How long does it take elastics to shift teeth?

Elastics are often used by orthodontists as part of braces treatment to help move teeth into their proper positions. Elastics connect to braces on two adjacent teeth and apply gentle pressure to gradually shift the teeth. Many patients wonder how long it will take for elastics to actually move their teeth. There are several factors that determine the length of time it takes for elastics to shift teeth.

What are elastics and how do they work?

Orthodontic elastics, also called rubber bands, are small elastic loops that attach to brackets or other parts of braces. They come in different diameters, thicknesses, and strengths. Elastics create force to gently pull teeth in a specific direction to properly align them.

When elastics are hooked between two brackets or other fixed points on the braces, it creates tension. This constant tension gradually shifts the teeth due to continuous gentle pressure over an extended period of time. The elastics stretch when the mouth opens, but return to their original size when the mouth closes again, keeping up constant force on the teeth.

Wearing elastics usually entails having tightened braces for a period of time beforehand to allow room for the teeth to shift. The orthodontist then attaches elastics in strategic places to exert customized pressure between teeth to make them move as desired.

Elastics are usually worn for specified periods each day, such as 24 hours a day or 12 hours per day. The orthodontist instructs the patient when and how long elastics should be worn depending on each individual’s treatment plan.

Factors that determine how long elastics take to move teeth

There are several key factors that impact how long a course of elastics will take to effectively shift teeth:

1. Amount of force: The heavier the elastic, the more force it exerts. Light elastics gradually move teeth over longer periods, while heavy elastics create faster movement. However, heavy elastics can also cause more pain.

2. Distance teeth need to move: The further teeth need to travel to get into proper position, the longer elastics will need to be worn. Small movements of 1-2mm may take only 4-8 weeks. Larger movements of 3-5mm could take 12-16 weeks. Extreme shifts of 6mm or more could take over 6 months.

3. Number of hours worn per day: Wearing elastics the recommended hours per day is key. Consistent wear time allows constant force on the teeth. Erratic wear slows movement.

4. Proper elastic replacement: As elastics stretch out, they lose tension and become ineffective. Replacing elastics as directed is crucial. Not replacing them frequently enough prolongs treatment time.

5. Cooperation of patient: Patient compliance with orthodontic elastics is imperative. Wearing them as prescribed ensures appropriate force is maintained to move teeth predictably. Poor cooperation lengthens the process.

6. Type of teeth being moved: Some teeth are easier to move than others based on size and root shapes. Shorter, smaller teeth shift faster. Large teeth and those with longer roots are harder to rotate or pull.

7. Bone density: Denser jawbone causes slower tooth movement, while less dense bone allows faster movement. Bone density tends to decrease with age. Teens generally have faster tooth movement.

8. Direction of desired tooth movement: Tooth movement in some directions is quicker than others. Tipping teeth forward or backward shifts faster than rotations or pushing teeth up and down.

9. Type of orthodontic braces: Different kinds of fixed braces or clear aligner systems move at different rates. Conventional braces tend to achieve faster movement than clear aligners.

10. Additional appliances used: Using adjunct appliances like temporary anchorage devices or intraoral elastics can help facilitate tooth movement when used along with orthodontic elastics.

Average time elastics move teeth specific distances

The average amount of time it takes elastics to move teeth specific distances is as follows:

1-2 millimeters of movement: 4-8 weeks
2-3 millimeters of movement: 8-12 weeks
3-4 millimeters of movement: 12-16 weeks
4-5 millimeters of movement: 16-20 weeks
Over 5 millimeters of movement: Several months to over 1 year in some cases

However, it’s important to keep in mind that every patient responds differently to treatment. These timeframes are general estimates only. Unique patient factors can speed up or slow down these average rates of tooth movement.

Typical treatment process with orthodontic elastics

While treatment plans are customized to each patient’s specific needs, the broad phases of treatment using orthodontic elastics often follow this general sequence:

Phase 1: Braces are placed and adjusted over several visits to begin aligning the teeth and create space needed for upcoming movements. This phase may take about 6-12 weeks.

