How Do Teeth Aligners Work – All You Need to Know about Clear Aligners

how do teeth aligners work
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Clear aligners are a type of orthodontic treatment that involves wearing a series of custom-made, virtually invisible plastic trays. These trays are made from medical-grade, thin, and transparent thermoplastic and are designed to fit comfortably over a patient’s teeth. 

For more complex movements, such as rotations or extractions, additional tools like attachments or elastics might be used along with the aligners. Attachments are tiny tooth-colored composites bonded to teeth, enhancing the aligners’ grip, while elastics adjust the alignment of jaws and teeth, refining the treatment’s results.

The aligners work by applying consistent pressure on the teeth, guiding them into the desired position. Each aligner has a slightly different shape, and patients typically wear each set for about two weeks before progressing to the next in the series. Over time, the pressure applied by the aligners adjusts the position of the teeth in small increments. As the patient progresses through the series of aligners, the teeth move closer to their desired alignment.

What Types of Malocclusion Can Be Treated with Clear Aligners?

Clear aligners are an effective option for treating a variety of orthodontic issues, particularly when the cases are mild or moderate. Some common issues that can be addressed using clear aligners include:

  • Overcrowding: When there is insufficient space in the jaw for all the teeth to fit comfortably, aligners can help create room by gradually moving the teeth apart.
  • Gaps: Aligners can close spaces between teeth, giving a more uniform appearance.
  • Overbite: When the upper teeth protrude too far over the lower teeth, aligners can work to gradually shift the upper teeth back for a more balanced bite.
  • Underbite: In cases where the lower teeth extend past the upper teeth, aligners can help move the lower teeth back into position.
  • Crossbite: Aligners can be used to correct situations where the upper and lower teeth do not align properly on one or both sides of the mouth.
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Types of Malocclusion

See also: Types of Bites: Causes, Consequences and Treatment

How Do Teeth Aligners Work: From Consultation to Completion

The process of getting clear aligners involves several steps, starting with a consultation or online assessment: 

Consultation/Online Assessment

The process begins with the Consultation/ Online Assessment stage. For in-office aligners, this entails an in-person consultation with a dentist or orthodontist where a dental exam, X-rays, and desired outcomes are discussed. For those opting for at-home aligners, this process usually begins with an online questionnaire or assessment of their teeth and desired corrections.

Impressions & 3D Imaging

Following the initial assessment, the Impressions & 3D Imaging stage commences. In an in-office setting, a dental professional takes digital scans or molds of the patient’s teeth, which will be used to design the treatment plan. For the at-home approach, individuals receive an impression kit. They take molds of their teeth in the comfort of their home and send them back to the respective company for assessment.

See also: Are At-Home Teeth Aligners Safe?

Treatment Plan Development

Once impressions are made, a Treatment Plan Development is initiated for both methods. Using the impressions and scans, a customized treatment plan is established, often accompanied by a digital visualization showcasing how the teeth are expected to shift throughout the treatment.

Fabrication & Delivery of Aligners

Upon approval of the treatment plan, the Fabrication and delivery of Aligners begins. For those who’ve chosen the in-office route, aligners are produced and typically handed over during subsequent dental visits. In contrast, at-home aligners are fabricated for the entire treatment duration and then shipped directly to the user.

Wearing the Aligners

As patients receive their aligners, they transition into the Wearing the Aligners phase. Regardless of the chosen method, each set of aligners is usually worn for about two weeks, ensuring they remain in place for 20-22 hours daily for optimal results.

Worth Knowing

A survey in the Journal of Orofacial Orthopedics reports that 83% of patients adapted to their aligners within the first week. 

Monitoring Progress

As the treatment progresses, Monitoring Progress becomes pivotal. Regular check-ins are scheduled for in-office treatments, allowing professionals to track progress, make necessary adjustments, and provide the next set of aligners. At-home aligner users might have periodic virtual check-ins or be required to submit progress photos, ensuring their treatment remains on track.

Completion of Treatment

Upon wearing all the aligners in the series and achieving the desired alignment, individuals mark the Completion of Treatment. This is a significant milestone, signaling the end of the active phase of the alignment process.

Post-Treatment

Once the treatment is complete and the desired tooth alignment is achieved, patients will need to wear a retainer to maintain the new tooth positions. 

