Clear aligners (also known as invisible braces or clear braces) are types of transparent removable dental devices that are worn daily in order to gradually move teeth to achieve a straighter smile.
There are over 27 products of aligners that you can choose from worldwide, and Invisalign is one of these products.
Aligners all work to reach the same result – a more cosmetically pleasing smile. This is usually done by straightening smiles, but the degree of how straight will usually need to accepted by both the dentist and the patient before the clear aligner treatment begins.
Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that deals with the malocclusion of teeth.
Contemporary orthodontics has come up with several alternatives to traditional metal braces, with the focus being mainly to hide the unwanted metallic view of braces. So several “invisible braces” have been introduced to solve this issue.
In addition to clear aligners, there are several other orthodontic devices and appliances that are also referred to as invisible braces:
Ceramic braces are the same as conventional metal braces, differing only that ceramic is used instead of metal.
This allows the ceramic braces to have a more natural colour that blends in with teeth, and makes it harder for others to notice when somebody is wearing ceramic braces.
Lingual braces are like conventional braces, but instead of being fit on the outside of teeth, they’re attached to the inner surface of teeth, next to the tongue.
Although they have almost the same mechanism as traditional (conventional) braces, it’s extremely difficult to notice when somebody is wearing them.
They’re a great alternative to conventional braces, especially for adults who are worried about how they may look with braces, but they can be a bit more uncomfortable.
Clear aligners vs traditional braces
Traditional braces are made of metallic brackets that are attached directly to the tooth surface, with coloured rubber bands wrapped around them. For this reason traditional braces are extremely noticeable.
Clear aligners are thin, made of plastic, and are almost transparent. Aligners are almost inconspicuous when worn and it’s very hard to tell when someone is wearing an aligner.
Traditional braces can be very painful and uncomfortable. Accidents while eating such as injuring yourself or breaking a bracket are quite common. But they’re always attached to your teeth and you don’t have to worry about wearing them or losing them.
Clear aligners need to be worn for at least 18 hours a day (1) in order to move teeth. But they can still be removed during eating, drinking, or when brushing teeth. Even though they may be a bit uncomfortable when wearing a new set of aligners, overall they are much more comfortable than traditional braces.
Traditional braces need special care in order to maintain their hygiene. This is because food commonly gets stuck between the brackets and it’s quite hard to brush them with a normal toothbrush.
Aligners need to also be washed and brushed daily, and certain sugary or acidic drinks can even stain them.
How can I clean my aligner?
Don’t brush your aligner with toothpaste as it may cause it to stain or even damage it. Instead brush your aligner with soap and water, or use vinegar and water instead.
You should be cleaning your aligner at least once a day. Whenever aligners aren’t being worn, they shouldn’t be exposed to air, make sure to keep them in their case.
How clear aligners like Invisalign work:
Invisalign and clear aligners are a great way of straightening teeth without the use of traditional metal braces.
Clear aligners work by slowly moving your teeth into a desired position. Several aligners are used, and depending on the complexity of the case, the process usually takes around one year.
- The dentist takes an impression of your teeth, otherwise known as a bite registration. (A scan of your teeth can also be taken instead)
- Using the impression of your teeth taken in the previous step, a Digital 3D image of your teeth and occlusal relationship is created. On this image, technicians move your teeth slowly until the desired cosmetic result is achieved.
- Based on the measurements, the digital program then creates stages based on these desired positions. Each of these stages receives its own distinct aligner, and a treatment usually receives around 25 aligners (A treatment can take between 6-48 aligners), as each aligner can only move teeth by around 0.25mm (2).
- Some teeth that require rotation and more complex movement will require composite restorations (white fillings), to facilitate this movement
Relapse of teeth:
After wearing your Invisalign aligners for the designated period of time, your teeth should have moved to the desired location. However teeth actually have memory (that’s right!) and over time may go back to their original positions, this is known as teeth relapse.
So it’s advised to wear a retainer to maintain your gorgeous new smile. Some dentists advise wearing your last set of aligners whenever you sleep, or at least a few days per week – forever! (Or at least as long as you want to keep your new smile).
How long are aligners worn?
For an aligner treatment to be successful, and especially within the planned time-frame, aligners should be worn for around 22 hours a day.
Ideally aligners should be worn all the time, even during sleep. They should only be removed during mealtimes and when brushing your teeth.
Aligners should not be worn when eating or drinking, and you should brush your teeth after every meal before putting them back on.
Who can’t benefit from clear aligners:
If you have many crowded teeth, or missing teeth with a lot of gaps, then you may not benefit much from aligners. Instead, you may need to get braces. Conventional metallic or ceramic braces have the capacity to move teeth at a greater extent than aligners.
Children and people under 18 will require conventional orthodontic treatments as well, as they are growing, and braces utilise this growth of their skull.
But if you’re complaining of a bit of spacing or crowding, or a couple of teeth that are out of your smile line, then clear aligners may be perfect for you.
Clear aligners: Final thoughts
Studies have shown that clear aligners and braces both were successful in treating malocclusion, but aligners had the advantage of faster treatment times and the ability to move specific teeth quicker (2).
Most users who’ve tried aligners such as Invisalign are extremely satisfied, and if at the end of the treatment are unhappy with a small detail, then this can be altered quite effectively with composite restorations (also known as bonding).
Have realistic goals, aligners are unable to produce drastic teeth movement like braces, but if you’re complaining of some spacing here, a bit of crowding there, or even a single tooth that is rotated or tilted away from your smile line, then you should seriously consider aligners and Invisalign.