A Guide to Invisalign

Are you one of those people who needs orthodontic work but never quite gets around to having it done? Maybe you wish you’d bitten the bullet  – so to speak – as a teenager and put up with metal braces. Because it’s probably too late to fix those teeth now, isn’t it? And if it isn’t too late, it’s probably going to be too uncomfortable, take too long and just be too embarrassing to put up with as an adult. Won’t it?

A few short years ago, you would have been right. Adult orthodontics was not seen as a particularly rewarding field for dentists to get into. Then, as new products appeared, more dentists and their patients began to see the potential. And for all those people who had been putting off their orthodontic work, it suddenly looked like it might be a good time.

One of those new products that hit the market was Invisalign. Invisalign makes all the usual claims about being ‘fantastic’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘state-of-the-art’. But while it is easy to be cynical, it is also important to note that Invisalign is one of the few products that has stood the test of time and grown more popular as time goes on.

Unless you’ve already spoken to your dentist, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. If so, you should find reading this article a useful way of getting all your questions about Invisalign answered.

What is Invisalign?

As we said, Invisalign is ‘fantastic’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘state-of-the-art’. What else do you need to know? Well, quite a few things actually. In a nutshell, Invisalign is a fast new way to move teeth so that you can close gaps, re-align crooked teeth and cure over- or underbites. In that way, it performs exactly the same function as conventional braces. What makes Invisalign different is the technology behind it. Invisalign is based around a series of clear plastic aligners, rather than the conventional metal track braces. These aligners are each less than one millimetre thick and are also removable. So while you are wearing them, they are very discrete. Perfect of course, if you are a Hollywood celebrity worried about being snapped by the paparazzi!

Are the aligners really invisible?

No, if you look closely you can see them. They are, however, barely noticeable and very comfortable to wear too. So most people find that they still have the confidence to smile, talk and socialise naturally.

How do the Invisalign aligners work?

Using the latest 3-D technology and modelling techniques, your dentist or orthodontist works closely with you and the Invisalign laboratory to render an image of how you want your perfect teeth to look once the treatment has finished. Once this final image has been agreed, a set of aligners are produced that will gradually move your teeth towards the desired position.

Why is Invisalign better than other braces?

Unlike traditional braces, there are no brackets or wires. So it is generally agreed to be a more comfortable, less intrusive and more aesthetically pleasing orthodontic treatment. The other appealing aspect of Invisalign is that the aligners are moulded to suit your teeth and how you want them to look. Conventional braces are constantly being tightened and screwed in again as they lose their shape and tension every few weeks. Invisalign works more effectively and efficiently, exerting the right amount of pressure without the need for tightening. For you, that means fewer visits to the dentist.

Does Invisalign work for everyone?

Invisalign can correct a large number of orthodontic problems. However, not everyone is a suitable patient for this treatment as Invisalign is not always appropriate for more complex problems. The best way to find out is to talk with an Invisalign-certified dentist. Even if Invisalign is not right for you, your dentist will be able to recommend a more suitable form of treatment.

What about teenagers and children?

Invisalign is not suitable for children because it is only appropriate for patients who fully grown teeth. However, there is a version of Invisalign which has been adapted to suit teenagers, called Invisalign Teen. This is a slightly modified version of the Invisalign system that allows for a little bit more of an active, rough-and-tumble lifestyle. For example, it includes replacement aligners in case any are lost or broken.

How fast does Invisalign work?

Some people who have mild conditions can complete their treatment in 12 months. Others, however, if their problem is more severe, may need to wear their aligners for anything up to three years (similar to conventional braces, just better looking). Because the aligners are removable, people can sometimes extend their treatment time by not wearing them enough. Dentists recommend that they are worn for around 22 hours per day.

For people who require a very minor correction, there is a new type of Invisalign product available – Invisalign Express. This uses the same type of system but are only required to be worn for up to 6 months. Needless to say, it is worth consulting your dentist initially, as not all people can see a change in their teeth in such short timescales.

What exactly does the Invisalign treatment involve?

The procedure usually involves four clear steps.

