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Different Types Of braces & Other Alternatives

For generations of teens (and adults), the only way to straighten teeth was traditional metal braces. Today, however, many options abound to suit any smile need, preference or budget. Yes, braces are still a popular choice, but instead of only metal braces, you’ll find several different types of braces to choose from. At VanderWall Orthodontics, we offer metal braces, as well as clear ceramic braces, and even braces that are fitted behind your teeth called lingual braces. 

If you’re looking for an alternative to braces, you’ve most likely heard of clear aligner treatment. We also provide Invisalign®, Invisalign Teen and 3M™ Clarity™ Aligners, all of which are proven effective clear aligner systems that yield great results.

So what’s the difference between all these teeth-straightening options? With all the braces and clear aligners we have at VanderWall Orthodontics, it can be hard for patients to keep all the details straight! So here, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to the different types of braces and clear aligners we offer so you can see which might suit your needs and lifestyle best.

What Are The Different Types of Braces at VanderWall Orthodontics

Let’s start with braces. Did you know that braces have been around for a while? A very long while — an ancestor of these modern orthodontic appliances even dates back to ancient Egyptian times! But thankfully since then — and since the beginnings of 20th century braces — you’ll be glad to know that innovation and technology have come a long way to where we are today. Dr. VanderWall uses the latest braces technology, starting with modern brackets and thin, arched memory wires to offer many different types of braces.

Are you or your child someone who likes color? With metal braces, you can choose the color of your elastics to suit your personality. Like a more subtle look? Your Raleigh, Durham and Cary orthodontist offers clear ceramic braces. Or do you prefer total discretion? InBrace® invisible braces are a popular choice for adults; they’re affixed behind your teeth instead of in the front so you can’t see them.

Whichever braces you lean towards, you’re working towards a straighter, healthier smile you’ll be proud to show off. So it’s safe to say that diligent oral hygiene is an important part of achieving that winning smile. With braces, give yourself a bit more time to clean well around brackets and in between wires when both brushing and flossing. You might even want to invest in a water flosser to help get tiny bits of food debris that can get stuck.

You’ll also need to modify your food preferences a little with braces. Simply put, crunchy, sticky or chewy foods can be hard to eat or can even damage braces.

Traditional Metal Braces Made Modern

Let’s start with traditional metal braces.These are the classic ones that come to mind first. Think back to your own adolescence, say, in the 70s, 80s and 90s: those were metal braces. Metal braces have stood the test of time because of their effectiveness for even severe misalignment issues. And unlike clear aligners (which we’ll get to later on) braces are also suitable for patients of all ages, from preteens to adults. Orthodontic braces are made of high-grade stainless steel, with brackets bonded to teeth for the duration of treatment and archwires that help shift your teeth into place. Your orthodontists will adjust and tighten them periodically to keep your treatment on track.

As we mentioned, the metal braces we use at VanderWall Orthodontics are the latest design — with smaller brackets and thinner, lightweight wires that are more discreet. Our younger patients like the ability to personalize them with colorful elastics that reflect their style. 

Ceramic Braces

You might have heard ceramic braces also described as white braces or clear braces. Why are they sometimes called “white braces” you ask? Most likely because ceramic braces are made up of translucent ceramic brackets that blend in with your teeth, so they can sometimes look white in color.

How do ceramic braces work? Like metal braces, the brackets for ceramic braces are bonded to the front of your teeth for the duration of your treatment. A thin wire runs along the front of your teeth. You’ll be glad to know that the clear ceramic braces we use at WanderWall Orthodontics are durable and stain-resistant.

These “white braces” aren’t as obvious as the metal braces we talked about before. As translucent braces, clear ceramic braces are a great choice for adults and teens who want a less noticeable appliance. 

InBrace® Lingual Braces

Smile and say “cheeeeese!” In photos, no one will be able to tell you’re wearing braces! Lingual braces are the most invisible braces option since they’re placed behind your teeth instead of on the front. At VanderWall Orthodontics, we use InBrace lingual braces, which are a more customized system than conventional, front-of-teeth braces. 

