Invisalign® is a system for straightening teeth which does not rely on the highly visible wires and metal bands used for traditional braces. Instead, teeth are gradually pressured into the desired alignment using a series of clear, plastic, removable, aligner trays which fit neatly over the upper and lower teeth. The system has obvious attraction for adults who are deterred from straightening their teeth by the prospect of appearing more juvenile by wearing braces. Teenagers, too, often prefer a more natural look during teeth straightening. The Invisalign Teen system offers an adaptation of Invisalign produced so that teens can be accommodated even during the eruption of second adult molar teeth.
The Invisalign systems use computer technology to simulate a three-dimensional view of a patient’s teeth from conventional x-rays, pictures, and impressions sent to their headquarters by the individual dentist. The model produced is manipulated to create a series of tooth positions through which the teeth must be moved to reach ideal positioning. Results are re-submitted to the treating dentist, who is then able to show the patient a computer-generated projection of his or her own final appearance before treatment is begun. If patient and dentist decide to proceed, a series of alignment trays mirroring the positions through which the teeth must move are manufactured and sent to the dentist. Every two weeks, a new set of trays is placed in the patient’s mouth until the treatment is finished. Patients must wear the trays twenty-two to twenty-four hours per day for treatment to be effective. The average treatment time for patients is about twelve months, but, for more lengthy treatments, generally parallels treatment times for traditional braces. Costs are similar.
Any successful tooth straightening treatment offers advantages for the patient. Better aligned teeth are not only more attractive, they are also more effective for chewing and are easier to clean. The results of straightening the teeth range, for the patient, from greater social ease and success, through health benefits, to reduced dental problems later in life.
The Invisalign systems, however, have advantages over others in the treatment phase. Beyond being far more visually pleasing than traditional braces, they also allow for better health practices. The trays are snapped out during eating, and this allows for both more comfortable eating and a greater range of diet. Wearers of the trays are not restricted by foods which might damage a system of braces, nor are they bothered by foods catching on wires or brackets. Because the trays are made of plastic, the wearer is also advised to take out the trays before drinking hot liquids. Sugary liquids should also be drunk without the trays as trapped sugar can lead to decay. After drinking anything with sugar, the patient briefly rinses with water. After eating, the patient brushes his or her teeth and places the trays back in the mouth.
This removable aspect of the Invisalign systems also means that there are far fewer problems with more thorough cleaning of the teeth. The patient brushes and flosses his or her teeth as usual, and the trays are briefly soaked and then brushed before being returned to the mouth. By contrast, cleaning with traditional braces is time-consuming and difficult, and braces often become the site of decay or tooth markings. Moreover, the decay or markings under traditional braces can be difficult to see, even on dental x-rays, because of the arrangement of brackets and wires on the teeth.
Invisalign systems also appear to have certain other advantages over traditional systems of braces. There is some evidence that root resorption (unwanted shortening of tooth roots in the alignment process) occurs less, if at all, with Invisalign methods. Other risks, such as loss of tooth vitality, may be reduced with Invisalign. The Invisalign systems are also reportedly more comfortable in the mouth. Though some patients report initial pressure or discomfort during the first few days after new trays are placed, Invisalign has little record of the mouth sores so commonly produced by the wires and brackets of conventional orthodontic treatments.
After treatment, the Invisalign patient is advised to wear a set of retainers to ensure the new alignment is maintained. All tooth straightening systems make this recommendation. Retainers are either permanently fixed behind the teeth or worn as plastic aligners in the mouth during nighttime sleep.
If there is a problem specific to Invisalign, it is that patients must be vigilant in wearing the trays for the full twenty-two to twenty-four hours a day required for the system to work. Failure to do so results in longer treatment times and greater expense. A dentist should also ensure that candidates for the Invisalign method have completed any major dental repairs necessary before the start of treatment. Marked changes to teeth during the treatment period could require the manufacture of different trays and potentially increase overall expense.
Invisalign as a product was originally introduced in 1999 to straighten teeth with mild to moderate alignment problems. Over time, the product has been able to expand its area of application. Beyond the refinements of Invisalign Teen, both systems can now move a greater range of teeth to include many more with problematic positioning: teeth that are badly tipped, uneven in height relative to other teeth, short in the crown, or rotated past twenty degrees from the ideal. To aid in the alignment of such teeth, tooth-coloured “buttons” or “attachments” are bonded onto the tooth surface. These small augmentations allow the Invisalign trays more “grip” in altering tooth positions. If such additions are part of a patient’s treatment plan, the dentist receives a computer-generated indented guide to their location on the tooth in conjunction with the set of alignment trays being placed.
The Invisalign systems are designed to be used by any dentist or orthodontist trained in their use. The systems are not appropriate, however, to some serious alignment problems. Severe malocclusions (poor teeth alignments resulting in uneven bite) arising from skeletal deformities may require surgery or treatment with more traditional orthodontic devices. For some tooth positions, movement using Invisalign may be more difficult. Moreover, in circumstances where certain teeth have already been removed or where tooth spacing for the mouth exceeds six millimetres in total, Invisalign may not be the treatment of choice. Additionally, your dental provider can advise you as to whether some minor alignments of the teeth may be made with simpler and older methods of invisible plastic aligners.
Nevertheless, despite these limitations, Invisalign and Invisalign Teen, have increasingly come to occupy a large, middle-ground in tooth alignment therapy. Because of their cosmetic advantages, their ease in terms of tooth and appliance cleaning, their comprehensive planning and production strategies, their reduction of tooth damage, and their relative comfort, Invisalign systems now boast over two million patients, past and present. Moreover, there is no doubt that this attractive product has encouraged countless patients who would not have considered tooth straightening in the past to give themselves radically improved smiles and much better prospects for health and success in the future.