The part of braces that connects the wire to the brackets on your teeth is called the ligature. That’s also the word doctors use for stitches, since “ligature” means “a tight binding.” Normally, the ligature for braces is a rubber band that holds the wire tight on your teeth, but self-ligating braces do things a little different. Instead of a post you can tie the band around, self-ligating braces have special doors that close around the wire. This system has both advantages and disadvantages.
One problem with self-ligating braces is that they cost more than the rubber bands. This is because of the complex design of the gates. However, one reason self-ligating braces have been growing more popular is because they’re easier and cheaper to make now.
Even an expert orthodontist can need a couple minutes to pull off an old rubber band and replace it with a new one. But replacing a wire on self-ligating braces can be the work of a moment. Making this part faster is the main reason why self-ligating braces exist.
Depending on which alternate method you measure it against, self-ligating braces demand as many or fewer visits to the orthodontics office. So not only do you spend less time in the chair, you also minimize the number of times you have to stop by at all.
Unfortunately, this is another category where self-ligating braces take a hit. Regular braces with traditional rubber band posts can use tooth-colored porcelain mounts, off-white wires, and clear rubber bands to make them very hard to spot. The metal gate brackets of self-ligating braces can’t be tooth-colored, or at least not all of it, and so these braces are easier to see than ceramic posts or Invisalign.
Braces of every kind use wires to push and pull teeth into alignment, and they use brackets to connect those wires to the teeth. The wires usually start out as thin so the teeth can move sideways and line themselves up next to each other, and later on the wires thicken as the teeth move into their final position.
There are other differences between self-ligating braces and other types, but these are the most important from the patient’s perspective. You can get self-ligating braces for less time in the chair and fewer return visits, but in exchange you pay more and the brackets are more visible. If that sounds like a fair exchange to you, you should ask your orthodontist about using them.