Clear aligners are thin, removable plastic mouthpieces that secure closely to your teeth and gently move them into the correct position. Your dentist might recommend them to improve the appearance of your smile, adjust your bite, make it easier for you to brush and floss, or all of the above.
Popular examples of clear aligners include Invisalign and SureSmile, though there are numerous other brands.
To create clear aligners for your mouth, your dentist will make a scan or impression of your teeth, then several sets of aligners will be made according to your custom treatment plan. Your dentist will determine how many sets of invisible aligners you'll require to address your dental issues.
Once your aligners are ready, tiny, tooth-colored attachments are temporarily bonded onto specific teeth to hold the aligners in place as they move the teeth. The attachments are barely visible when you smile, and most patients quickly get used to them.
Depending on the orthodontic treatment you require, your dentist may also recommend using small elastics to help move the teeth into position. These elastics are held in place by tiny hooks, which are also temporarily bonded onto teeth in places where they don't interfere with chewing and where they usually aren't noticeable.
Once each aligner has accomplished its task of incremental tooth movement, you’ll replace it with the next aligner, usually every couple of weeks.
Treatment time with clear aligners is based on how much the teeth need to be moved. The more your bite is misaligned or, the more crooked your teeth, the longer it will take. Typical treatment time is between 10 and 24 months — but if you're an adult who had braces as a child and your teeth have only shifted slightly over the years, you may need aligners for as little as a few months.
With traditional braces, patients live with a mouthful of metal 24 hours a day, often for years. They need to see an orthodontist regularly to have adjustments made to the braces as teeth move. Brushing and flossing can also be a challenge with metal braces.
There are many reasons to love clear aligners. They are extremely inconspicuous, having almost no noticeable impact on your appearance. They can also be removed — so it's easier to eat or drink, and you don’t have to deprive yourself of any foods that may be restricted by braces. And unlike braces, clear aligners can easily be taken out to maintain good oral hygiene.
Patients with clear aligners require fewer visits to a dental office than those with braces. Depending on the length of treatment, patients may have to return simply to have new impressions or scans taken of their teeth to create additional sets of aligners once the initial phase of treatment is completed.
While it's recommended that clear aligners be worn for up to 22 hours per day, most patients find them to be very comfortable, as they don’t have any sharp metal components.
And clear aligners are easily maintained with gentle brushing with a toothbrush and water.
Clear aligners are typically used for patients with mild to moderate teeth crowding or minor alignment or spacing issues. Patients who have severe crowding or spacing problems, or severe underbites, overbites, or crossbites, may require more complex treatment.
Clear aligners are best for adults or teenagers. Straightening a child’s teeth is more complicated — children, and their mouths, are constantly developing, and younger kids may struggle with having attachments on teeth and remaining compliant with maintaining the condition of aligners.