When you hear the word “orthodontics,” what comes to mind? Probably a young teenager whose teeth are covered by a latticework of metal. There are indeed many orthodontic patients who fit that description. However, there now exists an increasingly popular alternative to traditional metal braces: Invisalign® clear aligners.
As the name implies, Invisalign clear aligners are made of almost invisible polyurethane plastic. Rather than being cemented or bonded to the teeth as metal or clear braces are, clear aligners are completely removable — for important social occasions, for eating, and, most importantly, for tooth-brushing and flossing. This advantage can also be a disadvantage: It means you must resist the temptation to take your aligners out more than is advised. Here are some other advantages of the Invisalign system:
- Improved Oral Hygiene — With an orthodontic appliance that is removable, you will be able to clean your teeth much more easily than if you were wearing metal braces.
- A Discreet Look — If you consider your orthodontic treatment to be a private matter, or simply feel that metal braces don't fit with your self-image, a practically invisible form of orthodontic treatment might suit you.
- More Dietary Choices — To protect metal wires and braces, some diet modifications are necessary. With clear aligners, you can still bite into an apple or a crispy pizza crust.
- Comfort — The soft, flexible material of which Invisalign is made will not irritate the soft tissues of the mouth, as metal wires and braces can.
- Teeth-Grinding Protection — If you have a teeth-grinding or clenching habit, clear aligners can function as thin nightguards that will protect your teeth from excessive wear.
Clear aligner technology has been improving over the years and can correct many malocclusions that once would have been too complicated for this form of treatment. Yet there are still some situations for which traditional braces would still be best. We would be happy to discuss this in detail with you.
How Invisalign Works
Invisalign clear aligners work the same way traditional braces do: by applying carefully controlled forces to teeth to move them into a better position. But they are not made of metal; instead, they are made of clear, flexible plastic.
Here's how it works: Specialized computer software helps us design a plan for moving your teeth from their current positions into the best possible alignment. This movement will be broken down into perhaps several dozen stages. For each stage, the Invisalign company will manufacture two plastic mouth “trays” or “aligners,” one to fit over your top teeth and one for the bottom. You will wear this first set of trays for two weeks, for a minimum of 20 hours per day. You will then move on to the next set of aligners in your series to accomplish the next stage of gradual movement. You will keep doing this until your teeth are correctly aligned.
In the past several years, two features have been added to make Invisalign a more appropriate orthodontic treatment method for teenagers. Special “eruption tabs” hold the appropriate amount of space open for molars that have not fully grown in. Invisalign for teens also comes with “compliance indicators” built into the aligner material, which fade with wear. This allows parents, dentists, and the teens themselves, to make sure the trays are being worn as prescribed. Treatment with Invisalign can only be successful if this is the case.
Caring for Your Teeth During Invisalign Treatment
As mentioned above, one of the main advantages of the Invisalign system is that the trays can be removed for easy cleaning. So please don't neglect to do this! You'll need to brush your teeth after every meal or snack so that food and plaque do not get trapped in the aligners, which could promote tooth decay and gum disease. Your aligners, too, will have to be cleaned regularly; you can do this by brushing them and then rinsing them with lukewarm water.
Also, please keep in mind that while wearing clear aligners is very different from wearing braces, the importance of retaining your post-treatment results is exactly the same. You'll want to be sure to wear your retainer(s) exactly as prescribed after your treatment is completed to protect your investment in a beautiful new smile.
There's a new technology that's (literally) putting a smile on plenty of young faces: A system of clear, removable aligners made especially for teens called Invisalign Teen®! If you (or a teenager you know) are a candidate for this treatment, you might find it's the best fit for your lifestyle: It lets you eat what you want, makes it easier to clean your teeth — and best of all, it's virtually invisible.
Is a clear aligner right for you? It all depends on what kind of orthodontic treatment you need. Traditional metal braces still work best in some situations — and you might be surprised to find that they're still a popular option for many teenagers! But now that aligners are being designed specifically for teens, more are choosing them every day.
What is a clear aligner? Basically, it's a thin plastic covering or “tray” that fits over your top and/or bottom teeth. You'll wear a series of aligners that will gradually move your teeth into better positions. Here's how they work: Each aligner is custom-made with the help of a computer program that takes into account exactly where your teeth are now, and how they need to be moved. You'll wear each tray for two weeks or so, to shift your teeth slightly, and then you'll go on to the next, which is slightly different. Over time, all of the small movements will add up to a big change!
An Aligner Just for Teens
Clear aligners for adults have been available for over a decade, but until recently they weren't recommended for teens in most cases. Why not? Chiefly, for two reasons: It was thought that teens wouldn't always wear them for the recommended 22 hours per day; also, since many teens have some permanent teeth still erupting (emerging from below the gums), the precisely planned movement of the teeth might be disturbed.
Luckily, technology has come to the rescue. The first problem is addressed by “compliance indicators” located on the aligners themselves. These colored dots fade over time as the aligners are worn in the mouth, showing whether or not you've followed the plan. To solve the second problem, aligners made especially for teens come with “eruption tabs” built in; they are designed to hold space for teeth that have not yet fully erupted.
Today, more people than ever — both adults and teens — are finding that clear aligners suit their needs best. Are you one of them? Why not come in to our office and ask whether clear aligners could work for you.
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