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Invisalign

Authored by
Reviewed by: Paul Amato, DDS
 

Invisalign aligners are a very popular alternative to traditional metal braces. They are clear, removable, and comfortable, and can be used on patients of all ages. Invisalign products are manufactured, designed, and marketed by Align Technology, Inc.

Not everyone is a candidate for Invisalign aligners. Your dentist or orthodontist can evaluate whether Invisalign is right for you. Invisalign aligners are designed to fit comfortably over your teeth, much like a whitening tray, and are designed to gradually move your teeth into their correct positions. Patients whose teeth are severely out of alignment will likely benefit more from metal brackets or orthodontic treatment methods other than Invisalign, although these patients may be able to switch from traditional metal braces to Invisalign once their teeth are more aligned.

Both dentists and orthodontists can become certified Invisalign providers by completing specialized instructional sessions. However, orthodontists have completed an additional two to three years of formal training to specialize in straightening teeth, and may therefore be better qualified. Invisalign also bestows the title of “Preferred Provider” on those who pursue continuing education and submit a certain number of cases per year.  Look for this designation at www.invisalign.com to ensure that your dentist or orthodontist is qualified. There are an estimated 36,000 dentists and orthodontists in the United States who hold this designation.

How Invisalign Works

Invisalign aligners are not a new idea. Back in the 1940s, and again in the 1970s, manufacturers, scientists, dentists, and orthodontists tried to create a series of removable aligners to adjust the occlusion (bite) of qualified patients. The difference between these products and today’s Align Technology is that earlier methods required numerous dental impressions to determine the position of the teeth, but Invisalign only requires one dental impression, one set of x-rays, and one set of photos to complete treatment. During your first visit, your dentist or orthodontist will evaluate your teeth and bite to determine whether you are an Invisalign candidate.

If you are a candidate, your dentist or orthodontist will take impressions, x-rays, and digital pictures of your teeth and face. He or she will then send the impressions, pictures, and x-rays, along with a detailed treatment plan describing the desired tooth movement and treatment objectives, to Invisalign. Invisalign uses the x-rays, pictures, and impressions to create a 3-D digital model of your teeth, and uses the treatment plan to simulate the desired tooth movement. There is extensive communication between the dentist or orthodontist and Invisalign, and changes are made until the desired treatment objectives are met. At this point, the dentist or orthodontist approves the simulated treatment and Invisalign begins fabrication of the custom-made aligners.

After the aligners are delivered to your dentist or orthodontist, the next step is your delivery appointment, where you will be shown how to remove and replace the aligners and how to care for them. Sometimes tooth-colored attachments will be bonded to some of your teeth to improve aligner retention and to assist the movement of the teeth.

Typically, your dentist or orthodontist will see you every four to eight weeks. At each appointment, two to four sets of aligners will be delivered. Each new aligner gradually moves the teeth into their correct positions.

Invisalign Teen

Invisalign Teen is similar to the adult version in that it involves a series of custom-made, clear plastic aligners that are worn for about two weeks each before they are exchanged for a new pair. The difference between the adult and teen versions is that the teen version is designed to compensate for the eruption of new teeth. Teens also get up to six free individual replacements in case one is lost or breaks, and each aligner includes a blue wear-indicator that fades from blue to clear to help ensure that the trays are being worn as directed.

The same 3-D technology is used to help track the movement of each tooth from beginning to end. For most teens, treatment takes about a year, but every teen’s needs are different. As with the adult version, the aligners need to be worn at least twenty hours per day to be effective, so a commitment is needed from both the teen and the parent to ensure that the process is smooth and successful. Cost can vary depending on the patient’s needs and the orthodontist’s location. Invisalign Teen aligners can help teens with their aesthetic concerns while allowing them to confidently participate in sports, school pictures, and other activities.

Am I a Candidate for Invisalign?

According to experts at Align Technology, Inc., Invisalign can be used on patients who have mild malocclusions and meet these qualifications:

  • Gaps between teeth
  • Crowded teeth
  • Overbite
  • Overjet
  • Crossbite
  • Teeth movement after traditional braces have been removed
  • Bite irregularities

The key word is mild. If you have extremely crooked teeth or you require surgery due to a skeletal discrepancy, you are probably not a candidate for Invisalign or other types of invisible braces. Some orthodontists are able to treat some of the more challenging cases by using Invisalign in conjunction with braces or other orthodontic appliances.

The Cost of Invisalign

The cost of Invisalign depends on:

  • The orthodontist or dentist
  • The location
  • Your dental insurance coverage
  • The complexity of your case
  • The duration of your treatment

One good thing about Invisalign aligners is that because they are used in an orthodontic setting, most insurance plans cover them to the same extent they cover traditional braces. It is very important to be aware of what your individual dental insurance plan covers, as coverage can vary a great deal. Most dentists and orthodontists will work with you to make dental treatment affordable, and monthly payment plans or care credit plans are options to consider.

Advantages of Invisalign

Here is a look at some of the benefits Invisalign offers:

  • The aligners are virtually invisible, making it difficult for others to tell that you are wearing them.
  • The edges are smooth, which minimizes irritation to your gums and cheeks.
  • They are removable, making eating, drinking, and oral hygiene easier.
  • They are customized to fit your mouth.
  • You are able to enjoy the benefits of a beautiful smile before the treatment process is over.
  • New technology has made it possible for teens to use them too.

Disadvantages of Invisalign

Some of the issues and difficulties of Invisalign include:

  • Since they are removable, they are not continuously correcting your teeth as traditional orthodontic braces do, so patient compliance is critical to their success.
  • Success of treatment depends on the patient’s commitment to wearing the aligners for a minimum of twenty hours per day.
  • Patients cannot eat or drink anything except water while wearing trays, which usually means grazing and frequent snacking habits must be stopped during treatment.
  • Certain teeth (the lower premolars and upper lateral incisors) are sometimes problematic for Invisalign aligners to rotate.
  • Tooth movement which requires movement of the tooth roots is very difficult.
  • Teeth and aligners need to be cleaned after every meal, after which the aligner must be re-inserted.
  • Aligners can be misplaced or lost.
  • Aligners can be damaged by tooth grinding or clenching.
  • Some people have allergic reactions to the implantable-grade polyurethane the aligners are made of, although this is extremely rare.

Are Invisalign Aligners Painful?

It is normal to experience soreness or discomfort for the first couple of days after each new aligner stage. Talk with your dentist about reducing any pain or discomfort you are experiencing.

Tips for Invisalign Wearers

If you wear Invisalign aligners, use these tips to help you maintain a healthy mouth during the treatment process:

  • Brush your aligner every time you brush your teeth, especially after meals and snacks.
  • Floss your teeth daily.

Questions to Ask Your Dentist

Here are some questions you may want to ask your dentist about Invisalign:

  • Am I a good candidate for invisible braces?
  • Can we use traditional braces until my malocclusion has improved, then replace them with Invisalign aligners for the remainder of the treatment process?
  • How many times will I have to exchange my aligners?
  • Will I need Invisalign attachments bonded to my teeth?
  • What other types of invisible braces would benefit me?
  • Should I wear them when I play sports?
  • How will they affect my speech?

To learn more about Invisalign, please visit:
http://www.invisalign.com/Pages/Home.aspx

To learn more about Invisalign for teens, please visit:
http://www.invisalign.com/teen/Pages/Index.aspx

Page updated September 2012

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