“Invisible braces” are here. Orthodontists call them “clear aligners.” Consumers may call them “Invisalign” (a brand name that’s become a generic term, like Kleenex, even though several companies make clear aligners). Aligners are one of many technological advancements that have made orthodontic treatment less conspicuous, and one of many “appliances” orthodontists use to move teeth and align jaws to create a healthy, beautiful smile.
How Aligners Work
Like traditional braces, aligners are designed to move teeth a little at a time. Before treatment begins, the orthodontist will examine the patient, and take diagnostic records including x-rays, photographs, and impressions or digital scans of the teeth. From that information, the orthodontist can arrive at a diagnosis, and then work within the aligner software to design your smile and plan the treatment process – which tooth moves where, and in what order – guiding teeth into healthy positions. Remember, this is all of the teeth – not just the few that are seen when someone smiles. The goal is a healthy “bite” – top and bottom teeth that fit together properly. Moving teeth is a complex biological process and needs start-to-finish supervision by an orthodontist who is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). Most people see their orthodontist for a check-up about every six-to-ten weeks. With the end goal in mind, a series of plastic aligners are created using the patient’s initial impressions or digital scans as the starting point. The aligners are plastic replicas of your teeth. Wearing them puts gentle pressure on the teeth, ever-so-slightly repositioning them. It is recommended aligners be worn 22 hours a day, or as prescribed by the orthodontist. Each set of aligners is worn for a week or two before going to the next set. Over time, teeth reach their ideal places, according to the orthodontist’s plan. The total number of aligners will vary by the needs of each patient. As with traditional braces, patients will need to wear retainers after their teeth reach their new positions.
Pros and Cons of Aligners
Besides being next-to-invisible, many patients appreciate that aligners are removable. Take them out to eat, to brush and floss, or for short periods for work or social situations. Aligners may not be the right “appliance” to correct every kind of orthodontic problem. Braces may be necessary for certain kinds of corrections. With clear aligners, tooth-colored attachments will be placed on the teeth to help the aligners move the teeth. These attachments are removed once treatment is complete. Care needs to be taken regarding drinks when aligners are in, and anything but tap water should be avoided. Liquid can seep into the aligners, and it stays there, in contact with the teeth, until aligners are removed. This can lead to staining of the aligner and the teeth, and if the liquid contains sugar and/or acid, as found in regular and diet soda pop, cavities can develop. So avoid soda pop, along with flavored water, fruit drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks. Even some bottled water can be acidic! If you drink something sugary or acidic (a pH below 7.0), be sure to brush thoroughly before putting your aligners back in. And use fluoride toothpaste – it strengthens teeth. Because aligners are removable, patients might be tempted to remove them if they experience some discomfort. Aligners can’t work unless they are in the mouth! They can be lost or misplaced when out of the mouth. Make it a habit to slip aligners into their case when they come out of the mouth. Do not place aligners in napkins, in a pocket or a purse. Also keep aligners out of the reach of pets. If you should lose or damage an aligner, contact your orthodontist immediately for advice on next steps.
Are Clear Aligners Right for Me?
The best way to answer that question is to consult an orthodontist who is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). Because of orthodontists’ extensive education and familiarity with the many types of “appliances” (devices used to move teeth/align jaws) available, they can knowledgeably suggest what is right for you, based on your treatment goals and lifestyle needs. Many AAO orthodontists offer complimentary or low-cost initial consultations, as well as a variety of affordable payment plans. Trust the professional who is dedicated to creating your healthy, beautiful smile: an AAO orthodontist. The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) is open exclusively to orthodontists – only orthodontists are admitted for membership. The only doctors who can call themselves “orthodontists” have graduated from dental school and then successfully completed the additional two-to-three years of education in an accredited orthodontic residency program. When you choose an AAO orthodontist for orthodontic treatment, you can be assured that you have selected a specialist orthodontist, an expert in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics who possesses the skills and experience to give you your best smile. Locate AAO orthodontists through Find an Orthodontist at aaoinfo.org.