InBrace behind-the-teeth braces feature tiny brackets bonded to the back of your teeth and the wire that’s threaded through the brackets isn’t just one curve that follows your dental arch. Instead, InBrace Smartwires™ are a series of wavelike curves along the back of your teeth that provide gentle straightening according to your orthodontic prescription. Smartwires are pre-programmed to move your teeth to their final place right from the start, which means there’s no adjustments or tightening needed throughout your treatment.   

InBrace hidden braces also eliminate the friction that can happen with conventional braces and are a cinch to keep clean. Yes, you have to take a bit more time when brushing, but you floss just like you would without braces.

For adults who want to keep their teeth-straightening under wraps, or for teens who want braces that are virtually invisible, we’ve found that InBrace behind-the-teeth braces are the most appealing choice of all different types of braces. 

Clear Aligner Treatment

Speaking of discreet teeth-straightening, let’s move on to the clear aligner systems we offer at our Raleigh, Durham and Cary offices: Invisalign and Invisalign Teen, and 3M Clarity Aligners. Clear aligners have become increasingly popular in recent years, to the point of at-home, do-it-yourself subscription systems popping up online. (Note: we don’t recommend these!)

Clear aligners are a removable treatment system — a series of customized BPA-free plastic trays that are swapped out every few weeks. Each set pushes teeth gently and incrementally into alignment to fit into the next tray, and the next, and the next. You progress through your trays until you reach your final, prescribed smile!

With clear aligners, the rule of thumb is to wear them at least 22 hours a day. So you only take them out for brushing and flossing, eating and drinking (though you can drink water with them still in). Many patients, especially adults, opt for clear aligners because:

  • they’re virtually invisible
  • they don’t interrupt your busy schedule (orthodontist check ins are fewer than with braces)
  • they often have a shorter treatment time than braces
  • you can eat and drink whatever you want
  • you brush and floss as you normally would

With both Invisalign and Clarity Aligners, your orthodontist will glue small, tooth-colored bumps, often called Invisalign attachments, discreetly on select teeth. These help you align your trays correctly onto your teeth when you put them in, but they of course come off when your clear aligner treatment is done.

A common question asked about clear aligners is, “Do they hurt?” With all clear aligners, you might have a bit of discomfort or sensitivity at first, but it goes away quickly. Take it easy on yourself, eat softer foods initially or take over-the-counter pain relief.

Invisalign and Invisalign Teen

It goes without saying that Invisalign and Invisalign Teen are a household name in orthodontics. Many of our patients are familiar with Invisalign even before we introduce it to them. After Dr. VanderWall assesses that you’re a candidate for Invisalign at a complimentary consultation, he’ll plan out your treatment step-by-step on a digital 3D model of your mouth. He then sends his prescription to the Invisalign lab where they print out all your clear aligners for your entire treatment.

Invisalign’s smooth plastic aligners are tight to your teeth and go all the way up to your gumline, aiding their invisibility. You don’t have to worry about breaking them, but it’s recommended that to maintain your Invisalign, you rinse them out with water every time you take them out and brush them with a soft toothbrush and warm water (not hot!) twice a day.

Invisalign Teen

For younger patients, Invisalign Teen offers the same no-fuss, nearly-invisible experience as Invisalign with the addition of special tabs at the back to accommodate growing molars. You also receive a few extra sets of clear aligners in case you lose them.

3M Clarity Aligners

3M Clarity Aligners start with Dr. VanderWall planning out your treatment on a 3D model of your mouth. His prescribed tooth movements are sent to the 3M lab, which prints your set of clear plastic aligners — from the first trays to the very last. You wear your Clarity Aligners and swap out new ones every few weeks as prescribed. Watch as your teeth make their incremental changes towards alignment!

