The first question parents or adults researching orthodontic treatment for themselves usually ask is which type of braces should they get to correct their orthodontic problem. That question is generally followed by, “What’s better, clear aligners or braces?” or “Do clear aligners work as well as braces do?” It’s best to answer these questions by noting that there is no one best or right way for orthodontic treatment to be done.
An accurate diagnosis is the first step in determining the best treatment option. An orthodontic exam (which includes a visual exam, X-rays, taking images of the face, and a review of past dental records) will reveal the problem or problems that need correcting. Then the best treatment approach can be discussed based on needs, goals and patient lifestyle preferences.1
That brings us to what the patient or parent is looking for in terms of aesthetics, treatment time, ease of hygiene, compliance, food and beverage consumption, frequency of in-person doctor visits, and ideal finished look.
Both braces and aligners have advantages and disadvantages. But regardless of the choice of braces or clear aligners, all patients should maintain good hygiene by brushing and flossing every day, and wear a retainer at the end of treatment to ensure their investment yields the best possible outcome for a lifetime.1
In this article we will review the advantages of clear aligner treatment and note a few watchouts.
How Clear Aligners Work And Who Can Wear Them
Clear aligners are a wonderful modern invention, and case studies show they really do work for most patients.2 Custom made to fit your exact teeth, they are manufactured from patented clear plastic material that places gentle, continuous pressure on your teeth, moving them over time into their desired positions.3 Daily wearing time is typically about 22 hours a day.4 Each aligner set is slightly different and is to be worn according to your doctor’s directions, but usually for about one to two weeks.5 Depending upon the orthodontic issues to resolve, aligners can be a great treatment choice for many adults and kids with mild to moderate malocclusion (crowding, extra spacing, overbite, underbite, crossbite, open bite).6 And now there are a few clear aligners cleared by the FDA for treatment of both adults and kids.7 The most recent aligner brand to receive FDA clearance for mixed dentition (both primary and secondary teeth as you would find in kids) is Spark Clear Aligners.7
Top 9 Advantages Of Clear Aligners Vs. Traditional Braces
Below are some of the most desirable advantages of clear aligners:
- Discreet Look: Clear aligners, like their name, are nearly invisible plastic trays that, when worn, are very discreet compared to metal braces. They are designed to minimize the appearance of the appliance to better fit any lifestyle.8 Spark Clear Aligners, mentioned above, are more clear than the leading aligner brand.9
- Removable: Because they are removable, aligners are much more flexible than braces, which are affixed to your teeth permanently until removed. Although they should be worn except when eating or brushing (approximately 22 hours a day, or as prescribed by your doctor), they can be removed for an important meeting, interview, photo shoot or other key moments, as long as these occasions are the exception rather than the rule.10 A watch out is to not misplace or accidentally toss out your aligners because they are removable, or to not wear them long enough each day as this could extend treatment time. Aligners can only move your teeth when they are in your mouth.11
- Greater Comfort: Although there is some discomfort in moving teeth from one location to a more desirable location, clear aligners can be more comfortable than conventional braces because of how they consistently apply gentle pressure to move the teeth and the fact that there are no uncomfortable brackets touching the lips or inside of the mouth.¹² And for the greatest comfort, consider, Spark Clear Aligners. With scalloped, polished and smoother edges, they are more comfortable than the leading aligner brand.13
- Dental Hygiene: Brushing and flossing can be difficult with braces. Because aligners are removed for brushing and flossing, proper dental hygiene is easy to maintain, so patients are likely to have much less gingivitis and inflammation, which can improve overall oral health.14
- Eat and Drink what Makes You Happy. Patients with aligners can eat and drink what they want because aligners are removed for eating. With braces, patients are advised to not eat anything that can easily break a bracket, such as popcorn, chips, hard or chewy candies — or biting into hard surfaces such as an apple or carrot stick. And sugary, carbonated sodas are discouraged or off limits for patients wearing braces. There are no food limitations with aligners.15 As an added benefit, Spark Clear Aligners stain less from food and beverage residue than the leading aligner brand, so your aligners will remain more clear during treatment.16
- Aligners Treat a Wide Variety of Cases. Depending upon the orthodontic issues to resolve, aligners can be a great treatment choice for most adults and kids with mild to moderate malocclusion (crowding, extra spacing, overbite, underbite, crossbite, open bite).17 In fact, some orthodontists who used to treat with conventional braces now only treat with clear aligners.
- No Broken Brackets: Unlike braces, where brackets can break and need to be replaced, aligners don’t have this maintenance issue. Replacing broken brackets often adds extra treatment time and can incur additional costs if not covered by your provider.
- Fewer Office visits. Your doctor will set your treatment plan and design your custom aligners using high-tech software and 3D images of your teeth at the beginning of your treatment process. Because there are no wires or brackets, office visits can be less frequent and are dedicated to ensuring your treatment is progressing as planned. You will see your doctor about every 8-10 weeks for an examination and to pick up your next set/s of aligners.18
- Designed for More Effective Treatment: Spark Clear Aligners, made with TruGEN™ material, are designed for more efficient and effective tooth movement, compared to the leading aligner brand.19
Prepare For Your Orthodontic Consultation
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends you carefully consider an aligner treatment that involves a doctor’s diagnosis, customized treatment plan, and regular visits with a skilled orthodontist versus a mail-order product that does not involve oversight from a trained orthodontist.20
Once you have found one or more orthodontists you would like to meet with for a consultation, come prepared with a list of questions, concerns and treatment preferences. Here are some questions you should be prepared to answer:
- What is the goal of your treatment?
- What concerns you most about your teeth or smile?
- How fast do you want to complete treatment?
- How important is the appearance of the treatment method you plan to use for teeth straightening?
- How important is comfort during treatment?
- Do you have insurance? How do you plan to cover treatment cost?
During your consultation, your orthodontist can advise you on which treatment methods would work best for your orthodontic issues and match your lifestyle and treatment preferences. And you can ask him/her what he or she thinks the best clear aligners are and why. Not all doctors are trained to offer more than one type. For example, some doctors are trained to offer and prefer Spark over the leading aligner brand. Discuss the benefits with your doctor.
The Cost Of Clear Aligners Vs. Braces
Sometimes we hear, “Are clear aligners cheaper than braces?” Depending upon which types of braces or aligners are being recommended for treatment, the costs can be comparable, with an average cost of $5,000-$6,000.21 Aligner therapy through a doctor’s office can be slightly more expensive than basic conventional braces, depending on the products used. And do-it-yourself aligners through a mail-order company can be the least expensive. If you have insurance, let your orthodontist’s treatment coordinator know the details of your policy. He or she can let you know what costs will be covered and can advise you on any payment plans they offer to make paying for your treatment easier.22
If you and your doctor determine clear aligners are a good option for you, you will be pleased to see how advanced they have become in the past few years in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, clarity, and comfort.