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Traditionally, braces were made from metal wires and brackets to straighten and move your teeth. In recent years, a number of less visible treatments have hit the market, like lingual braces, which are worn on the back of your teeth, and clear aligners.

One popular brand of clear aligner that’s been available since 1998 is Invisalign. Invisalign is much less noticeable than traditional braces. It uses a clear plastic tray to gradually shift your teeth over time. Roughly every 1 or 2 weeks you’ll replace the tray with a new one.

The process of getting Invisalign is a little different than getting traditional braces. Here we break down the process of getting Invisalign and examine who makes a good candidate.

The exact process you go through to get Invisalign may differ slightly, but here’s a general outline of what to expect.

Find an Invisalign-trained dental specialist

The first step to getting Invisalign is finding an Invisalign-trained dental specialist. Many, but not all, orthodontists and dentists are qualified to treat you with Invisalign.

If you live in the United States, you can use the Doctor Locator tool on the Invisalign website to find a dental specialist who can help you through the Invisalign process.

They also offer a Doctor Locator tool for people living in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Initial consultation

Once you find a dental specialist, you’ll visit their office for an initial consultation. During this first appointment, your dental specialist will examine your teeth and ask you about your goals. They will likely take X-rays and pictures, and they may examine your teeth to check for signs of gum disease or tooth decay.

If your dentist or orthodontist thinks you would make a good candidate for Invisalign, they’ll give you an estimate of how long it will take to achieve the results you want as well as the cost.

Taking molds

Either during your first visit or at a follow-up, the dentist will scan your mouth using a digital scanner. During the scanning, they will go over your teeth with a wand that fits in your mouth. The scanning process is quick and painless and avoids the need to take a plaster mold.

Your dental professional will upload a picture of your mouth to a screen where you can see a 3-D image of your mouth. Then, they will build a simulation of what your mouth will look like at the end of your treatment.

Once you leave their office, the dentist will design a treatment plan and send the scans of your mouth to the Invisalign laboratory. After the lab finishes making your Invisalign aligner trays, they’ll send them back to your dental specialist.

Fitting the first tray

Once your trays are ready, you’ll return to your dental clinic.

Your dental specialist may opt to use small dental attachments, called buttons, to hold your aligners in place and assist with tooth movement.

Your dentist may need to put composite into the Invisalign template and fit it over your teeth. When removed, the template will leave button-like attachments to your teeth that help the Invisalign aligners guide your teeth into place. The application of these buttons should be painless and temporary.

You’ll finally be given your first aligner tray to make sure it’s properly fitted.

Follow-up appointments and new trays

A few weeks later, your dental specialist will check to make sure your tray is fitting properly. They will also likely have you schedule regular appointments every 4 to 6 weeks to monitor your progress.

Every week or every other week, you’ll swap your aligner tray for a new one. The exact frequency with which you’ll need to swap your aligner depends on the length of your treatment and how far your teeth will move.

Most people wear Invisalign for less than 2 years, and some people may see results in as quickly as 6 months. The exact amount of time you need to wear them depends on factors like the issues you’re trying to treat, your age, and how well you follow the instructions.

According to the Invisalign website, the average treatment time is 12 to 18 months.

Most dentists recommended wearing your aligners for as close to 24 hours a day as possible. Ideally, you should wear them for at least 22 hours per day and only remove them when eating, drinking, or for short periods when it’s necessary, such as when playing sports that require a mouthguard. If you don’t follow your orthodontist’s instructions, you may not get the results you’re looking for or your treatment may take longer.

The number of aligners you’ll wear over the course of your treatment varies depending on the length of your treatment and how frequently you need to switch aligners.

For example, if you’re undergoing 15 months of treatment, you may need anywhere from 33 to 65 trays, assuming you switch your tray every 1 to 2 weeks.

Your dentist can get an accurate 3-D image of your mouth using a digital scanner. Then, they’ll send the 3-D image to the Invisalign lab to be used as a mold for making aligner trays custom fitted for your mouth.

Since 2013, the Invisalign trays have been made from a patented thermoplastic called SmartTrack. This material is composed of polyurethane and copolyester.

In a 2016 study, 50 percent of a group of 72 people rated the new material more comfortable than the previously used blend of plastics.

A dentist will usually only scan your mouth once at the beginning of your treatment. Your dental professional can use this image to create a digital model of your mouth and simulate your progress at each step of the treatment.

Invisalign and other clear aligners are generally best suited to treating a small to medium amount of tooth movement. They aren’t as effective for treating more complex conditions like severely rotated teeth or teeth that are partially dislocated from the socket.

Some conditions that Invisalign may be able to treat include:

If you have a dental bridge or prosthetic tooth that may affect the ability of your teeth to move, Invisalign may also not be right for you.

Like most forms of orthodontics, Invisalign is relatively expensive. If you’re having trouble affording them, you may want to talk to your orthodontist about cheaper alternatives.

The cost of Invisalign generally falls in the range of $3,000 to $7,000. If you have insurance, check with your provider, as some do not cover clear braces.

The first step to getting Invisalign is finding a dental professional who’s trained in Invisalign.

Invisalign is best used to treat mild bite problems. If you have severely rotated teeth or other major problems, you may need a different form of treatment.