What Are Some Options to Straighten Teeth? On Braces vs. Invisalign

What Are Some Options to Straighten Teeth? On Braces vs. Invisalign

It happens: A person looks in the mirror and feels embarrassed about his or her crooked teeth. Or maybe a mother looks at her kid and wonders about her teeth not coming in correctly. Or an important event, like a wedding or job interview, is coming up, and the questions arise: What can be done about that crooked smile? What are some options for straightening teeth?

Dental and orthodontic procedures for straightening teeth have developed greatly since our parents’ generation. Today, the main options for straightening teeth are Traditional Metal Braces, Ceramic Braces, or Invisalign. (Though we should mention that orthodontic headgear, too, is often a part of this mix. For more options, see “How Do You Straighten Crooked Teeth?“)

Traditional Metal Braces

What are “traditional” metal braces? Traditional metal braces are what we think of when we picture a kid or teenager with braces. They consist of metal brackets that are cemented (glued) to your teeth and held together with metal wires and (possibly) some tiny rubber bands.

What to expect: The initial placement of brackets and wires typically takes 20 to 30 minutes. After that, regular appointments are needed to replace the elastic bands that hold the wire to the brackets and to make adjustments. Patients usually report tightness and mild discomfort when first getting braces, and after having them adjusted. This discomfort goes away after a few days. Typically, patients also report starting to see a difference in their mouths after about three weeks, though a full course of treatment can take a year or more (depending on the severity of the case).

Who are the best candidates for traditional metal braces? People who would likely benefit from metal braces are those that need to correct teeth that are crowded, crooked, protruding, out of alignment, or have irregular spacing. That said, they are not a good option for people who are self-conscious about their smile — metal braces are permanent until removed, and are the most noticeable option on this list.

Are metal braces OK for kids? Braces are usually not recommended for children under the age of eight. This is because their permanent teeth have not had the chance to erupt fully. Children can, however, undergo an evaluation to see if braces might be a good idea in the future.

What do metal braces cost? Traditional metal braces typically cost somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000, depending on how much correction is needed. This expense often covers the initial consult and set of x-rays, but not always, so it’s best to ask your orthodontist before proceeding. Many insurance providers will help cover braces if they have been deemed “medically necessary,” so ask your health insurance provider what percentage they cover and what your lifetime maximum is. Common coverage is 50% with a $1,500 lifetime maximum per child, though these numbers vary a lot from state to state and plan to plan.

What are lingual braces? Lingual braces are just like traditional metal braces, except that the brackets and wire are fitted behind the teeth (the “lingual” side). This makes them much less visible, and much easier to adapt to than traditional braces. Good candidates for lingual braces need larger surface areas for the brackets to attach to, however, so lingual braces are usually recommended for adults. They also cannot correct excessive bite problems.

Ceramic Braces

What are ceramic braces? Ceramic braces are much like metal braces, except they are made of tooth-colored (or sometimes clear) ceramic, porcelain, or plastic brackets to blend in more naturally with teeth. Some even use tooth-colored wires to blend in even further.

What to expect: Getting ceramic braces is much like the process of getting metal braces, with the added step of finding the best color match for your teeth. (The color of your teeth is partly due to your diet, and partly due to genetics, so everyone has a different shade of white. This also explains why teeth whitening is so popular.) Regular check-ups and tightening are much the same as well.

Who are the best candidates for ceramic braces? While ceramic braces function like metal braces, there are a few reasons to prefer one or the other. For one thing, ceramic braces tend to stain much more easily than metal braces, so they are not recommended if you are a smoker, or are not willing to cut back on heavy wine and coffee drinking. Ceramic braces also tend to be a little more delicate than metal, so they might not be appropriate for those that play rough sports. On the other hand, ceramic braces are much more discreet than metal ones, and so are a good option if you are more self-conscious about your smile.

What do ceramic braces cost? Ceramic braces are typically a bit more expensive than metal braces; price tags between $4,000 and $8,000 are not unusual. Again, many insurance providers will help cover braces if they have been deemed “medically necessary,” so ask your health insurance provider what’s covered. The clerical staff at your orthodontist’s office often have a great deal of experience working with insurance providers and may be willing to help with this process.


What is Invisalign? Invisalign is an alternative to braces that uses a series of clear plastic aligner trays to slowly move your teeth back into position. Each set of aligners is worn for approximately two weeks and then replaced with the next set. As patients progress through the series of aligners, the teeth move gradually toward the correct final position. Unlike braces, which put force on the most misaligned teeth first, Invisalign can move all of your teeth simultaneously. This makes Invisalign treatments typically faster than braces. Patients also like the fact that Invisalign trays are less noticeable, and can be easily removed for eating, playing sports, special events, etc.

What to expect: A dentist or orthodontist will want to meet you before treatment begins to make sure you are a good candidate for Invisalign. If that is the case, the initial appointment will focus on taking photos and impressions of your teeth. These are then used to create a 3D model of your mouth that experts use to plan out the course of treatment. A few weeks later, your dentist will receive your series of aligner trays, and you can begin treatment. Dentists tend to give patients one or two sets of aligners (top and bottom) during checkup visits, which occur roughly once a month.

Who are the best candidates for Invisalign clear aligners? Like braces, Invisalign is designed to correct teeth that are crowded, crooked, protruding, out of alignment, or have irregular spacing. Currently, they cannot treat complex cases where there is a bad bite (malocclusion) or other severe problems. Note that Invisalign is intended only for adults and teens with their full set of adult teeth. If looking for Invisalign for your child, talk to a dentist first to see what requirements are.

What does Invisalign cost? This depends on how complex your case is, and consequently, how many aligner trays you will need. Generally, a full course of Invisalign treatment will run you about $3,000 to $8,000. As with braces, health or dental insurance can go a long way toward making Invisalign more affordable, though your dentist might need to confirm that it is “medically necessary.” Many dentists also offer payment plans and seasonal discounts.

Summing Up

Advantages Disadvantages

Metal Braces

  • Less Expensive
  • Can help with a wider range of cases
  • Very noticeable
  • Cannot eat hard and sticky foods

Ceramic Braces

  • Less noticeable than metal braces
  • More costly than metal
  • May stain more easily

Lingual Braces

  • Less noticeable than metal braces
  • Harder to clean
  • Brackets need more surface area, better for adults than children


  • Nearly invisible
  • Faster treatment (typically)
  • Allows you to eat and drink what you want
  • Can be removed for important occasions
  • Not for everybody
  • Losing aligner trays is a possibility
  • Can be more costly than others alignment techniques

Need to find a dentist near you that offers braces or Invisalign? For Invisalign, start with these articles:

How to Find an Invisalign Specialist Near You

Know Your Options Before Finding an Orthodontist for Your Kid’s Invisalign

To find a dentist for specific procedures, including braces or Invisalign, try our Find a Dentist tool.