What is an Orthodontic plate?

An orthodontic plate is a common orthodontic appliance.  It can be used to either:

  • Hold teeth in place (retainer plates); or
  • Make small corrections to some teeth. 

Orthodontic plates are usually made from plastic and metal.  Usually a plate has moulded plastic to go behind the teeth and a metal wire on the front.  Sometimes instead of wire there will be metal prongs to hold the plate to your teeth.

How does an orthodontic plate move teeth?

One type of orthodontic plate is a retainer.  Retainer plates are also known as ‘passive plates’.  They are meant to hold your teeth in their current arrangement.  

An ‘active plate’ is a plate that is making a change to your teeth.  In most cases the plate will still look a lot like a retainer.  

An active plate is like a retainer that has been modified to apply gentle force where needed.

A plate may be used to assist with correcting teeth that stick out (or ‘buck teeth’).  The front wire can be gradually tightened to move the teeth back into a better position.

Another reason an orthodontic plate may be used is when the back teeth have drifted too far forwards.  Other adult teeth not yet out of the gums are sometimes being blocked by tipped and crowded back teeth.

A plate may also be used to fix an underbite – also known as a crossbite of the front teeth.  

A plate to fix an underbite will usually have springs behind the front teeth in order to tip the top front teeth ahead of the lower teeth.

Once the teeth have moved a little, the plate will become passive so an adjustment may be needed.  You will see your orthodontist for a checkup who will adjust the plate so there is once again pressure on the problem area.  

You may be able to personalise your orthodontic plate – with a colour or perhaps even a picture.

How is an Orthodontic plate made?

A plate made using either an impression or – ideally a 3D scan.  An orthodontic lab can then make a model of your teeth.  Using this model the orthodontist will design your plate and the lab will be able to make the plate.  You may be able to personalise the plate by picking the colour of the plastic – or sometimes even adding a picture.

Can I have a plate to wear at night instead of braces?

Many patients request a plate instead of braces to fix an orthodontic problem.  While we are actively moving teeth you usually wear a plate day and night.  Once the correction has been made the plate can be worn at night only to hold the correction.  

A plate is usually only used to fix one or two teeth.  It is designed by hand and we have less control than with fixed braces which have more adjustable parts.  

An alternative to both plate and braces is another type of removable appliance – Invisalign.  Whilst it does need to be worn day and night, it is completely clear and removable.  

What is the difference between Invisalign and a plate?

Rather than being made by hand and adjusted at each visit, Invisalign is a series of ‘aligners’ or ‘trays’, which are all slightly different to each other.   Just like a plate they are completely removable.  Each aligner will move your teeth closer to the intended result.  

This is all possible because of computer technology.  Your Invisalign aligners are the result of virtual treatment planning. Your orthodontist is able to plan and design your treatment via a computer simulation.  This treatment plan is then translated into a series of aligners unique to you and your particular orthodontic problem.  Unlike a plate, all the teeth can be moved at the same time and very precise movements can be made.

The good news is that even if you prefer braces to Invisalign, we now have virtual treatment planning and digitally customised braces treatment available.

Orthodontic plates still have their place, but Invisalign is often more appropriate where greater control or a lot of movement is needed.