Many people seeking orthodontic treatment today are interested in the possibility of clear aligner treatment instead of traditional braces. There are various reasons for this, but most patients that select clear aligners desire a more esthetic solution versus traditional metal braces and wires. Through direct-to-consumer marketing, patients have become more aware of the various clear aligner products like 3M Clarity aligners, Invisalign, and at-home treatments like Smile Direct Club. At their core, all these products are similar. They are all just clear aligners. So, what are clear aligners and how do they work?
Clear aligners are a series of thermoplastic trays that are custom made to progressively push misaligned teeth into the desired positions. To fabricate the aligners, a digital scan and photos of the patient’s current teeth are sent to the aligner company for processing. The doctor then programs the computer system to move the teeth digitally on the screen until he or she is satisfied with not only the final position of the teeth, but the path they will take to get there. Once the plan is approved by the doctor, the computer system will then divide the movement of each tooth into small increments of the overall planned movements, and an aligner will be fabricated for each of those steps. The aligner company will fabricate the series of aligners and ship them to the doctor for delivery to the patient. The doctor will then bond software programmed tooth colored composite resin attachments on the teeth. These attachments are critical for the overall success of the doctor managed clear aligner solutions. They provide something for the aligner to snap onto or grip throughout the treatment and are an important difference between doctor managed aligners and do-it-yourself aligners like Smile Direct Club which does not incorporate attachments at all. Each aligner is usually worn for one week at a time before progression to the next aligner in the series. Each aligner will then push the teeth a small increment toward the planned final position. Doctors usually deliver multiple weeks of aligners to patients and assess the progress after several weeks where they will deliver the next set of aligners until the planned movements are completed.
Clear aligners are an effective tool that can be an excellent alternative to traditional braces if used in appropriate cases. Skilled and experienced orthodontists or dentists know not to use clear aligners in every case, and patients should be aware that there are cases where clear aligners would be the wrong choice. Patients should expect their doctor to assess their condition and recommend the appropriate appliance to accomplish the desired objectives, even if it’s traditional braces and wires. Part of the doctor’s assessment will be the patient’s likelihood of compliance and ability to consistently wear and change the aligners based upon the plan. Aligner burnout is a real problem, and some patients lack the long-term attention and commitment to proper aligner management for them to be appropriate candidates for aligner therapy.
So, if you’re considering orthodontic treatment and desire clear aligners, be realistic about your expectations. Be honest with yourself about whether you’ll be 100% committed to managing the aligners as per the doctor’s orders. And finally, understand that in many cases, clear aligners are a good approximation of braces, but braces are sometimes needed for a short period of time at the end of treatment for the doctor to confidently finish the treatment to meet their high standards.
If you’re interested in clear aligners, give Weaver Orthodontics a call at (910) 725-3216 or contact us to schedule a free consultation.