In the first step, you will sit down with your dentist and talk about how exactly you want your teeth to look. ‘Perfect’ is normally the right answer! After this, the dentist takes X-rays and then creates the 3-D model of your teeth. This is one aspect of the procedure that really makes Invisalign stand out. You have the opportunity to see how your teeth could look at the end of the treatment. Invisalign can be an expensive treatment, so it is definitely worth talking to your dentist honestly and giving him or her your opinion clearly. After all, you won’t get a second chance.

The third stage of the process is having the aligners made and fitted. These aligners are designed exactly to suit the shape of your mouth and teeth. So they gradually move your teeth into position, rather than forcing them through a rigid metal structure like conventional braces.

On average, treatment times are probably 12 to 18 months, but your dentist will give you a plan with clear timescales. The fourth stage of the procedure simply involves regular trips to your dentist, to ensure that you are looking after your teeth, wearing your aligners regularly and seeing some visible change.

Does it hurt?

Invisalign can cause slight soreness in the gums when you change your aligner, which you should do at fairly regular intervals. But to be quite honest, it’s nothing compared to how uncomfortable conventional braces can be. The aligners are also removable, so it makes life much easier when you want to clean your teeth, eat certain types of food or smile for a photograph.

Similarly, because the Invisalign system works more efficiently and faster than conventional braces, it does not need to exert so much force on your teeth. This also makes the treatment more comfortable.

What sort of food can I eat when in Invisalign treatment?

With the Invisalign system, there should be no restrictions over the kinds of food you can eat. But, of course, you do have to use a bit of common sense. Your aligners are removable, so you can feel free to eat all kinds of foods without worrying about food getting stuck to your braces.

Some patients assume that they can also eat while wearing their aligners. It’s not a good idea, but it is also not as daft as it sounds. It can be tempting to try and eat while wearing your aligners because new aligners can be tight-fitting and painful to remove. However, dentists will always recommend that you remove them before eating.

Any debris that accumulates in your aligners will look ugly and could promote tooth decay. So if you eat with your aligners in, the first thing you would need to do is take them out and clean them. So it makes more sense to remove them beforehand, doesn’t it? Even more so when you remember that your Invisalign aligners are constructed out of thin plastic. Chewing can easily damage them, distort their original shape and disrupt your treatment. Your aligner might even encourage your teeth to move in unexpected ways – probably not the outcome you were hoping for when you decided to invest so much money in treatment!

Anyway, regardless of the technical issues, if you do try to eat while wearing your removable braces, you probably won’t enjoy your food very much. Your aligners can make chewing awkward at times, with food becoming stuck around your aligners. It might be okay at home, but it certainly wouldn’t be very pleasant if you were eating in public!

Can you chew gum while wearing Invisalign braces?

Chewing gum is probably one of those habits you might have to break with while you are wearing your braces. It sticks to your aligners and can be difficult to clean off. File alongside bubblegum, toffee and caramel.

Anything else I need to know?

Some patients find that their eating habits change slightly. When they change their aligner, some patients shy away from hard foods that require greater biting pressure – just because their gums can be a little bit sore. Some people can experience slight soreness when reinserting their aligners – so they find themselves eating larger meals, less regularly. Of course, less snacking between meals is hardly a bad thing anyway!

What should I do next?

At this stage, most people start worrying about cost. But initially, the best thing to do is to visit an Invisalign approved dentist for a free consultation. Obviously, the treatment can be expensive. But the consultation is free and if you want to know more about the procedure, it is a good place to start.

Invisalign: the costs

It’s fair to say that Invisalign is one of the more expensive procedures for correcting teeth. Yet many people believe that the price is worth paying because the braces are so discrete and the timescales are so greatly reduced. Of course, the length of time you have to wear your aligners will vary from case to case, and will also be affected by where you go for the treatment and the skill of your dentist or orthodontist. The cost of your treatment will also vary according to similar factors.

We can’t give you a figure for treatment here – after all, we haven’t seen your teeth! However, if you are interested in Invisalign then you should be able to arrange a free, no obligation consultation with your local Invisalign-approved dentist or orthodontist. Following your consultation they should be able to give you an accurate indication of the projected costs for your individual course of treatment. As a guide, average treatment costs can vary from between £3000 and £6000.