Commonly Used Terms in Orthodontics


Regular monthly follow-up visits for braces patients. Elastic bands are replaced and archwires may be replaced or adjusted as needed.


Toward the front of the mouth, specifically incisor and canine teeth.


Any device, either attached to the teeth or removable, designed to move the teeth, change the position of the jaw, or hold the teeth in their final positions after braces are removed. This includes retainers, headgears, and so on.


A wire that is held in place by the brackets and acts as a track to guide the movement of teeth.


Also known as elastic ties or ligatures, these are tiny rubber rings that hold the archwire into place. They come in a variety of colors.


Formally known as an “occlusion,” this is the way that the upper and lower teeth meet together.

Bite plate

An acrylic appliance that reduces an overbite by preventing the back teeth from touching.

Bonded retainer

This is a permanent retainer that consists of a wire glued across the inside surface of the upper or lower front teeth.It’s designed to keep teeth in their current position.


The process of attaching brackets or other permanent appliances to teeth using specialized non-toxic glue.


A small square that is bonded directly to teeth with a dental bonding agent or attached with orthodontic bands. Brackets act like handles, holding the archwires that move the teeth in place. They can be metal or clear, and can be placed on the outside or inside of teeth.

Buccal tube

Sometimes simply called “hooks,” these are small metal hooks bonded to the outside of a bracket or tooth. They are used to hold elastics or other auxiliary pieces.

C Chain

Also known as a power chain, this is a continuous elastic chain that wraps around multiple brackets to close space between teeth.


Also known as an underbite, this bite occurs when any teeth of the upper jaw are located on the inside of the lower jaw.


Sometimes called “white scars,” these are the white chalky marks on teeth caused by plaque being left on for an extended period of time.

Deep bite

Commonly known as an over bite, this occurs when the top front teeth overlap the bottom front teeth excessively.


A space between two teeth.

Elastic tie

Also known as a “band,” this is a tiny rubber ring that holds the archwire in place. They come in a variety of colors.


Also known simply as rubber bands, these are attached to hooks on brackets and connect the upper and lower jaw diagonally. They need to be replaced by the patient 3-4 times a day to maintain their elasticity. Unless otherwise prescribed, rubber bands should be worn at all times except for when brushing, flossing, or eating a large meal.

Functional appliances

These are appliances that use the muscle action of speaking, eating and swallowing to produce force to move the teeth, align the jaws, and stimulate the growth of either the upper or lower jaw. They’re also known as orthopedic appliances and include devices such as orthopedic correctors, activators, bionators, Frankel appliances, Herbst appliances and twin blocks.

Hawley retainer

The most common and recognizable type of retainer. It is made of an acrylic plate connected to a metal wire that wraps around the front of teeth.


An appliance worn outside of the mouth to provide traction for growth modification and tooth movement. The headgear attaches to the head using a chin strap, neck strap, or head strap. It then attaches to the teeth using 2 rubber bands that connect the headgear to hooks on the teeth.

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Herbst appliance

A fixed appliance that is used to treat a growing patient with an underdeveloped lower jaw. It holds the lower jaw in a forward position to reduce over bite and enhance the patient’s profile.

Holding arch

These types of appliances include lingual arches, nances, and transpalatal arches, and are usually used to maintain the position of the molars. They consist of metal bands that wrap around the molars, connected by metal wires or bands that cross the roof of the mouth.

Impacted tooth

A tooth that is unable to erupt from the gum normally because of the position of the bone or surrounding teeth.


System of clear plastic aligners that straighten teeth using a series of 18 to 30 trays. These aligners are removable and do not involve the brackets and wires of traditional braces. Invisalign is available for adults and teens, but not younger children.

Ligature tie

Also called a steel tie or metal tie, this is a fine wire that holds the archwire in place.

Lip bumper

A plastic-coated wire that attaches to the front of the brackets on the lower teeth to create space between the teeth and the lip.


To put it simply, a “bad bite”; teeth that do not fit together properly.


The lower jaw.


The upper jaw.

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Metal bands

Also known as orthodontic bands, these are stainless steel rings that are cemented to teeth. They wrap around each tooth to provide an anchor for the bracket.

Mixed dentition

The stage when kids have a mixture of permanent and baby teeth.

Mouth sores

Sores inside the mouth caused by irritation from rough brackets, wires, and other devices. These are common when patients are first getting used to braces.


