Ceramic braces are the latest and most aesthetic form of orthodontic braces offered by modern dentistry.
Dental braces have been in use one form or the other since the middle of the eighth century. Conventionally, metal braces were used for orthodontic treatment of misaligned and crooked teeth. Despite the excellent efficiency of metallic braces in bringing about optimal alignment and rotation of teeth, their unaesthetic metallic appearance was a major concern for many patients. Thus, an alternative was sought for them, and after rigorous research, tooth colored ceramic braces were introduced for orthodontic use.
What are braces?
Essentially, braces consist of brackets (one against each tooth) attached to, and held in place by, an “arch” wire which goes around from one end of the jaw to the other. The arch wire and the brackets may be on the outside surfaces of the teeth (as is the normal case), or on the inside (the lingual braces). The brackets are also firmly attached their respective teeth, and hence, transmit to them any forces exerted by the arch wire. These forces gradually move the teeth in the desired direction. Tension in the arch wire is adjusted by the dentist repeatedly, say, after every one month, to gradually move the teeth further till the desired results are achieved. The process can continue for two to three years.
The esthetic issue
Esthetic sensitivities drive evolution
The main esthetic problem with the metallic braces is their metallic arch wires which are noticeable. Lingual wire braces avoid that, being worn on the insides of the teeth, but may have other problems. Plastic brackets in tooth colored material reduce the visibility, when far away. However, at close quarters, even these are noticeable. In addition, the arch wire is still there, visible and prominent. Tooth colored steel wire becames available. This is an improvement on the simple steel wire.
Enter ceramic braces!
Ceramics are an important class of materials with many useful properties for manufacturing a wide variety of industrial and medical equipment. Dentists have been using them for crowns, and small bridges. Now they are also being used braces. What advantage do ceramics have over stainless steel?
Their optical translucence!
Ceramics, porcelain is one of whom, are popular among dentists because their optical properties resemble those of dental enamel very closely. That is to say, they are translucent. Light can partially pass through them just as it does through dental enamel. This makes ceramics very popular for dental crowns, bridges, and now, braces.
What kept them?
Why were ceramics not used for braces earlier? Well, ceramics are not metals, but metallic oxides. Where ceramics have other advantages, they have the disadvantage of brittleness. Thus, ceramics are liable to crack – compare a steel bowl with a ceramic bowl when both are dropped to floor. However, dental ceramics have improved tremendously, and their crack strength has increased to levels acceptable for dental application.
Thus, ceramic brackets have replaced steel or plastic brackets in dental braces, making them much less visible. Although the steel arch wire is still present. It can be silver, or frosted white color. Such ceramic braces are not visible except at very close quarters.
Ceramics are translucent, i.e., partially transparent, but do have colors. Thus, ceramics of the right color and shade can be found for blending with teeth of any color shade while being almost invisible. They are second only to clear aligners e.g., Invisalign.
The only downside of using ceramic braces is their high cost. Also, ceramic braces also carry some risk of getting stained from food products and drinks. However, esthetic considerations normally outweigh the expense of ceramic braces. Thus, they are gradually gaining widespread popularity as an esthetic alternative for metallic braces.
How much do ceramic braces cost? This mainly depends on your location, the experience of the dentist, however you should know that these type of braces are more expensive than e.g. metallic braces. Here is a rough estimate on how much they could cost in different countries:
- US: $4,000 - 8,000
- UK: £2,000 – £3,000
- Australia: $5,000 to $8,500
Since orthodontic treatment requires regular visits to the dentist, dental tourism is usually not a viable solution in these cases.