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What are the different types of orthodontic treatment?

Orthodontics involves straightening and realigning the teeth and jaw, to improve someone’s smile and dental wellbeing.

Treatments can be used to straighten teeth, correct an irregular bite and close gaps between the teeth. This process is done by using braces, which are fixed within the mouth for a set period and are followed by wearing retainers.

Orthodontic treatments are often undertaken for cosmetic reasons but can also improve long-term dental health. Misaligned teeth which do not fit together are much harder to keep clean and are therefore more susceptible to tooth decay or gum disease, so it’s important to get them fixed.

Braces come in lots of different forms, from fixed-metal braces to removable clear aligners. Here’s an overview of the different types of orthodontic treatment available:

Invisalign removable teeth straightening aligner

Invisible braces

Thanks to advances in technology, there are now braces which are virtually invisible, enabling people to have their teeth straightened more discreetly.

These near-invisible braces come in different forms:


  • Invisalign
  • This uses a series of virtually-invisible removable custom-made aligners to gradually straighten your teeth. Each aligner is worn for about two weeks for 20 to 22 hours a day before the next is fitted.

    There are several different versions including special designs for teenagers, which have ‘wear indicators’ that fade from blue to clear to ensure you are wearing the brace regularly. Invisalign i7 uses a series of clear, removable aligners to straighten teeth in just three months and is often used to treat minor crowding.

  • Lingual braces
  • These fit discreetly behind your teeth, against their inner surfaces in order to realign them. There are different types depending on your needs with some designed specifically to straighten just your front six to eight teeth. These braces can only be removed by your orthodontist once treatment has been completed.

  • Clear ceramic braces
  • Also known as ceramic braces, these use transparent or tooth-coloured brackets to create a subtler appearance than traditional metal braces. Like traditional orthodontic treatment, clear braces take around 18-24 months to straighten the teeth.

  • Cosmetic straightening
  • Unlike braces, this focuses on straightening just the front six to eight most visible teeth. Due to its more targeted approach, cosmetic straightening can achieve results in as little as six months using techniques far more discreet than metal braces. In fact, many of the options are virtually invisible.

Boy with metal braces laughing with eyes closed

Traditional fixed braces

Fixed metal braces remain a popular option for straightening teeth, particularly among teenagers, as they produce effective and reliable results. However, lots of adults also have fixed braces too. The braces’ brackets are bonded onto teeth with a wire connecting them which slowly pulls the teeth into alignment.

  • Self-ligating braces
  • These appear very similar to traditional metal braces, but the wire is fitted using a spring clip rather than elastic bands which reduces the friction between the bracket and the wire. These braces are less prone to discolouring as they are easier to clean and allow more movement in the teeth meaning less potential discomfort.

Lady smiling holding orthodontic retainer

What’s a retainer?

While not technically an orthodontic treatment, retainers are a vital part of the aftercare needed for successfully achieving straighter teeth. Once your braces have worked their magic, you will need to wear a retainer to stop them trying to spring back to their irregular shape.

It takes a while for the elastic fibres in the gum to resettle and reform around each tooth’s new position and stop pulling them out of line. This is why retainers are vital until teeth have had time to stabilise. In fact, to really guarantee teeth stay put, retainers should be worn for life.

Removable retainers

These look like a thin, clear gum shield which is moulded to your teeth to keep them in line and guarantee comfort. The length of time needed to wear retainers is different per patient, but for most, they’re only worn at night.

Fixed retainers

These use a stainless-steel wire, which is bonded behind the front teeth to hold the retainer in place. They are very discreet and easy to forget about entirely, you just need to be careful brushing your teeth when fitted with them.

If you're interested in learning more about braces and orthodontic treatment, the best thing to do is to speak to your dentist. Find your local Bupa Dental Care dentist here.

We have a group of practices solely dedicated to teeth straightening, find out more at Total Orthodontics, part of Bupa.

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Healthcare Limited. Registered in England and Wales number: 03257078. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

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