Maintenance and Usage of Teeth Aligners

To achieve the best outcomes with clear aligners, proper handling, and thorough cleaning are necessary. In this paragraph, we will provide details on the cleaning process, the importance of sticking to the recommended wearing schedule, and the correct procedures for using the aligners.

Cleaning Process

Clear aligners should be cleaned daily to maintain their clarity and prevent bacterial buildup. Begin by rinsing the aligners under lukewarm water. Avoid using hot water as it can warp the plastic. Use a soft toothbrush and a clear, gentle soap to gently brush the inside and outside of the aligners. Avoid toothpaste or colored soaps as they can discolor or scratch the aligners. After brushing, rinse them thoroughly. 

For deeper cleaning, there are specialized aligner cleaning solutions or tablets available. Once cleaned, let the aligners air dry before placing them back in the mouth. Always ensure your hands are clean during the process and remember to clean your aligners every time you brush your teeth.

Wearing Schedule

Clear aligners require a strict wearing schedule for optimal results. Patients must wear their aligners for 20 to 22 hours a day, removing them only for meals, drinking anything other than water, and oral care activities like brushing and flossing. It’s important to wear each set of aligners for the duration recommended, typically one to two weeks, before moving on to the next set. Following this schedule ensures the teeth shift appropriately and the treatment progresses as planned. Not adhering to this schedule can result in extended treatment times and less-than-ideal outcomes.

Handling Instructions

Handling clear aligners correctly is very important for their effectiveness and longevity. When taking them out or putting them in, begin from the back molars and move gently toward the front of the mouth. Before touching the aligners, wash your hands to prevent introducing dirt or bacteria. 

When not wearing them, store the aligners in their designated case to avoid damage or loss. It’s important to keep them away from direct sunlight or areas of high heat to ensure they maintain their shape.

Differences between Clear Aligners and Braces

Clear aligners and braces are both orthodontic treatments designed to correct misaligned teeth and improve dental health. While they share the same goal, there are some key differences between the two options.

Appearance: One of the main differences between clear aligners and braces lies in their appearance. Clear aligners, as their name suggests, are made from transparent plastic material, making them virtually invisible when worn. On the other hand, traditional braces consist of metal brackets and wires, which are more noticeable on the teeth.

Treatment duration: Typically, clear aligners can straighten teeth faster than braces, often within 6 to 18 months, depending on the individual’s dental condition. In contrast, traditional braces might take anywhere from 12 months to 3 years. However, the exact duration for both methods varies based on the complexity of the misalignment and the individual’s specific needs. 

Convenience: Another difference between the two treatments is the level of convenience they offer. Clear aligners are removable, which allows for easier cleaning and the ability to eat without restrictions. On the other hand, braces require more thorough oral hygiene, as food debris and plaque must be removed through frequent brushing and flossing.

Comfort: Clear aligners are often considered more comfortable than braces. They do not have metal wires or brackets that may irritate the cheeks or gums. Instead, the smooth plastic trays gently guide teeth into position over time.

See also: Why Are Braces Expensive? 

Suitability for Dental Misalignments: Clear aligners work best for mild to moderate dental misalignments, while braces are more suitable for complex cases, such as severe bite problems. Moreover, clear aligners may require fewer visits to the orthodontist compared to braces, as they can be adjusted by simply replacing the aligners with a new set. Braces, in contrast, need periodic adjustments by the orthodontist.

Discipline: Clear aligners differ from traditional braces in terms of user responsibility. Braces adjust teeth continuously since they are permanently affixed, while clear aligners require consistent wear, around 20-22 hours a day, to achieve the desired results. The effectiveness of aligners directly relates to the user’s adherence to wearing them.

Clear AlignersBraces
Covered by many insurancesxx
More comfortablex
Removable for eating, brushing, and flossingx
Better oral hygiene during treatmentx
Virtually invisiblex
Source: https://www.invisalign.com/

The Cost of Teeth Aligners

The cost of teeth aligners depends on several factors. The brand chosen and the complexity of an individual’s alignment issues are primary determinants. More complex misalignments typically lead to longer treatments, which in turn can raise the overall cost. The location of the dental provider can also impact the price, with costs varying by region. Additionally, dental insurance can lessen the financial impact, with some plans providing partial coverage for teeth aligner treatments.

In general, the cost of at-home teeth aligner treatments, such as Byte, can start from $1,000. These companies provide aligners that are custom-made for the client after a series of pictures, impressions, and/or 3D scans, followed by a personalized treatment plan developed by an orthodontist or dentist.

