Elastics 101: What are These Rubber Bands for Orthodontics For?

Woman with elastics on braces

Braces are a complex system, and they can be difficult to understand because of the variety out there. But regardless of the type, one thing is for sure: these dental appliances work!

Braces consist of brackets, which are attached to the teeth using a dental adhesive. These brackets are connected to a wire and held on by a module, which is responsible for setting the wire in place. These modules, which are the actual colour of braces that people see, helps straighten the teeth. We go more in-depth about how braces work in this blog post.

Apart from the mentioned parts of the braces, some patients require elastics. These elastics are quite recognisable because they resemble rubber bands. If you’re getting braces, there is a chance that you will have to wear elastics during your treatment.

This blog post talks about everything you may find useful about orthodontic elastics.

Teeth model with braces.


Why are Elastics Used?

The primary use of elastics or rubber bands is to apply more pressure to the teeth, encouraging them to move in a specific direction. In most cases, patients have to wear elastics because they need to have their bite improved. Orthodontic elastics are not just for patients wearing metal and ceramic braces. Even clear aligners, such as Invisalign, are compatible with these rubber bands. They are commonly used for people who require trickier than normal tooth movements and those needing bite adjustments.

Elastics are not added to the treatment right away. These bands are mostly provided in the phase of the treatment, where it is time to fix the bite of the patient. Your orthodontist will teach you how to use these rubber bands. Don’t worry; it’s not difficult. You simply have to locate the tiny hooks on the brackets, either at the top or bottom. If you’re wearing Invisalign, you will see small buttons that are attached to your teeth.

You will have to stretch the bands over the hooks or buttons to connect the upper and lower jaws. Apart from the proper positioning of the elastics, your orthodontist will instruct you to wear each band consistently. The duration differs from one patient to the next, but you may be required to have the elastics on for the whole day. You should try your best to remove the rubber bands only when you are eating, flossing, and brushing your teeth.

By wearing elastics as directed, they can apply the pressure your teeth need to move to their desired position.

You’re probably wondering now whether or not you will wear elastics. It’s possible, but then again, not everyone who gets braces will require elastics. Your orthodontist will decide if you need them for your treatment. Typically, your jaw alignment will be evaluated, and a treatment plan will be provided, which may include elastics.

Elastic pulling impacted tooth.


History of Elastics

The use of elastics is believed to have stemmed many years ago when the Mayans and Incans utilised natural rubber for different purposes. Natural rubber is considered the first-ever elastomer, which refers to a rubbery material that can return to its original shape even after extended periods of stretching.

Charles Goodyear, an American engineer and chemist, created the vulcanisation process. His name may be familiar to you, and that’s because the Goodyear tyre brand is named after him. When the vulcanisation process became more popular, more people and businesses started using natural rubber.

Charles good year working with vulcanised elastics.

That was when Henry Albert Baker opted to use elastics for changing the positioning of teeth. Baker was an American orthodontist who first used elastics in the late 1800s. He named the method the Baker Anchorage. Another orthodontist named Dr Calvin Case claimed that he was the first one to use intermaxillary elastics. However, the father of American orthodontics, Edward Angle, along with other colleagues, believed that it was Dr Baker who pioneered elastics in orthodontics and not Dr Case.

But more importantly, there was a problem brewing with natural rubber. Its elasticity did not last for a long time. Given that the elastics would stay inside the mouth, rubber would begin absorbing water. As a result, the elastics deteriorated quickly. It was later decided that latex elastics should replace natural rubber in the early 1900s. Around the 1960s, synthetic elastics were developed and soon became the choice material for orthodontics.


Types of Elastics

Orthodontic elastics are typically created using medical-grade latex. This material is safe even if it stays in your mouth for several hours each day. However, if you have latex allergies, there are latex-free options out there. These elastics are not the same as the hair bands or elastics you commonly use to tie things.

Elastics come in varying sizes and thickness, which depend on the type, including:

  1. Class I Elastics are for closing the gap between your teeth. They run from the upper first or second molar to the upper cuspid hook. Some orthodontists do not use Class I since this bite is considered normal.
  2. Class II Elastics are for reducing an overjet. The elastics will move and retract the upper teeth while gently pushing the lower teeth forward.
  3. Class III Elastics are designed for patients with an underbite. The rubber bands work to retract the lower teeth while moving the upper teeth forward.

To get an idea about the type of elastics you might wear, you should know your bite. If you have a Class II malocclusion, you will most likely wear Class II elastics to correct the improper bite (overbite). If you have a Class III malocclusion, you will use Class III elastics to fix an underbite.

