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What Do Rubber Bands Do on Braces?

By November 30, 2021 August 16th, 2023 One Comment
a closeup of a person's mouth and teeth

Many people go through the braces process at some point in their lives. It’s not uncommon for pre-teens and teens to go through braces but adults can sometimes get braces as well. It’s a whole orthodontic treatment that requires specific steps, a plan, and even flexibility as they work through the orthodontic treatment to correct your teeth.

When you have traditional braces, you may need to wear rubber bands as part of the orthodontic treatment. First, there are rubber bands called ligatures that actually wrap around each individual bracket. You can typically choose your own colors for braces and rubber bands. The other rubber bands are called elastics and they are manually added and removed by the wearer as recommended by the orthodontist.

What exactly do these rubber bands do? That’s what we’re here to focus on today. Let’s take a look at why you might need to wear rubber bands and what their purpose may be.


Let’s start with ligatures. These are rubber bands that are used on all braces. They are really considered to be part of the braces equipment and these rubber bands are changed every month or so when you go in for your orthodontic exams.

The ligature rubber bands are used on each braces brackets on your teeth to hold the wires in place. Once the rubber band is put into place, it holds strong and steady. These use a special tool at the orthodontist to put into place and a special tool to remove them.

The wire and the rubber band are not going anywhere until your next visit when they remove those bands and the wire, make any necessary changes, and then put new rubber bands on.

These bands are usually available in a lot of different colors. Most of the time you get to choose your colors and you can change the color as often as the rubber bands are changed. This may depend on your office specifically so it might be something to ask about if you are concerned about that detail.

a box with ligatures in different colours

Bands or Elastics

The other bands that might be used with traditional braces are often just referred to as rubber bands or elastics. The official name for them is interarch bands. These typically serve a variety of purposes and they can be placed in a lot of different ways on the braces.

Sometimes, the rubber bands will be placed from top tooth to the tooth underneath but sometimes they are placed at an angle. This will be at the discretion of your provider and you may even use elastic bands at varying times throughout your braces process.

Another thing that you may discover about elastic bands is they also come in different sizes. Some are smaller than others and what is used will also depend on your orthodontic treatment plan and what the orthodontist needs to accomplish.

Elastics can sometimes come in bright colors or in clear colors. This may vary by the size of the band or even by what your office keeps in stock.

These elastics are generally used to help align your teeth and your jaw. They are often used to correct parts of your bite alignment, such as an underbite or an overbite. When you use elastics and how long you use them will vary depending on your orthodontic treatment plan and what needs to be accomplished.

You might even use them multiple times or use different sizes at different times. It really just depends.

Wearing Elastics

Elastics are all about your upper teeth and lower teeth and moving them into alignment as they should be. It corrects your bite. There are times elastic bands might also be used to help pull a tooth down or into a correct position as well but the teeth alignment is generally left to the braces to do the work.

The unique thing about these elastics is that they can be placed in a lot of different ways, depending on what the desired effect is. Your teeth may be a little sore the first few days while your mouth adjusts to the additional pressure of having the rubber bands pull.

When the orthodontist assigns you to wear elastics, you need to be mindful to follow their instructions and wear them as they are supposed to be worn. This also includes making sure you wear rubber bands, change them, and cooperate with instructions.

We know they can’t always be fun but the timeline for getting your braces off and getting finished with the orthodontic treatment will somewhat depend on your willingness and ability to wear those elastics and let them work how they are intended.

When you wear elastics, they should be worn at all times, unless you need to remove them to eat. Most times, they can also be worn while you are eating but it may depend on the placement of the bands. You should primarily only remove the rubber bands if necessary to eat and when you are brushing your teeth.

They should be changed regularly to prevent bacteria. You can replace them in the mornings and when you eat a meal. Some orthodontists actually recommend wearing braces while you eat if at all possible because it forces them to work harder and is good for the end result!

a collage of 4 images how to use rubbers

Types of Interarch Rubber Bands

There are different types and size rubber bands. Your orthodontist will know what orthodontic rubber bands to assign you and when but let’s talk about the different types and what they do.

Class II

Class II rubber bands are generally used to help fix an overbite. These rubber bands will be placed at an angle hinging from the top canine to a lower molar. The point is to help bring the upper jaw in line with the lower jaw through the force of the band.

Class III

Next is class III elastics, which is meant for the opposite of class II. These are used to help correct underbites. The top of the band will be on a molar while the bottom of the band will be angled towards the lower canine. The force is used to help move the bottom jaw forward.


Vertical rubber bands are more up and down but they may also be set at a slight angle, depending on your teeth. These help to bring the upper and lower arch of your teeth together or might help to close a bite that is too open.

While these are called vertical, they are sometimes set vertically but a lot of times they are actually set in a triangle. When used as a triangle, the top will be on the canine and the bottom will be on the lower molar as well as the lower canine.

Front Cross Bands

Front cross rubber bands are a little bit more complicated in how they are placed and even how they work. These truly do cross in the front so it spans from one side of your mouth to the other. These are not as common but are still used.

This type of elastic works to help correct midline alignment issues. One end starts on the upper canine and goes down around the lower canine on the opposite side of the mouth. The placement and setup of these bands will vary but the concept is the same – it crosses from one side to the other.

Rubber Band Sizes

There are different sizes when it comes to orthodontic rubber bands as well. The size might depend on the use of the rubber band, the location, or how severe the correction is that needs to happen. The orthodontist selects an appropriate size based on the force necessary for correction.

The different sizes include 1/8 inch, 3/16 inch, 1/4 inch, 5/16 inch, and 3/8 inch options. Some orthodontic rubber bands come in colorful varieties and some only come in clear options. What you end up with might depend on the rubber band that is needed for your correction but it might also just depend on what your orthodontist office stocks and uses for their patients.

1/4 rubber bands are probably the most common and these are often colorful. With that being said, other sizes and options can be colorful and that particular size can also be clear. There is a full range of choices.

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Tips for Wearing Rubber Bands with Braces

If you are wearing rubber bands with your braces, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  1. Always carry extra rubber bands with you in case one snaps or weakens and needs replaced.
  2. Follow the instructions from the orthodontist for the best results.
  3. Be sure to change your bands at least every 12 hours or more often.
  4. Wash your hands before handling rubber bands.
  5. Never double up on rubber bands.

Final Thoughts

If you are using elastics with your braces, it’s very simple. These elastics have a very specific job and it’s up to you to use them properly so that they can work how they are meant to and you can finish that much sooner.

A lot of times, braces take longer because the elastics have to work hard to correct your bite, although that is not always the case.

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