Dr. Greg Jorgensen
(505) 891-9440
1401 Barbara Loop SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124

The Jorgensen Orthodontics Blog

What Are Orthodontic Elastics (Rubber Bands) And How Do They Work?

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on January 29th, 2017

One of the most common “adjuncts” or additional tools that orthodontists use to straighten your teeth are orthodontic elastics or rubber bands. Why are they used? How do they work? How many hours do you need to wear them?

Braces and aligners are both effective ways of aligning your teeth. Braces are devices glued onto the teeth (either on the inside or outside) that move the teeth via forces produced by wires that span from tooth to tooth. Aligners (most commonly Invisalign) move teeth using a series of clear plastic shells that snap over the teeth and produce force by changing the shape of each successive aligner. Either technique can successfully align the upper and lower sets of teeth separately, but both require that something be connected between the arches to correct the bite.

While there are several options for correcting the relationship of the upper and lower sets of teeth (i.e. headgear, springs, functional appliances, surgery, etc.), the most common method is elastics (aka rubber bands(. Elastics are commonly used for several reasons. First, they are not as noticeable as other options (like headgear). They are usually tooth colored so that they blend in with the teeth (although they also come in bright colors that kids love!). Second, they are stretchy and flexible. This allows patients to maintain a full range of motion during talking, yawning, and other normal jaw functions. Third, elastics are easy for patients to remove and replace. This allows fresh rubber bands to be placed daily and facilitates eating and brushing. Fourth, elastics can be used to correct most types of bite problems (overbites, underbites, open bites, and crossbites). Few other devices are as versatile. Finally, elastics are more cost effective than other gadgets available for bite correction.

Although the advantages of rubber bands for bite correction outweigh the disadvantages, there are two issues I want to highlight. First, rubber bands rely 100% on patient cooperation. If they are not worn as prescribed, they will not work. For teeth to move, there must be constant pressure present for most of the day. Although I can’t quote a study that shows exactly how many hours you need to wear them, I will share my personal observations. Patients who take out their elastics only to eat or to brush (i.e. 23 hours per day) see fast, consistent results. Patients who wear them nights only (8 hours per day) rarely see any change at all. That is because any improvements that take place during those hours almost always relapse (or reverse) during the other 16 hours they are not in place. If a patient wears their elastics more than half of the day (12+) hours, they may see some improvement, but it will be much slower than if they are worn fulltime. My instructions to patients are: “Wear your rubber bands fulltime except for when you eat or brush.” Those who follow these guidelines see excellent results. Those who don’t never achieve their best smile.

The other issue with rubber bands is that there are potential side effects. First, rubber bands create force at both ends (equal and opposite reactions). If you want to move your top teeth backwards, rubber bands from the front upper teeth to the back lower ones can achieve this. Like it or not however, the same rubber bands will also move the bottom teeth forward. This can be a problem if you don’t have enough bone to permit the teeth to go that direction. Second, there are undesirable movements created along with the desirable ones. Since the elastics are pulling at an angle, not only do the upper front teeth move back, they also move down (and the lower teeth move up as well as forward). As a result, gummy smiles may be created or get worse and the depth of the bite will be reduced (creating or accentuating an open bite). Understanding and predicting these side effects is another reason why choosing an orthodontist with advanced specialty training is so important. It is possible for a simple orthodontic problem to become very complex if elastics are prescribed in the wrong way.

Orthodontic elastics work great in the right patients. If you are asked to wear them as part of your treatment, keep them in all the time except when you eat or brush. If you notice side effects like the ones I’ve mentioned, please notify your orthodontist right away. Good luck!


NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the Westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 27 years of specialty practice and nearly 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog is for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Please understand that because he has over 40,000 readers each month, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO RESPOND TO EVERY QUESTION. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.

20 comments so far in response to “What Are Orthodontic Elastics (Rubber Bands) And How Do They Work?”

  1. Deepika says:

    This idea is mind blowing. I think everyone should know such information like you have described on this post. Thank you for sharing this explanation.

  2. Harman says:

    Do you have an instagram page? I would follow your instagram blog posts.

  3. Yvonne says:

    Hi Dr Jorgensen,

    Thanks for the post! I was wondering about fixing a deep bite with elastics. I have a deep bite, and my ortho said he is going to put me on elastics in the next month or so and has just started to work on closing my extraction spaces. He made no mention about fixing my deep bite though and I was wondering can elastics fix a deep bite?

    • Elastics “pull,” so they are good for overbites, underbites, open bites, and even crossbites. The only way that elastics can really help with a deep bite is if it is in conjunction with an overbite. Fixing an overbite can help open the bite.

  4. Walseng says:

    Sir how much hours I need to wear my elastic bands for my gap in two front teeth

    • Full time to close a space. But please don’t try it on your own. You really need to be doing this under the supervision of a specialist.

      • Walseng says:

        Actually I ordered orthodontic elastic bands from Chicago 1/8 inch heavy without concerning to any dentist, now I’m using since 2 february.so I observed something little pain I suffer after withdraw band due to pulling action of bands. I still want to continue till 30 days.

        • I would strongly discourage all readers from trying to treat themselves without the supervision of a trained professional. This can be dangerous and even lead to the loss of one or more of your teeth.

  5. Carla says:

    Hello Dr. Jorgensen!
    I would really appreciate your help.
    I was put on Class2 Elastics. i was always happy with my looks but ever since I was told to wear them I hate the result.
    My upper teeth were retracted, and my mandibular came forward; it affected my lips, my lower lip seems much more prominent and my upper lip seems smaller, making me look mad or tired. I can’t close my lips as good as I used to before.
    My question is: can this be reversed by wearing class 3 elastics?
    The treatment was completed half a year ago.

    Thanks in advance

    • There is very little that cannot be reversed in orthodontics. I would recommend that you see another orthodontist, different than the one that treated you, for a second opinion. He or she will be able to give you an opinion on the results you obtained (which may be the best possible in your particular case) and discuss your options going forward. Good luck. I hope you are able to get to a result that makes you happy.

  6. Lissa says:

    Hi Dr. – I’m wondering if you have elastics on the bottom molar going to the top canine, most of the movement will be the top going back, right? About what percentage of movement is the lower coming forward?

    • Sorry to tell you the the same amount of force is exerted on the bottom teeth as on the top ones. I don’t have exact percentages, but my guess is because the lower teeth are smaller, they would move further forward than the top ones move back. I’m thinking 60% lower to 40% upper… but that’s just a guess

  7. Simon says:

    Hello Dr,
    I am wearing elastics to fix a malocclusion (upfront teeth doesn’t touch the lower front teeth). if i wear my elastics everyday, how many inches per day will my front teeth move down? thank you.

    • There is no single answer to this as all patients are different. On average, I would say that patients can expect 1.0mm of overbite correction every month with FULLTIME wear (22+ hours per day).

  8. danielle says:

    so do elastics move the top as long as the bottom jaw??

  9. Chris says:

    I’m in week 7 of Invisalign. My Ortho instructed me to wear my elastics only 12 hours per day…does this sound right to correct an overbite…if I wear longer than 12 hours would I get a better result?

    • I think there has been a miscommunication. I always have my patients wear their elastics full time. In my experience, 12 hours is not enough to move the teeth at all.

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