Other types of elastics include:

  • Vertical elastics are used for linking the upper teeth with your lower teeth, which is helpful for those with an open bite.
  • Cross elastics connect both the upper and lower teeth. The rubber bands cross over the front teeth, which is an effective technique for correcting a crossbite.
  • Ligatures are for securing the archwires or the flexible wires that run between the brace brackets. These elastics are tiny, and you get them immediately when you have the braces applied. Every time you see your orthodontist for an adjustment, the ligatures are replaced with new ones since they grow weaker over time.
  • Inter-arch elastics keep wires in place just like ligatures. The difference is that they are slightly larger and are not placed in the same pattern. Their placement depends on the misalignment of the patient and typically extend from one arch to another. That means they are hooked on the upper tooth going to the lower tooth.

If it has been decided that inter-arch elastics are suitable for your case, you will see small hooks on your brackets. These hooks allow for easy placement and removal of the bands.

When it comes to the size, it will be based on the position of the elastics. If you have a long Class II rubber band, you cannot use a small and tight elastic; otherwise, it’s almost impossible to open your mouth properly. Also, your teeth will be under too much force, rendering the orthodontic treatment ineffective.

The bite and tooth movement will also dictate how long you should wear the elastics daily. You will either be told to wear the elastics full-time or only when you sleep. Full-time wear is typically for those that require significant improvement of the teeth and bite. If you are instructed to wear the elastics at night, they are mainly for preserving the correction.

Dentist putting elastic on patient's braces.


Problems with Elastics

Perhaps the biggest issue with elastics is for people with a latex allergy. Some patients may be unaware that they have this allergy, which can lead to serious problems. If you are aware of your latex allergy, you should talk to your orthodontist about it right away. You will be given rubber bands made from vinyl and not latex, which will have the same effect but without triggering your allergies.

Even without allergies, several patients agree that rubber bands are painful. They apply extra pressure on the teeth, causing hours upon hours of discomfort. The good news is that this pain can easily be remedied using over-the-counter pain medication. Also, it is comforting to know that you do not have to keep relying on pain relievers because the discomfort does not last for several days. Normally, people feel better after two to three days.

One more issue is with breakage. Yes, orthodontic elastics, just like your regular rubber bands, can potentially break when you are wearing them.


Hacks to Make Wearing Elastics Easier

One of the first things that you should do is to understand how to put on elastics. Listen and watch the demonstration of your orthodontist. You should also know how long you should wear the bands. It’s essential to wear them every day. It may become uncomfortable when you’re speaking and may even cause headaches. If you do not wear the elastics enough, you will be required to have them on for a longer period.

Here are other tips and tricks you can follow when wearing the rubber bands:

  • Do not eat with your elastics.
  • Place a fresh pair of elastics on after eating.
  • If you will replace one side, be sure to replace the other, as well. It ensures that the two are symmetrical.
    When attaching the elastics, use your index and thumb. Stand in front of a mirror so you can see where to place them. It will get easier with some practice.
  • Are you having trouble remembering your schedule in wearing your elastics? Set a reminder or post a sticky note on your desk. Find the correct motivation that will remind you to wear the rubber bands.
  • Make sure you always have extra elastics with you, especially when you’re going out. You never know when the rubber bands will break or get lost. Having them ready in your bag or pocket, you can easily replace the elastics even when on the go. Don’t forget to have a clean container and wash your hands first before placing the bands in your mouth.
  • You may have heard of tricks like using double elastics, which, according to some people, can help quicken your progress. It’s completely false! No orthodontist will recommend doubling up on elastics unless your special case requires you to do so. Using two times the number of elastics will cause too much pressure on your teeth, which will harm your teeth’s roots.
  • Avoid overstretching the rubber bands. They tend to lose their strength and will become ineffective.

Did you know that you can choose the colour of your elastics? It’s a fun way to showcase your personality. You can customise the look of your braces daily or during special occasions. You can even opt for themes, such as sports and events. These colour options are popular amongst kids and teens. Adults, on the other hand, usually stick to conservative choices, such as clear and white. Others prefer a little bit of colour, including silver, black, and brown.

It’s important to be a little mindful when picking the colour of these orthodontic bands. For example, you may think that black and brown may be great selections for you. However, if you look at your teeth in the mirror, the bands can look like you have food stuck in your teeth.

White and clear are excellent options, but they can also have certain issues, especially clear. If you like drinking coffee or eating brightly coloured foods, the band will be tinted by stains. In this instance, coffee drinkers will love white elastics.

Let’s help you start your journey towards having a perfect smile using braces or clear aligners. Contact Oasis Orthodontics to get a free consultation.

Braces installation at Oasis Orthodontics.

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Kingsley Orthodontics is now called Oasis Orthodontics. We are now operating in two locations: Clarkson and Kingsley.