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Rubber Bands on Braces: What Purpose Do They Serve?

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Updated April 15, 2010

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Question: Rubber Bands on Braces: What Purpose Do They Serve?

Rubber bands on braces -- the elastics that surround each bracket -- are just one of many different parts and pieces your orthodontist will tend to during your check-ups. What are these rubber bands used for? They actually do more than you might think.

Answer:

The small elastics, more commonly called "rubber bands," that surround your braces are officially called elastic ligatures. A ligature is used primarily to keep the archwire held into the slot on the bracket, but they can also be used to direct the teeth in a particular direction, depending on the type of ligature used, and how it is tied onto the tooth.

Ligatures can actually be either elastic or metal, and they are broken into the following groups:

Single Elastic Ligatures

Single elastic ligatures come in a variety of colors, but their size is usually uniform. Your orthodontist will change your elastics at every appointment, since they lose strength over time. Depending on how the elastic is tied onto the tooth, a varying degree of force can be applied to the teeth.

Connected Elastic Ligatures

Connected elastic ligatures -- also known as power chain or c-chain ligatures -- come in a variety of colors and strengths. Connected elastic ligatures are used by your orthodontist to close spaces between the teeth, or move specific groups of teeth together at the same time. Connected elastic ligatures may be changed at each appointment, and also come in a variety of different colors.

Stainless Steel Wire Ligatures

Stainless steel wire ligatures are used in the same way as their elastic counterparts, but they offer substantially more security between the bracket and the tooth.

When your orthodontist is trying to straighten out a tooth that may be twisted or turned, it is very important that the archwire remains securely in the slot of the bracket. In order for this to happen, a wire ligature is often the preferred choice of ligature, because it allows the orthodontist to keep the metal archwire securely tied into the bracket slot of the archwire.

Quick Tip About Selecting Your Colored Elastics

Your orthodontist will often let you select the color of your elastics. Choosing from a rainbow of colors may make kids happy, but adults may want to select something a little more discreet. If that's the case, you may be given the choice between silver or clear elastics.

For someone with metal (silver) braces, the best choice of color is selecting a corresponding silver or grey color. While you might think that a clear elastic would remain the most discreet, these elastics tend to retain some of the natural stain that is common with drinking coffee, tea or soda, as well as darker pigmented foods. In very little time, the clear elastic will become stained, and appear dark and discolored. Grey or silver elastics blend in well with the metal braces, and generally don't stain like the clear elastics do.

Sources:

Alberta Society of Orthodontists. What do elastics do? http://www.asolink.com/faqs.html#N. Accessed: February 28, 2010.

American Dental Association. Braces and Orthodontics - Frequently Asked Questions. What are braces made from? Accessed February 28, 2010.

ArchWired. What Are Power Chains? And why do you need them? http://www.archwired.com/power_chains.htm">http://www.archwired.com/power_chains.htm Accessed: February 28, 2010.

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