Invisalign has been around since the late ’90s, but unless you’re a dentist, it’s likely you know very little about the technology behind it. Celebs like Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish, Gisele Bündchen and even Serena Williams have had amazing transformations with Invisalign, but the reason to invest in this subtle alternative to braces goes far beyond getting a Hollywood smile. “I have seen profound improvements to people’s overall gum health, reduced risk of cavities, and improvements to recession,” says Dr. Aisling Whitaker, dentist and owner of Bitehaus Dental in Toronto’s St. Clair neighbourhood. Think of it this way: You might go to your dentist concerned about the way one or two teeth look, but that misalignment might be causing a number of issues underneath the surface, including gum disease. “When teeth are aligned, they are much easier to clean, whether you’re flossing or not. Whether it’s Invisalign or traditional orthodontics, [alignment] plays a huge role in overall oral health.” Below, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about Invisalign from start to finish.
What is Invisalign and how does it differ from traditional braces?
Invisalign is a teeth-straightening treatment that uses clear aligners to move your teeth into place. These transparent trays can be worn for up to 22 hours per day and are typically replaced every week until the teeth are aligned, which is usually accomplished within 12-18 months.
“[Compared to braces], the level of discomfort felt by the patient is generally lower, the hygienic aspect is better and it’s more discreet looking,” says Whitaker. With Invisalign, you can easily take out the aligners to floss your teeth and clean hard-to-reach areas, which usually means less cavities (yay!).
Traditional braces require visits to the orthodontist or dentist every six to eight weeks for wire adjustments. In the case of Invisalign, instead of changing the wire every six weeks, you switch to a new tray every week. This means that the rate of change remains the same, and the teeth move the same distance, but the adjustments occur in smaller increments along the treatment process. The gradual movement that occurs with each new tray results in milder initial tightness when compared to braces.
Is Invisalign invisible?
Almost. Invisalign aligners are made of clear plastic, so they blend in with your teeth. However, it’s important to be aware of the attachments, often referred to as “buttons,” that are often placed on the surface of the teeth. “They’re like little white triangles and squares that are colour-matched to your tooth structure,” Whitaker explains. “I describe them to patients as steering wheels. Without those attachments the teeth movement isn’t predictable.”
“I’m very honest with my patients about the attachments, including their size, position, and the number of teeth involved,” she says. You can think of them as pressure levers that guide the teeth into their proper positions, based on the specific movement needed for each tooth. This aspect of Invisalign has undergone extensive research over the years, making treatment accessible to more people than ever before. So, while the attachments may be slightly more noticeable, they’re still quite subtle, and often necessary.
How often do I need to go to the dentist once I get started?
From the initial consultation to receiving your first set of aligners, the process typically takes about two weeks. Then, expect regular checkup appointments with your dentist or orthodontist every four to six weeks to monitor your progress.
One of the advantages of Invisalign is the integrated digital treatment plan that streamlines the process. “First, we digitally scan the teeth — no gel — and send the scan to Invisalign. Then, we receive a model of your teeth, showing what each aligner is going to do week-by-week,” Whitaker says. “This means that when patients come in for their appointments, we can scan their teeth and see that it’s tracking according to plan. It’s predictable, which is very motivational for the patient.”
With A.I. coming into play, that four-to-six weeks timeline might change sooner than we think. “There’s a new innovation called ‘dental monitoring’ or ’A.I.-driven virtual care’ that enables patients to scan their mouths at home using their smartphones, and it’s a total game-changer in dentistry,” says Whitaker. It monitors around 150 data points and provides weekly virtual reports to the dentist, allowing for timely adjustments and faster results, especially if the treatment is going smoothly. This advancement has the potential to significantly reduce the need for in-person visits while providing a secure and convenient way for doctors to communicate with their patients outside of the office.
Who is the best candidate for Invisalign?