Phase 2: Once alignment and room are sufficient, elastics are added to start actively moving teeth into place as desired. The patient wears specified elastics as directed. This phase typically ranges from 8-16 weeks but can vary depending on factors outlined above.

Phase 3: The patient returns for periodic visits for the orthodontist to check progress and adjust elastics as needed. New elastics may be prescribed. The active tooth movement phase with elastics is often 4-6 months for one set of movements, but can be 12 months or longer if extensive shifts are needed.

Phase 4: Once teeth have been shifted into ideal positions, elastics are discontinued. Braces are left on for several more weeks to stabilize teeth, then are removed. Retainers are placed.

This entire process from braces placement to removal with intervening elastics can range between 12-24 months in uncomplicated cases. More complex cases often extend treatment times further through the use of elastics at various stages.

Tips for getting teeth to move faster with elastics

While treatment time with elastics varies substantially among patients, the following tips can help promote faster tooth movement:

– Keep all orthodontic appointments as scheduled

– Always wear elastics for the prescribed time each day

– Immediately replace any broken elastics

– Take over-the-counter pain medication to reduce any discomfort

– Maintain excellent oral hygiene habits to prevent gum disease

– Avoid very hard, sticky, or chewy foods that can break elastics

– Stop habits like thumb-sucking or tongue thrusting that counteract elastics

– Communicate any problems or concerns promptly to your orthodontist

– Stay hydrated and get adequate calcium and vitamin D to support orthodontic movement

– Be patient and diligent in wearing elastics to allow time for optimal results

Risks and side effects of orthodontic elastics

While extremely useful in moving teeth, elastics also come with some potential risks and side effects:

– Pain or discomfort, especially when first inserted and after adjustment

– Difficulty eating for the first few days as the mouth adjusts

– Excess salivation initially

– Potential for broken wires or loosened braces if elastics are snapped on too forcefully

– Increased risk of tooth decay if oral hygiene is not excellent

– Gum irritation, swelling or infection if cleaning under elastics is inadequate

– Possible formation of mouth sores from rubbing elastics

– Damage to the enamel if poor elastic placement grinds teeth

– Swallowing an elastic if it becomes dislodged (rare)

– Embarrassment due to visual elastics (some options are clear or match tooth color)

Proper use, oral hygiene, regular orthodontic care and follow up help minimize these risks and side effects for most patients using orthodontic elastics.

When elastics are ineffective or insufficient

In some cases, elastics alone are not fully effective in moving teeth as planned. Reasons may include:

– Extreme tooth displacement requiring more force than elastics can provide

– Insufficient wear time of elastics by patient

– Poor cooperation with elastics wear schedule

– Jaw muscles overpowering force from elastics

– Unexpected interference from unusual tooth anatomy

If elastics are not working adequately, the orthodontist has several options:

– Prescribe new elastics with altered force or wear schedule

– Supplement elastics with headgear or intraoral devices

– Extract problematic teeth to make space for remaining teeth

– Initiate surgical orthodontics like corticotomies or osteotomies

– Transition patient to clear aligner therapy instead

– Remove braces and consider dental implants or prosthetic teeth

Fortunately, most patients have good success with orthodontic elastics when worn properly. But additional treatments are sometimes needed if elastics fail to generate the planned tooth movements.


Orthodontic elastics offer an effective method to move teeth into ideal alignment. But the time required for elastics to shift teeth varies substantially based on multiple factors. On average, minor 1-2mm movements may take 4-8 weeks. Moderate shifts up to 5mm can take 16-20 weeks. But severe malpositions may require 6 months to over a year of elastics wear to fully correct.

While elastics work slowly, their gradual, constant force is safer for teeth than instant movement. When worn as directed for each unique treatment plan, elastics can successfully transform a smile over time. Working closely with your orthodontist is key to tracking the ongoing progress of elastics shifting your teeth into a beautiful, healthy alignment.

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