They’re now considered a legit alternative to traditional braces and can be a faster, less-conspicuous way to straighten out those chompers.
If you’ve ever flirted with the idea of getting clear aligners, you’ve probably wondered how they work and what you can expect. Here we’ll walk you through how aligners move your teeth, what the treatment process looks like, and how clear aligners are different from traditional braces work. Let’s dive in.
How Do Clear Aligners Work?
Clear aligners, also called “invisible aligners,” are durable plastic or acrylic trays that slowly shift your teeth into place. This happens over two phases:
1) Active treatment phase
In the first phase, aligners apply pressure to your teeth—usually just one tooth or a section of the mouth—encouraging them to shift where you want them to go. Every two weeks, you swap in a new aligner, each of which will be slightly different than the last. These small adjustments will gently nudge the ligament that surrounds the tooth to stretch on one side and shrink on the other.
New aligners may feel weird and uncomfortable at first, but this is just your body’s natural way of healing. Once the initial inflammation dies down, your body will create two types of bone cells: osteoclasts and osteoblasts. These terms may sound fancy and technical, but the process is actually pretty simple: Osteoclasts break down bone on one side, while osteoblasts create new bone on the other. This is what causes your teeth to move.
The more complex your treatment, the more aligners you’ll need and the longer it will take. Most aligner treatments take between 12 and 18 months, but Dandy takes only an average of seven months.
It’s best to wear your aligners at all times during this phase, except when you’re eating, drinking, or brushing your teeth. Yep, it takes work to get perfect teeth, but it’s worth it, we promise.
2) Passive healing phase
During this phase, your aligners won’t apply force to your teeth, but that doesn’t mean the hard work is over. Your teeth will still want to shift back to their original position, so it’s important that you continue to wear your aligners around the clock. This phase can take months, depending on your teeth. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to a straighter smile!
The Clear Aligner Treatment Process
Now that you know exactly how clear aligners move your teeth, let’s dig into the actual treatment process and how it stacks up to traditional braces. Here’s the rundown:
Step 1: Meet with a doctor
With Dandy, your treatment will kick off with a meeting with one of our friendly local doctors. They’ll take a 3D scan of your mouth to make sure you’re a good fit for clear aligners, plus do a full exam and hygiene check to ID any hurdles that may impact your aligner treatment, like cavities or crowded teeth.
Some clear aligner providers cut the doctor out of the equation altogether and send clay impression kits to your home. This may sound convenient, but impression kits are unpleasant (you have to bite into clay) and can be difficult to use properly (because, well, you aren’t a dentist). This is why a lot of impression-kit clear aligner treatments fail. Not to mention poorly fitting aligners can be super painful.
Skip the sketchy impression kit and look for a clear aligner provider that starts you off with an X-ray or, even better, a 3D scan of your mouth. Since your pics will be taken by a pro, they’ll only need to be taken once, whereas clay impressions often need to be redone to make sure they’re correct. Who wants to bite into weird goo more than once? Not us!
Step 2: Get a treatment plan
After your Dandy doctor takes your initial snapshot, your info will be sent to a certified orthodontist who will work with your doc to design a treatment plan that’s right for you. They’ll also provide a 3D preview of what your new smile will look like, giving you even more incentive to stick to your aligner schedule.
Many clear aligner providers make you hike back to the dentist to pick up your aligners and may even require regular follow-ups throughout your treatment. We know you’re busy, so we deliver your aligners right to your door. Your Dandy team won’t leave you hanging though—they’ll keep tabs on your progress through monthly photos shared via our mobile app and will step in if they spot any issues.
Traditional braces are also a huge time suck. It’ll take your orthodontist about an hour or two to put your braces on initially, and you’ll have to pop in for regular visits to get your braces tightened and adjusted (ouch!). Not to mention most traditional braces take two years to work.
Step 3: Post-treatment
When the finish line is in sight, your Dandy doc will take another look at your teeth to see if everything is up to snuff. If it is, your treatment will be complete, and you can move into the passive healing phase. If there’s still room for improvement, we’ll hook you up with refinement aligners on us (no extra cost to you).
After your aligner treatment wraps up, you’ll need to wear a retainer to protect your new smile and keep your pearly whites in place. Otherwise, your teeth will try their hardest to move back to where they were before your treatment. Some aligner companies charge extra for your retainer, but with Dandy, it’s on the house.
You’ll need to wear a retainer after traditional braces come off too, and you might even need more cosmetic work to whiten your smile or clear up plaque accumulation. With clear aligners, you don’t have to worry about any nasty buildup. Smile on!
How do invisible aligners work? Here’s a quick recap:
- Step 1: Meet your doctor. They’ll scan your mouth and create a custom treatment plan. They’ll also ID any issues that may affect your treatment.
- Step 2. Get a treatment plan. Your aligners will be delivered to your door. All you have to do is pop them in and follow the schedule laid out by your Dandy doctor.
- Step 3: Post-treatment and smiles for days. Wear your aligners as directed to keep your new smile in place.