If you want to straighten your teeth, but the thought of wearing braces is holding you back, Invisalign clear aligners could sound more appealing.
Introduced more than 20 years ago, the Invisalign system has become a popular alternative to traditional braces for adults and older teens who prefer a more discreet orthodontic treatment – but it's not the best choice for everyone.
Your dentist can assess your teeth and jaws to tell you whether you're a candidate for Invisalign treatment or if discreet braces could be a better option. They will give you all the information you need about what these treatments involve so you can decide whether Invisalign or braces is the right choice for you.
Do I need braces or aligners?
Braces and Invisalign aligners are both orthodontic treatments concerned with bringing your teeth into better alignment. Crooked or misaligned teeth can cause many problems if they're not addressed, including:
- Higher risk of developing oral health problems if it's difficult to brush and floss your teeth
- Eating difficulties, which may affect nutrition
- Speech difficulties or issues with appearance, which may affect self esteem
- Risk of injury to protruding teeth or gums where teeth dig in
- Uneven pressure on teeth and jaws, which may lead to problems such as tooth damage or sensitivity
Invisalign and braces can both be effective for treating a range of common orthodontic conditions, including overbite, open bite, crowding or gaps between teeth. However, Invisalign is generally less effective at treating more complex orthodontic issues.
If you need a more intensive teeth straightening treatment, your dentist may recommend metal braces or they may refer you to a specialist orthodontist.
How do braces and aligners work?
Braces and Invisalign aligners can achieve similar results using orthodontic appliances that apply gentle pressure to the teeth. This encourages the teeth to gradually shift over the course of the treatment until they reach their desired position or alignment. The differences are:
- Orthodontic braces use brackets and wires that are attached to your teeth and connected by rubber bands. Braces are fixed in place and can only be removed by your dentist. You will see your dentist for regular check-ups every few weeks so they can tighten or adjust the appliance.
- Invisalign aligners are removable, but they should be worn all the time except when you're eating or cleaning your teeth. Each set of aligners is designed to be slightly different from the last and should be replaced with the next set every 2 weeks.
Both are long-term treatments that take 1 to 2 years on average to straighten teeth, but results may be faster or take longer, depending on your case.
Whether you choose Invisalign or braces, you will normally need to wear a retainer after your treatment for a time. This helps to hold your teeth in their new position and prevents them from shifting back.
Types of braces
When you think about braces, you might be picturing the metal braces of your school days, but modern braces are more discreet and available in a choice of styles and materials. Depending on your orthodontic needs, your dentist may discuss options such as:
Metal braces are the strongest option and may be the best choice if you have a more severe orthodontic issue or prefer a shorter treatment time. These braces will be more visible on your teeth, but they are more streamlined than older metal braces of the past.
Made from strong ceramic, these white or 'invisible' braces can be matched to your natural tooth shade so they blend in with your smile. Ceramic braces can achieve similar results to metal braces in most cases, but they may not be an option for complex cases.
These metal braces will be even less visible in your mouth, as they are attached behind the teeth. However, they are more limited in what they can achieve and they can sometimes affect speech or cause discomfort if they force your tongue into a new position.
Braces vs. Invisalign
Invisalign and braces each have their pros and cons, and either could be the best choice depending on your individual needs and preferences. Here's a brief overview of how braces and Invisalign compare in 5 categories:
If you don't want to draw attention to your orthodontic treatment in your day to day life, Invisalign will be more appealing than braces. Your custom aligners will be made from clear plastic that's designed to fit perfectly over your teeth and should be virtually invisible in your mouth.
Some Invisalign patients require attachments that help their aligners to grip their teeth. These can be matched to your natural tooth shade to make them less visible, but not everyone needs them.
Braces are more visible on the teeth, but this can be lessened by choosing tooth-coloured ceramic braces or lingual braces. However, there can be cases where metal braces are the only option for more serious teeth straightening.
Both Invisalign and braces can feel a little uncomfortable at first, when you're not used to the pressure on your teeth. This will normally fade as your mouth adjusts, and the adjustment period is usually shorter for Invisalign.
Invisalign aligners are made from patented SmartTrack® material, which fits over the teeth like a mouthguard and feels softer in the mouth than braces. This can mean less irritation to your lips and the inside of your mouth compared to rubbing from braces.
If braces are damaged or a wire comes loose, this may cause damage or injuries to your teeth and the soft tissues of your mouth. These risks can be avoided with Invisalign aligners, which don't have sharp components.
Unlike braces, which are fixed in place, Invisalign aligners are removable. This makes daily oral hygiene such as brushing and flossing your teeth easier with Invisalign than with braces, which can be slow and sometimes frustrating.
Your dentist will also advise that you avoid certain types of foods with braces if they could damage or dislodge the appliance, such as hard, sticky and chewy foods. By contrast, Invisalign won't affect your diet.
Braces may have their downsides, but when your treatment is provided by an experienced dentist or orthodontist, they can make adjustments along the way to ensure the best possible results.
Braces also exert more force on the teeth than aligners, which makes them capable of treating a wider range of issues. Your orthodontic treatment may also be completed in a shorter time frame with braces.
Invisalign can still offer predictable outcomes, as long as you follow your dentist's advice and wear your aligners for at least 22 hours a day. This reliance on patient compliance can make Invisalign unsuitable for people who feel they may lack the discipline to use their aligners as advised.
In most cases, braces and Invisalign cost about the same.
Invisalign can be more expensive than braces if you're having a short-term treatment, but the long term cost of Invisalign vs braces tends to be similar. Your dentist can give you a breakdown of your orthodontic costs after they've completed your assessment.
Whichever option you choose, the cost of braces and Invisalign is not normally covered by standard health insurance, though it may be included on some Extras plans.