect." So the term "self-ligating" actually translates to mean "self-binding" or "self-connecting."

So the name of this system literally translates to mean "self-connecting braces."

But for this to make total sense, you also need to know that with conventional braces, rubber bands, elastics or metal ties are used to bind the arch-wire to the braces brackets so the teeth can be slowly moved into their ideal alignment. However, with the development of self-ligating brackets, it is no longer necessary to use these extra accessories to connect the arch-wire to the brackets. With a self-ligating system, the brackets themselves hold the arch-wire in place.

This makes installing and maintaining your braces a simpler, faster process from treatment start to finish.

The Advantages of Self-Ligation

In addition to the undeniable advantage of having fewer moving parts inside your mouth to maintain, clean and adjust, self-ligating hardware can also offer additional advantages that many orthodontic patients today find desirable.

Reduced stress on teeth.

One of the chief among these is that self-ligating hardware can reduce the stress on the teeth and enamel.

The reason for this is twofold: because the self-ligating brackets are smaller in size than traditional brackets (which also means they require less adhesive to secure), the tooth surface is less impacted by the presence of the brackets and any additional accessories.

Also, because the arch-wire does nearly all of the heavy lifting, so to speak, in gently moving your teeth into proper alignment, the teeth themselves don't have to withstand as much friction and tension, which can also place stress on the sensitive nerves and tissues.

Besides Straight Teeth, What are the Benefits of Braces?


Less discomfort during treatment

Another notable advantage of self-ligating hardware is the possibility of reduced discomfort during the treatment period.

The reduced discomfort stems from how the hardware itself works. Since the arch-wire is held in place by the brackets themselves, there is far less friction and tension when the arch-wire moves to re-position the teeth in their proper alignment.

As well, because fewer clinic visits (on average, only half as many as with traditional braces) are required for hardware adjustments during treatment, patients endure much less post-adjustment visit discomfort.

Self-Ligating Hardware and Patient Preference

The majority of advances in orthodontic treatment and care have come about in response to patient preferences.

For example, patients tend to prefer shortened treatment times. Patient wallets and patient calendars also definitely appreciate fewer clinic visits for orthodontic adjustments.

Overall, patients of all ages also tend to prefer treatment that causes less discomfort, uses simpler hardware and offers much less visible hardware (in fact, ceramic clear self-ligating braces are about as close to invisible as any set of front-of-teeth braces can get!).

Self-ligating brackets and braces meet all of these needs and more in one tiny, compact package. In a way, you can think of them as the next generation of braces technology, and one many patients are eager to embrace.

Is Self-Ligating Hardware Right for Every Patient?

Since every mouth presents different challenges and opportunities, the best person to answer this question is your own family orthodontist. For general purposes, however, there are no patients for whom self-ligating hardware is contraindicated.

For some patients in particular, use of self-ligating hardware can actually be advantageous.

One notable group is teen patients. The reason self-ligating hardware is often ideal for this group is that it is easier to clean. There are fewer little cracks and crevices where food can get lodged, so it is easier to brush and floss during treatment and there is less risk of decay-causing bacteria to take hold.


For busy adult patients and parents of young patients as well, reduced time spent on adjustment visits, treatment duration and cleaning/hardware maintenance tends to be much appreciated.

This being said, some patients may present with particularly complex orthodontic issues which may be best suited to one method or another. Here, only a highly trained and experienced orthodontic practitioner will be able to determine the best orthodontic method to use to achieve the best results for the most affordable cost in the shortest time frame.

The good news here is the self-ligating system can work with additional systems and appliances that can correct special orthodontic issues or accelerate the results of orthodontic treatment.

About Beecroft Orthodontics

Dr. Matt Beecroft first decided to become an orthodontist when he watched his dad, age 59, get braces for the first time. He says his dad's joy in his new straight smile changed the course of his life forever.

Dr. Beecroft earned his doctorate of dental medicine at Case Western Reserve University and completed his orthodontic residency at the prestigious Vanderbilt University, where he also served as Chief Resident. In all his studies, he earned top marks and graduated at the top of his class. He takes continuing education very seriously, and takes time out every year from his practice to receive special training and education on the latest orthodontic methods and techniques.

To learn more about Beecroft Orthodontics, where we offer the highest level of cutting edge orthodontic care to patients of all ages, visit us online to find out which of our three office locations is most convenient for your needs.


11113 Leavells Rd. Fredericksburg, VA 22407

Phone: 540 898 2200

Understanding How Self-Ligating Braces Work

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