Modern dental braces are manufactured from a wide variety of materials, and many, in additional to serving the functional reasons for wearing them, are quite pleasing in appearance. This is in contrast to the first braces that used orthodontic brackets — small squares of metal cemented onto the surfaces of the teeth — which were developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Those braces were made of stainless steel with a metal “arch wire” that ran around the curve of the mouth and glided through each bracket in order to maintain stability, and also to allow adjustments as the teeth were repositioned in the mouth.
Since the first braces with orthodontic brackets were made of stainless steel, whenever the wearer spoke or smiled the dental equipment was always visible, and ways were sought in order to enhance the cosmetic quality of braces. The branch of dentistry known as orthodontics, which centers on correcting poorly positioned teeth by mechanical or surgical means, began to actively search for different types of material out of which to make dental braces. Although the braces made with stainless steel were very strong, some persons had an allergic reaction to the nickel that was present in the stainless steel, and others felt the braces were quite painful. Orthodontists also wanted to find an alternative method of bracing that was more cosmetically appealing.
The search resulted in the development during the 1980s of brackets that were made out of clear or translucent material, such as plastic or ceramic. Some people still preferred the stainless steel orthodontic brackets and braces, however, so a new type of stainless steel braces — called lingual braces — has since been developed. These newer braces go only on the back surfaces of the teeth, so that they are not as noticeable.
Another new development in dental braces is called A-braces. This dental apparatus is not actually a dental brace, but functions more like a retainer — a specially designed dental device that helps hold the teeth in place after braces. Orthodontic brackets are replaced on A-braces by little knobs shaped like a capital A, and the person who wears these braces controls how much pressure is applied during biting by making adjustments to the legs of the “A” by turning a small bar that increases or lightens pressure and spacing between the teeth.
A related concept is the development of orthodontic brackets with sensors, called “smart brackets.” During the early 2000s, research was conducted at the University of Freiburg in Germany on the use of microchips to analyze forces of biting actions upon the individual brackets within braces. The goal of this research was to ameliorate the unpleasant experiences of dental braces, as well as to reduce the time and expense involved while undergoing this procedure.