Invisalign is suitable for many adults and teens who have mild to moderate orthodontic issues such as crooked teeth, gaps, and even overcrowding. “When I was a teenager and I had traditional braces, I had a lot of teeth removed. In general, we don’t want to do that anymore. We don’t want to be extracting healthy teeth, we want to be maintaining a big wide arch so that people can breathe well, sleep well and have room for their tongue,” says Whitaker. With Invisalign, it’s possible to widen the smile and gain more space by making sure the back teeth aren’t tilted. Other processes that can be done in conjunction with Invisalign include I.P.R. (also known as interproximal reduction) which can slightly reshape any extra wide teeth to make them more uniform.
Those who require more complex orthodontics and even certain skull shapes may be better suited to traditional braces, so it’s always best to consult with your practitioner before diving in. Another thing to consider: Your suitability for Invisalign also depends on whether or not you’re *actually* willing to commit to the process. “Patient compliance is a huge factor,” she says. “Some teenagers are amazing with Invisalign, and others just wear it half the time, and then it’s not going to work.”
Can I use Invisalign after I’ve had braces?
Absolutely! “The majority of the patients that I see are adults who had braces in the past, who maybe didn’t know how diligent they needed to be with their retainers,” says Whitaker. “Or they haven’t had a retainer in 10 years and want to do some nice finishing touches.”
Do I need to remove my Invisalign every time I eat or drink?
This one may surprise you: For the most part, you don’t. “In the past, we used to recommend that patients take their aligners out for eating and drinking, but now research has shown that if you have them in as much as possible, and you wear them in while you’re eating, the pressure from that chewing actually speeds up treatment and makes it more successful,” she says. But don’t reach for the sour gummies just yet. “We do tell people to take them out while eating and drinking sugary foods and highly staining things, like red wine, blueberries or turmeric.”
Does Invisalign hurt?
While Invisalign is generally less painful than traditional braces, you may still experience some discomfort or pressure when you switch to a new set of aligners, which typically subsides within a few days as your teeth adjust. “For the majority of my patients, it’s not usually enough to need a painkiller, but certain things can help with that discomfort,” says Whitaker. She recommends “Munchies” or “Chewies,” which are essentially tripod and tube-shaped chew toys. “They can help you fit your aligner in because gnawing on something stimulates movement and also helps with discomfort — it’s like how young babies use teethers,” says Whitaker. “There’s also other vibration devices that many companies have tried — some dentists swear by them — but I find that they usually aren’t needed, and are a higher cost item.”
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What’s the best way to keep my Invisalign clean?
Invisalign sells its own cleaning system and cleaning crystals, but priced at $70 and $56 respectively, they don’t come cheap. Luckily, there are some more affordable alternatives available. “Typically, I suggest that people brush their aligners with their toothbrush and water, but one of my favourite things to use is an ultrasonic cleaning machine typically meant for jewelry,” says Whitaker. Fill it with water — no product — and the vibrations help remove debris. It’s important to avoid using toothpaste as it may scratch the surface of the aligners. Instead, a small amount of mouthwash or diluted dish soap can also be used. If you choose to use a cleanser like Polydent, make sure you select the one designed for clear retainers to avoid potential dermatitis reactions. And remember: It is not meant for daily use, so use it sparingly for occasional cleaning.
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How much does Invisalign cost?
The cost depends on a number of factors, including the length of time that the patient is going to be in treatment, the level of complexity involved and where in Canada you are located. According to Whitaker, the average cost in Toronto can range anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 if you’re working with an orthodontist. While you might see advertisements for Invisalign as low as $2500, be wary: These often exclude the costs of monitoring and retainers.
Do I have to wear a retainer forever?
Short answer: yes. After completing your Invisalign treatment, you will need to wear a retainer to maintain the results. The duration of retainer use can vary from person to person, but it is common for individuals to wear a retainer full-time initially and then gradually transition to wearing it only at night. “The most important part of all orthodontic treatment, whether somebody goes ahead with traditional braces or Invisalign, is holding their teeth in place. Most patients are blissfully unaware that dentists want them to be wearing retainers for the rest of their life,” says Whitaker. “If you go on a fitness routine and you get really muscular, you have to keep up with the maintenance. It’s the same thing. You have to keep up with retaining your teeth, they want to constantly move throughout our lifetime.”
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