In 1997, the first complete clear dental aligning system was invented by two Stanford University students named Zia Chisti and Kelsey Worth. The invention followed decades of orthodontic innovation, including various removable appliances intended to more easily straighten teeth and make other minor dental corrections.
With the passing of time, invisible aligners have evolved and have now reached top-level convenience for those who wish to save time and money and limit face-to-face appointments.
But is there any downside to this convenience, and are there concerns about the safety or efficacy of the newer clear aligning systems becoming available-- particularly those offering treatment with or without orthodontic supervision? Let’s investigate the facts to find out:
What are invisible aligners?
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, invisible aligners are plastic replicas of your teeth that reposition them over time through gentle pressure. They are designed to make orthodontic treatments appear less conspicuous and for the treatment to fit more easily into an active lifestyle.
Starting with a 3D mold of your mouth made by your orthodontist, an image is created for the purpose of treatment planning and the crafting of a series of aligners. This series of very slightly different aligners are replaced one at a time over time, gradually moving the teeth into their correct positions. Depending upon your treatment plan, the aligners will be replaced with new ones approximately every week or bi-weekly. Each one will move your teeth slightly further toward your goal position.
Who is a good candidate for invisible aligners?
While it’s certainly a convenient and inconspicuous treatment option, invisible aligners aren’t for everyone. It’s important to consider the exact type of treatment you’ll need before getting started with any clear aligning system--and it’s always best to consult an orthodontist for guidance on that treatment first.
Generally speaking, the best candidates for invisible aligners are adults who’ve already had braces earlier in life and may have lost their retainers over time, or those who otherwise have a non-complicated bite or crowding issue, such as a common overbite, underbite, gap teeth, open bite, or crossbite.
As with most things, invisible aligners come with advantages and disadvantages. Consider the following pros and cons when deciding whether or not this type of treatment is ideal for you:
They are more attractive than conventional treatment methods:
Virtually invisible (although not entirely), clear aligners are designed to minimize the appearance of the orthodontic treatment in order to fit more comfortably into a socially active lifestyle.
They may limit in-person office appointments:
During the worrying times of a pandemic or otherwise inconvenient times, clear aligner treatments may offer the option of fewer in-person appointments overall.
While some say they aren’t extremely easy to remove, they are still removable, making it easier to eat, brush and floss the teeth, drink coffee, have pictures taken, etc.
They may be more affordable:
Since top invisible aligner brand Invisalign’s patent has expired, new companies have come onto the scene with promises of quicker, cheaper treatments.
While there may be occasional discomfort when new aligners in the series are initially put in place, the pain is minimal and easily controlled.
They bring fewer potential problems:
With clear aligners, you won’t have those moments where a wire comes loose or you break a bracket, requiring an emergency visit to the orthodontist at an inconvenient time.
You can’t eat or drink with them on:
With invisible aligners, you must be extremely careful about what you eat or drink -- including the temperature of it. So, no soft drinks, cappuccinos, Gatorade, or smoothies! Basically, the only thing you can consume while wearing clear aligners is cold water. Anything else can warp the molding or allow sugar or acid to seep into aligners causing staining or tooth decay.
They’re not useful for more serious bite issues:
While helpful for minor straightening or other common bite problems, clear aligners are not helpful for more serious issues and should not be attempted as if they are. One study proves it. A reputable orthodontist can help you determine if clear aligners could help you.
You can’t glam it up when you’re wearing them:
If you love to wear lipstick in lots of bold colors, you won’t love clear aligners. According to former users, colored lipsticks and lip glosses stick to the aligners and other attachments very easily, which does not create a good look.
They can be pricey:
According to Consumers Advocate, the cost of a full treatment can now range between $1950 and $8,000, depending upon which brand you choose, how long you need treatment, the nature of your orthodontic issues, and your residential geography. Before you settle on a price, be sure to consult your dental insurance plan administrator, investigate whether your FSA (Flexible Spending Account) pays anything toward it, or whether there is the possibility of a payment plan.
Research is limited:
According to a review of 11 studies conducted, research on the efficacy of certain clear aligners is limited due to issues like small sample sizes and/or having no control group. Additionally, the Journal of Orthodontics warned in a 2016 study that research was scarce when it came to supporting claims that clear aligners were effective.
22 hours a day is a long time:
While they may be easily removed, most invisible aligner prescriptions call for wearing them 22 hours a day. That’s 2 hours less than 24 hours a day, for anyone not paying attention. That leaves exactly 2 hours to eat all your meals and snacks, sip your coffee or wine, and brush and floss your teeth after all of it.
Too many attachments:
In addition to the clear aligner itself, some procedures include tooth-colored attachments that adhere to your teeth like traditional braces brackets. In some cases, you may be advised you’ll only have a few of these attachments -- but without guidance from a knowledgeable orthodontist that may turn into 20 or more of them unexpectedly.
Poor guidance can make things worse:
Some at-home aligner companies are direct-to-consumer, leaving out a key component in the provision of quality orthodontic care -- the orthodontist. In doing so, some patients who are not good candidates for clear aligners are being told they are, and have entered into treatment with serious bite problems, jaw grinding issues, loosening teeth, and worse.
This can actually make problems worse, or cause new problems that didn’t previously exist, costing more time and money than necessary. If an orthodontist is consulted from the start, such problems can be avoided completely. A professional orthodontist should always be involved in your treatment planning, especially when serious issues are suspected.
Aligners fit very snugly--too snugly for some:
While they are removable, some found them to fit very tightly and difficult to remove, particularly when teeth were sore. Many end up only removing them at very necessary times and never otherwise.
Clear aligning systems can be used for an array of minor issues, and they do provide a less visible treatment than traditional braces. It must be remembered, however, that there also cons -- and that any companies providing orthodontic care should involve the direct supervision of an orthodontic health professional, especially when complicated or serious issues are possible. According to the American Association of Orthodontists, this is essential because orthodontists bring to the table an “extensive education and familiarity with the many types of “appliances” (devices used to move teeth/align jaws) available.” We will always offer sound advice and conservative treatment options, since our goal is to improve the long term health of your mouth.
Since Jungle Roots offers a complimentary consultation to discuss treatments of all kinds, including clear aligners, with interested patients, it’s easy to bring up all your questions and learn about all your options right here with us. Are you curious about clear aligners and whether they’re right for you? Give us a call and set up an appointment for your complimentary consultation today. We’d love to hear from you!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.
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References and Additional Information:
“Braces vs. Clear Aligners.” American Association of Orthodontists, 13 Jan. 2020, www.aaoinfo.org/blog/braces-vs-clear-aligners/.
Roberts, Anna Monette. “11 Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Got Invisalign.” POPSUGAR Beauty, 3 June 2018, www.popsugar.com/beauty/Pros-Cons-Invisalign-36735565
“The Fascinating History of Clear Aligner Treatment.”Uniform Teeth, www.uniformteeth.com/blog/the-fascinating-history-of-clear-aligner-treatment/.
“Treatment with Clear Aligners.” American Association of Orthodontists, 13 Jan. 2020, www.aaoinfo.org/blog/orthodontic-treatment-with-clear-aligners/.