No, they are not. They have the same job, they just do it in a different way!
Both traditional braces, the metal ones which are sometimes used with the rubber bands, and clear retainers available through Invisalign and other clinics are quite different from each other. Clear braces should not be confused with the dental retainers used in orthodontics after having a brace removed.
The standard brace is a mainstay of orthodontics and hundreds of thousands of people owe their smile and bite to them. The name brace comes from orthopaedics, where a frame was used to immobilize broken bones, allowing them to heal faster and straight. This is not the case for a dental brace. They apply consistent force to the teeth to slowly move them over time. This can be used to make room for emerging wisdom teeth or to close gaps. But, the primary non-cosmetic use is to align teeth, allowing them to mesh together and provide an effective bite.
These are provided to patients as the last step on their orthodontic journey. When traditional braces are removed, there is a tendency for the teeth to try to return to their original positions. In order to retain the progress that has been made, a retainer is used to hold the teeth in the new position until they have ‘set’ (ossified) in place.
Clear retainers may borrow their names from more traditional treatments but are applied differently. It starts with a 3D scan of the patient’s mouth; this is processed by software to create a set of models, which displays smooth progression from the starting point of the teeth to their final desired positions.
From these models, a set of retainers are digitally created, each one to achieve a small milestone progressing to the final tooth placement.
These retainers are then 3D printed from strong clear polymers. The retainers should be worn as much a possible, only removed for eating and drinking. Their light and minimalistic form make them non-intrusive for both talking and sleeping, so they often go unnoticed in public.
Their subtlety, ease of fitting and flexibility has made them extremely popular, with both adult and adolescent patients.
Which are better?
That’s a complex question because they are both effective treatments. There are health and lifestyle decisions which disclude braces, retainers or both. You should speak to your dentist to find out what’s right for you. Many people gravitate to clear retainers due to their non-invasive fitting, also they are less disruptive during the day or whilst playing sports. In some situations, the treatment time may be shorter with a standard brace.
What about a ceramic brace?
Can’t decide between the two? There is a middle way! The ceramic braces are a mix of ceramics and polymers. Its form and function is identical to traditional braces but is clear like a retainer. So that’s another option for you to bring up with your dental practitioner.