What is Invisalign?
Invisalign is an alternative to traditional metal braces that uses a series of removable clear aligners to straighten teeth and correct gaps, crowding, and bite issues. Made of a flexible plastic that fits snugly over your teeth to gradually adjust their position, the aligners (aka trays) are worn 24/7, except for when eating, drinking, or brushing teeth.
Treatment time typically ranges from 6–18 months, depending on the severity of the problem, though there are a number of ways to significantly speed tooth movement.
While Invisalign is an option for children, teens, and adults, the treatment is most popular with adults who had braces when they were younger and didn’t wear a retainer to keep their teeth from moving. As with metal braces, you’ll need to wear a retainer post-treatment to maintain your new smile.
Invisalign is less noticeable than wire and bracket braces, and it usually takes less time.
Seeing digital predictions of your tooth movement and end results is a strong motivator to stick with your customized plan.
You’ll be able to eat whatever you want and brush and floss normally, which will keep your mouth and teeth cleaner than with traditional braces. In fact, you’re unlikely to have white decalcification spots or an uptick in cavities, according to dentists on RealSelf.
RealSelf members who said it was Worth It went from hiding their teeth to smiling confidently.
Invisalign is no quick fix—treatment time averages about 12 months.
It takes real commitment to wear the trays for most of the day and night.
Unless you’re drinking clear, cold liquids, you’ll have to remove the aligners before eating or drinking anything and replace them immediately afterward.
The treatment can be uncomfortable, especially during the first few days of wearing a new aligner. Each tray is shaped to fit the alignment your teeth need to have after you’ve finished wearing it, so it will be snug and hard to get in and out when you start wearing it. Over time, the aligner will relax.
Most people will need to wear some “attachments”—tiny, teeth-colored dots (or bumps) that are bonded to your teeth and then click into your aligners to help them make more complex movements—for the full course of their treatment. “Buttons,” or small brackets that serve as anchors for rubber bands, may also be required. Attachments and buttons are not usually as noticeable as traditional braces, but they’re still visible.
When you start wearing your aligners, you may develop a slight speech impediment or experience excess saliva or dry mouth. These issues usually resolve within a few weeks.
Once you’ve completed treatment, it’s essential to wear a retainer at night to maintain your results. “Teeth naturally move, and if you don’t push back against the forces that move them with a retainer, they’ll eventually move back.
What happens during Invisalign treatment
Your dentist or orthodontist digitally scans your teeth, creates a customized treatment plan, and shows you an animated visualization of your new smile. Your custom aligners are 3-D printed and mailed to your dentist’s office within a few weeks.
You’ll pick up a series of new trays from your doctor every month or so. Each one will be slightly different, making small adjustments to your teeth’s position.
Your treatment will likely include attachments that serve as “handles” for the aligners to engage teeth for specific movements. Ninety percent of people have some attachments for the duration of their treatment, and 40% need them on the front four teeth. The attachments are tooth-colored, small, and hard to see—but they’re more noticeable when you wear the aligners because the plastic accentuates them.
If you want your treatment to be as undetectable as possible, talk to your dentist about not placing attachments at all or, at least, not on the front four teeth. Be aware, however, that studies show attachments help move teeth more precisely and efficiently, which can speed up your treatment.
You’ll wear each aligner for one to two weeks before moving on to the next set. The aligners have to be worn for 22 hours a day—essentially all day and night, except to clean them, eat, and brush and floss your teeth.
When you’ll see results and how long they’ll last
Every case is different. Some people notice a difference in as little as two weeks, while others may need up to six months to start seeing results. Your teeth will gradually move into position until your treatment plan is completed.
When you and your doctor are happy with the position of your teeth, you’ll get a retainer to keep them from shifting. Your results will last for as long as your teeth don’t shift. If the position of your teeth matches your last set of aligners, your retainers can be made from those, without taking new impressions of your teeth.
What’s Invisalign Express?
Unlike conventional Invisalign, which offers unlimited aligners for up to five years, Express treatment offers five-, seven-, and 10-aligner “packages,” to make minor corrections at a significantly lower cost. Your dentist will determine which option is right for you. But don’t be surprised if you’re not a good candidate.