A woman sits in a dentist's chair while inserting a clear aligner over her teeth. Share on Pinterest
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If you had a choice, would you wear braces on your teeth or clear aligners?

If your answer is clear aligners, you’re not alone. Clear aligners have grown in popularity over the past couple of decades as an option for straightening or realigning your teeth.

Perhaps the oldest and best known clear aligner product is Invisalign, which was introduced to the market in 1998 by Align Technology. Since then, more clear aligners from other brands have come into the market, such as Spark, ClearCorrect, and uLab.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what Invisalign can do, how effective it is, and the pros and cons of this product.

Invisalign is the brand name of a type of thin clear aligner used in orthodontic treatment. The aligner is made from a flexible thermoplastic material named SmartTrack.

As the name suggests, this product is designed to make orthodontic treatment “less conspicuous,” as the American Association of Orthodontists puts it.

Although Invisalign aligners may not be completely invisible, these clear coverings fit tightly over your teeth and are much less noticeable than the brackets and wires of traditional braces.

Invisalign can be used for a variety of purposes, including crowding and spacing issues, as well as some mild and moderate bite issues.

The Invisalign website claims that it can be used to treat the following dental issues:

While still limited, research suggests that Invisalign may be more effective for some issues than others.

For example, a 2017 study suggests clear aligners can be useful to align a person’s arches, but it may not be as helpful in addressing more severe bite problems.

The first step in the process involves a visit to an orthodontist, who will create a 3-D image of your mouth and jaw. They’ll use this image to put together a plan for moving your teeth into their proper place.

Your orthodontist will then use that plan to create a series of customized plastic aligners. These aligners will apply pressure to your teeth, gradually shifting them and moving them into the desired places.

Depending on your orthodontist’s instructions, you’ll switch out one set of aligners for a new set about once every week or two. Typically, you’ll need to wear the aligners for 20 to 22 hours a day.

You may have friends who’ve had a good experience with Invisalign, but it’s important to go beyond the anecdotal evidence. At the moment, however, there’s not a lot of research that points to its effectiveness.

A 2015 review of 11 studies involving the use of Invisalign aligners notes that research on their effectiveness is limited.

Studies that have been done up until now tend to have small sample sizes, and many studies haven’t included a control group to use as a comparison.

A 2016 study in the Journal of Orthodontics also warns of the lack of clinical research to bolster claims of effectiveness.

However, based on some available research, Invisalign does seem to be more effective than other types of clear aligners. And the newer versions that the manufacturer began producing in 2010 seem to have enhanced the effectiveness of Invisalign by improving the delivery of force upon the wearer’s teeth.

For Invisalign to work effectively, it’s important to wear the aligners for 20 to 22 hours per day.

The only time you’re supposed to remove the aligners is when you’re:

You need to be careful when cleaning your aligners. If you use very hot water, it could warp the plastic. This can alter the fit, and affect your progress and the effectiveness of the aligners.

The complexity of your orthodontic issues may also affect how well Invisalign works for you. It may take longer for this treatment to work if you’re dealing with more complex spacing or bite issues.

Other variables that may be at work are your sex and age. A study of 30 volunteers found that tooth movement may be affected by the wearer’s age.

According to the study, the rate of movement of your teeth increases slightly from ages 35 to 50. This means Invisalign may be more effective for this age group.

The same study also found that tooth movement between the ages of 50 to 70 didn’t decline for women in the same way it did for men.

To help you determine whether Invisalign is the right choice for you, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this treatment option.

Pros of Invisalign

  • The aesthetic factor. This is a very commonly cited reason for choosing Invisalign. These clear aligners are much less noticeable than the wires and brackets of braces.
  • You can remove them. You can physically remove the aligner from your mouth if you need to.
  • Ease of cleaning your teeth. By removing the aligner, you can easily brush and floss your teeth, without having to work around wires and brackets. A 2017 study also suggests this can improve your periodontal health by reducing the amount of bacteria lurking around your teeth and gums.
  • Fewer potential problems. Many people with traditional braces have stories about a bracket that fell off or a wire that broke, leading to an emergency visit to the orthodontist. You won’t have that potential problem with clear aligners.
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Cons of Invisalign

  • Less effective for complex issues. Research, while limited, does seem to suggest that Invisalign is more effective for people whose teeth require only certain kinds of movement. Your doctor may suggest another treatment option for more complex issues. Additionally, if you have bridgework on some of your teeth, Invisalign might not be the right option for you.
  • Requires compliance. To get the maximum benefit from Invisalign, you must wear the aligners for 20 to 22 hours a day. If you think you’ll be tempted to slip them out more often, it may not be the best choice for you.
  • Removal when eating or drinking. When you’re eating or drinking, you need to take the aligners out. If you don’t, food or drink can get into them. This causes bacteria to grow along your teeth or gumline, which could lead to cavities. Also, liquid can seep down into them and cause staining of the aligners and your teeth.
  • Food limitations. You may experience tooth soreness when the aligner is removed, which can limit your food choices. Hard foods, especially, should be avoided.
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According to the Invisalign website, the cost of treatment with Invisalign is similar to the cost of traditional braces.

According to the Consumer Guide for Dentistry, the cost will probably range between $3,000 and $5,000. The cost can fluctuate depending on how long you need treatment, the complexity of your tooth alignment issues, and where you live.

You may want to check with the administrator of your dental insurance plan if you have one. Some dental insurance plans do pay for some or all of the cost of Invisalign.

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you may also be able to use it to pay for some of the costs of Invisalign treatment.

If you don’t have insurance coverage, many dentists and orthodontists offer payment plans for the care they offer. Be sure to ask about this before you agree to the treatment.

If you’re considering Invisalign aligners, ask yourself these questions to help you determine whether this is the best choice for you:

  • Do I have a fairly straightforward crowding or bite issue with my teeth?
  • Do I feel self-conscious about wearing braces?
  • Will I wear the aligners for the appropriate number of hours every day?
  • Can I afford them?
  • Will I take care of them correctly?

If you have a teenager at home who would rather opt for Invisalign than regular braces, assess whether they’ll wear them and care for them appropriately.

If you know your child is prone to losing things, Invisalign — which can be removed and misplaced — might not be the best choice.

Invisalign can be used for a variety of purposes, including crowding and spacing issues, as well as some mild and moderate bite issues.

It may be a good option for you if you don’t have a complicated bite or crowding issue and you’d prefer a less visible treatment than braces.

Talk with your orthodontist or dentist about your teeth, what type of orthodontic treatment you may need, and whether Invisalign is a good option for you. Then, consider all the pros and cons before making your decision.