How long will orthodontic treatment take?

There is no easy answer to the question “How long will I be in braces or invisalign?” Every patient has a unique bite, jaw structure, occlusion (how teeth fit together), and personal goals on how they would like their smile finished. After treating thousands of patients, I can can give a relatively accurate estimate of how long treatment will take IF the patient is consistently excellent with compliance (how well they wear rubber bands, maintaining excellent oral hygiene, etc…). In the article below, I will discuss what influences how long orthodontic treatment will take.

1. Patients treated with braces and clear aligners in my practice have had treatment times ranging from one month to several years in length. IN GENERAL the most very minor cases take 6-12 months, “average” teen and adult cases are about 14-24 months, and more difficult cases involving severe malocclusions or a combination of orthodontics and orthognathic surgery can take over 24 months.

2. The above time frames are EXTREMELY influenced by the patient’s compliance with what the orthodontist asks them to do in addition to just being in braces or invisalign. One example is if the patient is asked to wear elastics (rubber bands). I usually instruct my patients to wear them 22-23 hours a day, which gives them time to brush their teeth, eat, or practice instruments or sports. If the patient wears the elastics 18 hours a day on average, this could delay treatment by 6, 9, or 12 months (or more), depending on individual biological variation. If they wear elastics only 12 hours a day, the delay will be even greater, to the point that no progress may be made after a certain point. We are in constant communication with our patients about this, and coaching and encouraging is a large part of our job.

3. If you have been given an estimate of 18-22 months for your orthodontic treatment, and if you are consistently compliant with elastics, the majority of patents will finish within this time frame… but some WILL NOT, even if they are doing the exact same treatment, with the exact same elastic compliance. Why? The human body is incredibly complex, and biologic variation with bone density, enzymes, genetic factors, etc… all vary from person to person. This may make treatment proceed faster, or it may make treatment take a bit longer!

4. A quality orthodontist will want to end treatment when your teeth are in their most ideal aesthetic, healthy, and stable position, not when a certain date is reached on a calendar. For me, many patients are thrilled that this occurs before the estimate, most are within the estimated range, while others are understandably disappointed that their treatment takes a bit longer than expected. This is part of being an individual human being! Orthodontic treatment is not like building something mechanical on an assembly line.

5. The take away message is, when your orthodontist gives an estimate of how long your treatment will take, it is an estimate and can vary significantly from patient to patient…some on the fast side, and some on the slower side. We are trying to be efficient and move things along as fast as possible! Do your part with wearing elastics 22-23 hours a day, and you are moving at your own personal maximum speed (which will vary from your friend’s and classmate’s maximum speed!).


Dr. Dan Rejman practices orthodontics exclusively in his two practices in Castle Rock, Colorado. He is a board certified specialist by the American Board of Orthodontics