My wife and I were at a party having a discussion with a couple we had just met. Upon finding out I was an orthodontist, the wife says, ‘Sorry to talk business with you, but can you really straighten teeth without braces nowadays? Do those clear things really work?’ If I had a dollar every time I’ve been asked that over the years. I graduated from my orthodontic residency in 1999, and that same year, I was trained to use the brand new Invisalign System*. Many at the time thought ‘That plastic will never work!’. I had different thoughts though. I felt this would really open up orthodontic treatment to a segment of the population that never would have pursued treatment if it meant having braces. Many adults either didn’t feel comfortable being in braces or had bad memories from childhood ‘old school’ braces.
In 1999, Invisalign from Align Tech became readily available for orthodontists to treat a variety of orthodontic cases. Prior to Invisalign, clear aligners had been used for minor front teeth corrections, but these were typically made by the orthodontist in their office and were tedious to make and could only be used for minor movements. Invisalign was virtually the only company that could offer this for many years due to the patents they held. Over time, some of these patents began to expire and other companies could offer clear aligner treatment, but on a limited basis. Eventually, the patents fully expired and virtually every orthodontic and dental company in the world began offering clear aligner treatment.
Clear aligner treatment involves wearing the aligners pretty close to full time day and night. Patients remove the aligners while eating and brushing. Some aligners need to be removed when drinking coffee, tea or other liquids that could stain them, while some aligners can be left in. It is dependent on the staining properties of the material used by each company. One of the most established and trusted orthodontic companies, Ormco, has introduced their clear aligner system, Spark, and the properties of the material minimize aligner stains and this allows the patient to leave the aligners in throughout the day while drinking coffee or other liquids. This has been a big positive in my orthodontic practice. I live in Portland, Oregon and everyone here drinks coffee throughout the day. In fact, I think if given the opportunity, we would all just soak in a large bathtub full of coffee. Being able to leave the aligners in during this day long sipping of coffee has increased the predictability of tooth movement with clear aligners for my patients.
When patients come to my practice to investigate orthodontic treatment, there are four main questions that are asked.
- Will this hurt?
- Can I be treated with Clear Aligners?
- How long will this take?
- How much will this cost?
Will this hurt?
Clear aligners are similar to braces in how they move they teeth. They put a force or moment on a tooth, guiding it towards the desired position. The discomfort the tooth feels is similar in both braces and in aligners. Over the years, the technology used in braces is different than a lot of us experienced as kids undergoing orthodontic treatment. The force levels used to move teeth are now lower than they were back then. Due to this lowering of force, the teeth don’t tend to get as sore as we remember. This is true for both braces and clear aligners. Now, don’t get me wrong. The teeth do still get sore, but not to the level a lot of us remember ‘back in the day.’
Can I be treated with clear aligners?
When aligners first came along, the technology was not to the level of braces. It was a decent product that could straighten teeth, but in more complex cases, aligners really struggled to finish the case properly. Over the years, the technology continued to improve and closed the gap with braces technology. Today, using Spark Clear Aligners, I don’t feel there are cases I can’t treat with clear aligners. Virtually any case I treat, I can offer the option of either braces or Spark Clear Aligners and feel confident I will deliver an excellent result with both technologies.
How long will this take?
Going back to the last paragraph regarding the technology of braces compared to aligners, it used to take longer to treat cases with aligners. Again, as the technology of aligners has improved, this time difference has changed. Today, with Spark Clear Aligners, cases take the same amount of time in my practice whether I am using braces or the Spark Clear Aligners. In fact, there are some cases that go even faster with Spark Clear Aligners because I am able to control the side effects better. There is one big caveat to this though. The patient needs to be consistent in wearing the aligners! With clear aligners, the patient is more in control of how the treatment progresses due to the ability to take the aligners out. Obviously, when the aligner is out of the mouth, the teeth are not moving. If the patient is consistent in wearing the aligners 20-22 hours each day, then Spark Clear Aligner treatment progresses at an equal time frame to braces in my office.
How much will this cost?
While every case is different and thus the cost of treatment can vary, in my office, the cost for Spark Clear Aligner treatment is the same as the cost for treatment with braces. We have set our pricing to be the same, thus allowing the patient to make their choice of treatment dependent solely on what they feel is the best option for them. By taking a financial decision out of the equation, patients can then make the best decision for their treatment.
Orthodontic treatment with Spark Clear Aligners is an excellent alternative to braces for patients seeking to correct their bites, straighten their teeth and perfect their smiles. For patients desiring a clear option for their orthodontic treatment, I feel Spark Clear Aligners provides an excellent method to accomplish this.