Also known as a “bite,” this is the way that the upper and lower teeth meet together.

Open bite

In this type of bite, there are areas where the top and bottom teeth do not touch at all.

Orthognathic surgery

This is surgery performed to align the jaws. It is only recommended in extreme cases.


This occurs when the top front teeth overlap the bottom front teeth excessively.


The distance between the surfaces of the top and bottom teeth in an over bite.


Derived from the words ”ortho,” "meaning,” "straight,” and “odont,” meaning “tooth,” this is a branch of dentistry that specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of facial irregularities. The practice involves the design, application, and control of corrective appliances to bring teeth, lips, and jaws into proper alignment and achieve facial balance.


A dental specialist with at least 2 years of post-doctoral training in orthodontics at an American Dental Association-accredited program after dental school. All orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists.

Orthodontic wax

Non-toxic wax that is made to be placed over brackets or wires to relieve irritation. You can find it at drugstores or get it from any orthodontist.


The roof of the mouth.

Palate expander

An expandable appliance used to make the upper jaw wider. It can be bonded to teeth or attached with metal orthodontic bands.


Two very similar appliances, each attached to teeth with 4 orthodontic bands. They are designed to move the upper molars towards the back of the mouth. The advantage of either of these is that it replaces the need for a headgear.


This refers to the tissues surrounding the teeth (the gums).

Phase I

Early orthodontic treatment, usually between ages 7-10, that occurs when a child still has a mixture of permanent and baby teeth.This initial phase is designed to help treat certain orthodontic problems, such as alignment and growth issues, that are more easily corrected when the patient is still young. Phase I patients will almost always still need a full set of braces (known as Phase II) at a later time.

Phase II

Also known as “active treatment” or “full braces,” this phase of treatment occurs once all the permanent teeth have come in.


Toward the back of the mouth, specifically molar and premolar teeth.

Power chain

Also known as a C chain, this is a continuous elastic chain that wraps around multiple brackets to close space between teeth.

Quad helix

An appliance that uses looped wire to expand the upper jaw. It is used to correct an underbite.


A removable appliance worn to stabilize teeth in their new positions after orthodontic treatment. They are usually made of a combination of plastic and wire. You can also get permanent retainers, which generally consist of wires bonded behind either the bottom or top teeth.

Sagittal appliance

This is a mostly acrylic device that uses 3 screws to expand the arch of a jaw.

Self-ligating brackets

These are brackets that do not need elastics to hold the archwire in place and instead use a metal clip that opens and closes. They are typically smaller than traditional brackets, but do not offer clear or tooth-colored options. Self-ligating brackets create less friction than traditional brackets, which often makes treatment faster and more efficient.


Also known as spacers, these are elastic rings or metal springs that fit between teeth to create a small space prior to the placement of orthodontic bands. If these are needed, they are put in 2 or 3 days before braces are installed.

Space maintainer

A small metal appliance made of a band that wraps around a tooth and an open loop.It’s used to maintain the space between teeth so a permanent tooth has room to come in.


Metal springs placed on the archwire between brackets to push, pull, or open or close the spaces between teeth.


A clear plastic aligner used for the treatment of TMD (temporomandibular disorder) and facial pain. It can be worn on either the upper or lower teeth.


The temporomandibular joint, aka the jaw joint. Often used to refer to TMJ syndrome, a painful jaw disorder.

Tooth positioner

A clear plastic, mouthguard-like device that is worn after braces are removed to create minor tooth movement and set the occlusion.

Twin block

A set of 2 devices that are used to stimulate the growth of the lower jaw while restraining the forward growth of the upper jaw.

Complete Your Oral Care Routine for Braces

While still wearing braces, brush with an electric toothbrush like the Oral-B iO. It surrounds each tooth to effectively remove more of the plaque that can lead to staining and decay. Or brush with an electric toothbrush equipped with an ortho brush head like the Ortho Replacement Brush Head, it’s uniquely designed to easily clean around dental work such as braces. And don’t forget to floss! Oral-B Super Floss is perfect for cleaning braces and wide gaps. Plus, you can supplement regular dental floss with the Oral-B Water Flosser Advanced. It includes a Focused Stream for more precise and targeted cleaning to better remove plaque and food trapped between wires and brackets.


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