For a more comprehensive in-office treatment, options such as Invisalign can cost between $3,000 and $7,000, depending on the complexity of the case and the provider’s fees. 

See our reviews of the most popular at-home aligners:

Byte provides a lifetime guarantee on its product, along with 3D simulations to preview treatment results.

Byte

Byte

An affordable option with refundable impression kits, free HyperByte, and a Byte for Life guarantee.

Check out Byte Aligners

Candid offers a product that many find comparable to Invisalign, along with a high level of customer service. The aligners are designed to address a range of teeth spacing issues, from mild to severe.

Candid

Candid

A hybrid of in-office and at-home treatment that provides 1-on-1 orthodontist support.

Check out Candid Aligners

ALIGNERCO positions itself as an affordable option, offering a monthly payment plan that requires no down payment. The company also offers 24/7 live chat support, aimed at providing continuous assistance to customers.

AlignerCo

AlignerCo

The cheapest at-home aligners, with monthly plans, no down payment, and considerable discounts.

Check out AlignerCo Aligners

Duration of Treatment

The duration of treatment with clear aligners largely depends on the individual’s specific dental needs. Typically, mild to moderate misalignments can be corrected within 6 to 18 months. However, more complex cases might extend beyond that timeframe. 

Unlike traditional braces, which often have a more predictable treatment length, the duration of teeth aligner treatment will also depend on your commitment to wearing the aligners as prescribed. Clear aligners require consistent wear—usually 20-22 hours a day—for the most effective and timely results. Any deviation from this recommended duration can lead to treatment delays.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do aligners work as effectively as braces?

Teeth aligners, like Invisalign or Byte, work effectively for many orthodontic problems but the treatment process and efficiency may vary depending on individual cases. Aligners are a great option for patients seeking a discreet and comfortable treatment, but in some complex situations, traditional braces may still be recommended.

Can aligners correct gaps between teeth?

Yes, aligners can effectively close gaps between teeth. Dental aligners exert gentle pressure on the teeth to guide them into their desired positions over time. However, the severity and cause of the gaps may affect the treatment duration and effectiveness.

Are teeth aligners painful?

Aligners are generally less painful than braces as they do not have wires or brackets that can cause irritation. However, some discomfort may be experienced during the initial days of wearing a new set of aligners due to the pressure being applied to the teeth.

Is it possible for aligners to push teeth back?

Aligners can effectively move teeth both forward and backward, depending on the treatment plan designed by your orthodontist. The custom-made aligners are designed to apply controlled force to guide the teeth into their correct position over time.

What is the typical duration for aligners to show results?

The duration of aligner treatment varies depending on individual cases and the complexity of the orthodontic problem. On average, aligner treatment can take 6-18 months to show significant results. However, minor adjustments may be noticeable within a few weeks of starting treatment. 

Sources

Nedwed, V., Miethke, R. R., Motivation, acceptance and problems of invisalign patients, J Orofac Orthop., 2005; DOI: 10.1007/s00056-005-0429-0. Available online at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15827703/

Lagravere, M. O., Flores-Mir, C., The treatment effects of Invisalign orthodontic aligners: A systematic review; The Journal of the American Dental Association, 2005. DOI: 10.14219/jada.archive.2005.0117. Available online at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002817714624545

Mortazavi,M., et al. An updated systematic review on the effectivity of clear aligner therapy: A review. Journal of Craniomaxillofacial Research. (2020). Available online at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/349579223_An_updated_systematic_review_on_the_effectivity_of_clear_aligner_therapy

Olsen, J., Comparison of Patient Factors Influencing the Selection of an Orthodontist, General Dentist, or Direct-To-Consumer Aligners for Orthodontic Treatment. Virginia Commonwealth University. (2019). Available online at: https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6855&context=etd

Wexler, A. et al. Direct-to-Consumer Orthodontics: Surveying the User Experience. J Am Dent Assoc. 2020 Aug; 151(8): 625–636.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.adaj.2020.02.025. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7391059/

Khosravi R, et al. Management of overbite with the Invisalign appliance. Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop 2017;151:691e699.e2. Available online at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28364892/

Iza Wojnarowski

Content contributor

Iza is a dedicated content contributor for Toothific. Having worn braces twice and currently using Invisalign to correct a mild overbite, Iza brings a unique perspective to her writing. She spends her time staying updated on the latest dental trends and treatments, ensuring her readers have the most current information for their dental care needs.

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