- “Lingual braces” are nearly invisible braces that are preferred by many adults over both traditional braces and Invisalign clear aligners.
- Lingual braces have seen decades of improvement over their initial designs and are now an extremely effective option for orthodontic treatment.
- Lingual braces do have downsides including pain, potential speech issues and additional costs.
For many adults, the thought of braces is a non-starter. They may look fine when you’re young, but as an adult, the sheer dread of having to wear braces keeps many people who need them from even asking their orthodontist about them.
For years, the awful choice for many adults was to either live with crooked teeth, or have a smile filled with shiny metal.
Thankfully, times have changed and technology has improved. Today, millions of adults wear nearly invisible braces. These hidden braces are called “lingual braces”, or sometimes “incognito braces”, and are virtually undetectable to the casual onlooker.
What are lingual braces?
Lingual braces do the same thing as traditional braces — that is, they gradually adjust your teeth into a better alignment. But instead of attaching to the front of your teeth like traditional metal braces, lingual braces do their work “invisibly” from behind your teeth. The visible front of your teeth stay completely clear of metalwork while your teeth are adjusted from behind the scenes.
Lingual braces were invented in the 1970s, but since then the nearly invisible braces have seen multiple generations of improvement. In the early days, lingual braces tended to break much more easily than conventional braces and often caused excessive tongue irritation. The early lingual braces also tended to be much less effective than regular braces.
Things are different today. Lingual braces are highly advanced compared to the early designs and are now nearly as effective as traditional braces. In recent years they’ve seen an explosion of popularity among Hollywood celebrities, public figures, and others who want perfect teeth but not the embarrassment of wearing braces.
It’s important to distinguish lingual braces from other “less visible” choices like the popular “Invisalign” clear orthodontic aligners. “Clear aligners” like Invisalign are another alternative to traditional braces and made of clear plastic. Unlike lingual braces, Invisalign clear aligners can be removed — but should be worn for 20 – 22 hours per day. They are only removed for eating or drinking. In certain cases though, removable aligners will be less effective than both traditional and lingual braces due to the lack of force that can be applied to them.
Other, less visible orthodontic treatments include clear braces and ceramic braces tinted to match the color of the teeth. Ceramic braces are not anywhere near as ‘invisible’ as lingual braces, however, which are completely hidden from view.
What’s good about lingual braces?
- Lingual braces are invisible, or close to it: Lingual braces aren’t 100% invisible, but they’re about as close as you can get to being completely hidden inside your mouth. The hardware is attached to the backside of your teeth, with no parts or wires extending around to the front. The braces remain concealed behind your teeth from just about every angle. Under normal conditions it’s unlikely that anyone in regular conversation would notice you were wearing lingual braces. There are plenty of Hollywood actors and actresses who wear lingual braces and their fans and audiences typically have no idea. Of course, if you had lingual braces and were to open your mouth wide and look up at the sky, someone might catch a glimpse of them.
- Lingual braces use the latest in scanning and 3D technology: By using the latest advances in scanning and 3D technology, orthodontists can accurately model the shape of your teeth using CAD / CAM computer software. By using hyper-accurate 3D models of the surface of your teeth, doctors can now ensure lingual braces will fit perfectly and tightly. The wires are bent by precision robotics to match the exact shape and curvature of your teeth. The result is a new generation of lingual braces that are extremely effective and won’t come loose.
- You can eat while wearing lingual braces: Unlike Invisalign inserts, you can eat while wearing lingual braces. Not having to remove your inserts before meals makes for a far more natural lifestyle. Having to excuse oneself to remove a clear aligner is hardly something most adults want to deal with. Also, you won’t get food stuck in lingual braces for everyone to see, as is common with traditional braces. Yes, you could still get food lodged in your lingual braces, but since they’re behind your teeth the problem won’t be nearly as embarrassing.
- Lingual braces won’t visibly stain your teeth: With time traditional braces can lead to white decalcification spots on your teeth. These white spots may also be the result of poor oral hygiene while wearing braces. Many people wind up with a series of white spots across their teeth that appear once they finally remove their braces. While the same thing is also possible with lingual braces, any potential white spots with them would exist behind your teeth and be hidden out of view. There is no risk of uneven discoloration to the front of your teeth posed by lingual braces, which is another reason why they’re so popular.
- Lingual braces and improved self-esteem: Orthodontic issues are a common cause of shyness and poor self-image. Being able to treat orthodontic issues without the long-term aesthetic downside of traditional braces is an important source of confidence for many wearers of lingual braces.
What are the cons?
- Lingual braces are more expensive: Because lingual braces are custom-designed by computers and robotics to precisely fit your teeth, the costs tend to be higher. The technology involved in creating lingual braces is far more advanced than the technology needed to create and fit traditional braces. You can expect to pay between $8,000 to $10,000 or more for your lingual braces — a considerably higher price than for standard braces. Also, when one considers that lingual braces more susceptible to breakage, you could find yourself paying additional costs as time goes on.
- You can’t eat whatever you want with lingual braces: Lingual braces tend to be more delicate than conventional braces. That fragility comes with a trade-off: you won’t be able to dive into crunchy or hard foods the way you might be accustomed to. Lingual braces require some extra thought about what kind of foods you can eat. The restrictions aren’t that limiting, but if you’re a fan of hard, crusty breads or crunchy snacks, you may have to adjust your eating habits for a year or more.
- Lingual braces can be uncomfortable or even painful at first: There’s a lot less room behind your teeth than there is in front of them. Even with all of the high tech computer modeling and robotic fabrication used to precisely fit lingual braces to the shape of your teeth, you’re still going to find that your lingual braces are now taking up space that your tongue is used to occupying. You may find your tongue will be a little sore as you adjust to having the new hardware in your mouth. Your orthodontist may give you a special orthodontic wax you can use to coat your lingual braces. Orthodontic wax will soften the contact point between your tongue and your lingual braces, reducing friction and irritation.
- Lingual braces can give you a lisp: Because they change the way your tongue makes contact with your teeth, it’s not uncommon to experience an initial few days of speech issues. The problem typically corrects itself over the first couple of weeks as your tongue gradually gets used to the new shape of your teeth, but the impact on normal speech should not be understated. Orthodontists typically recommend talking as much as possible for the first few days to help speed the adjustment process. You will also have increased saliva over the first few weeks that may further contribute to your unnatural speech, but this is consistent with all types of braces.
- Lingual braces can be difficult to clean: Because lingual braces are hidden out of sight, they’re also more difficult to reach. This can present problems when it comes to keeping them clean. Dentists and orthodontists recommend using a waterpik to keep lingual braces clean. You may also want to consider brushing your teeth more frequently throughout the day and immediately after meals.
- Not all patients are candidates: People with severe “overbite” or “deep bite” may not be able to accomodate lingual braces. Consult your orthodontist to determine if you are a candidate.
Lingual braces are an increasingly popular and aesthetically superior option to standard braces. But they do have drawbacks by way of the initial speech quality issues and discomfort associated with them. The adjustment time for lingual braces tends to be a little longer than it is for traditional braces, plus there is an increased chance of tongue irritation.
Nevertheless, lingual braces are a great choice for countless people who can live with the additional cost and want to maintain a “braces-free” appearance while correcting their orthodontic issues.
- Lingual Orthodontic Treatment: What Is the Current Evidence Base? (2013) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24005948