Sounds just like Invisalign, you might say. So how do you choose between Invisalign and Clarity Aligners if they’re so similar? Well, there are three reasons you might choose Clarity Aligners over Invisalign:

  1. If Dr.VanderWall sees that you have vastly different levels of misalignment or crowding between your upper and lower teeth, he might suggest Clarity Aligners over Invisalign. You see, Clarity Aligners’ 3D treatment planning software can map out combination treatments: braces with clear aligners. 
  2. Clarity Aligners have a slimmer profile and more of a matte sheen than Invisalign. You might find this makes them even more discreet.
  3. The bumps affixed to your teeth to help place your clear aligners properly are smaller for Clarity Aligners than the ones used in Invisalign. They’re also most often placed only on the back teeth. 


Regardless of the type of braces or clear aligners you choose, when you finish treatment, there’s one final step: wearing a retainer. An orthodontic retainer holds your teeth in their positions as new bone forms around them and your ligaments tighten back up, locking your smile in place. 

Just like braces and aligners there are different types of retainers, including:

  • Essix Retainer – Essix retainers, or clear retainers, are removable retainers made from clear plastic. They look and function similar to an Invisalign or Clarity aligner.
  • Hawley Retainer – A Hawley retainer is a removable appliance that consists of an acrylic piece that fits against the roof or bottom of your mouth and a metal wire that wraps around the teeth. 
  • Permanent Retainer – A permanent retainer, sometimes called a bonded retainer or lingual retainer, is a metal wire that’s cemented to the inside surface of your lower front teeth. 

Dr. VanderWall will help you decide on the best option for your needs so that your braces, Clarity or Invisalign results will last a lifetime! 

How to Put on Retainers

We’ll give you comprehensive retainer instructions when you finish your braces or clear aligner treatment that include how to put on retainers, how often to wear them and how to keep your appliance clean. 

When it comes to how to put on retainers, it will depend on the type of retainer you have. For a permanent retainer, Dr. VanderWall will bond it to your teeth and it will stay in place for as long as necessary, meaning you won’t have to take it in and out. 

What about how to put on retainers of the removable variety? To put in a Hawley retainer, gently hold your retainer and put it in your mouth so the top of the acrylic piece is positioned facing the roof of your mouth or the bottom of your mouth, depending on whether it’s an upper or lower retainer.

Be sure the wire is right in front of your teeth. Push it into your mouth without using too much force and use your fingers to put it in place, so that the acrylic arch sits against the roof or bottom of the mouth and the wire is wrapped around the teeth. 

To put in a clear retainer, first, make sure your teeth are clean. Then put the retainer in your mouth with the opening facing the chewing surface of either the top or bottom teeth, again, depending on whether it’s an upper or lower retainer. Gently push it in so that it covers your entire arch similar to a mouthguard. You can wiggle it a bit and then bite down so that it’s snugly in place.


So there you have it. All you need to know about the different types of braces and clear aligners we offer at VanderWall Orthodontics! Whether you’re looking for metal braces, clear ceramic braces, or InBrace lingual braces, our team will design a smile that’s uniquely yours. Or if Invisalign, Invisalign Teen or 3M Clarity Aligners is right for you, our expert orthodontic oversight will ensure your clear aligner journey results in a confident, healthy smile.

Contact us today at our Raleigh, Durham or Cary office for your free initial consultation. We’re here to honor your smile goals!

Dr. Clay VanderWall

Author Dr. Clay VanderWall

Dr. VanderWall attended Kalamazoo College, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Health Sciences. He spent a semester doing research at the Dental Research Center of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill where he wrote his Senior Individualized Project (SIP). He furthered his studies at the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Dentistry, receiving his Doctor of Dental Surgery in 1999. He graduated with honors and was inducted into the national dental honor society, Omicron Kappa Upsilon (OKU). He also received the Pierre Fauchard Academy Student Award and was a recipient of the Health Professions Scholarship from the United States Navy.

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