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How Clear Aligners are Different Than Braces

By Dr. Trevor Nichols

My name is Dr. Trevor Nichols. I am an orthodontic specialist, practice owner, speaker, and educator in Mesa, Arizona. I have treated thousands of cases using the Damon system and have been influential in Spark aligner (treatment using clear trays) system development and progression. I have great experience with clear aligners and am currently treating many Spark cases, including aligner treatment using skeletal anchors and other unique modalities. I am so excited to discuss the benefits of clear aligner treatment in today’s world, and how Spark has made a difference for our patients and transformed their lives.

Orthodontic treatment is extremely rewarding. There is no comparison to the excitement of tooth movement progression and the joy of obtaining an amazing result. It is important to note that orthodontics is not just about esthetics. It is more than just straightening teeth, it involves many complex biological processes to obtain the best position of the teeth to maintain a healthy bite, while preserving ligaments, bone, tissue, and ensuring that these will remain healthy over a lifetime.

Ultimately, our job as orthodontists is to provide a life-changing event. We strive to utilize technology, knowledge of tooth movement, and artistry to create a healthy, life-lasting, beautiful smile that radiates from ear-to-ear. Orthodontists are dentist who specialize in tooth movement through an advanced and competitive residency program that is an additional 2-3 years after completion of dental school.

Orthodontists are best suited to treat orthodontic cases to ensure successful treatment. The American Association of Orthodontics conducted a study that showed approximately 30% of orthodontic patients are adults (AAO Economics of Orthodontics). This study also showed that 92% of these patients said they would recommend treatment to their adult friends and family as they found newfound self-confidence, and improvements in career and personal relationships as a result of orthodontic treatment. We know that in practice, the number of orthodontic adult patients is continuing to grow. This demand is a reflection of the increase in technology and esthetics in orthodontics, with a large percentage of these patients being treated by clear aligner systems. The demand of treatment esthetics, comfort, treatment duration, and cost have never been more important.

I have found through my experience of treating many patients using braces and clear trays that many patients do not understand how clear trays work, or how they might function differently than other types of orthodontic treatment.

How Clear Aligners Work

The basics of treatment using trays is that first, a qualified orthodontic specialist establishes a customized diagnosis and treatment plan based on the needs and desires of the patient, clinical examination, photos, and radiographs. Second, additional records are taken of the teeth themselves using impressions, or computerized intra oral scanning devices. These records are then digitized. The orthodontist will then gather all of the records and with the use of a computer system, plan out the movement and final position of each tooth. Once the movement and sequence is finalized, models of each stage are printed by a laboratory. The trays are then fabricated from the staged models and bagged and labeled. They are then sent to the orthodontic office. The patient is then seen for a delivery appointment where the trays are tried in and delivered. Most providers will supply the patient with several sets of trays to wear approximately 20-22 hours per day that will be changed out weekly. It is important that no food is consumed while the trays are in. Trays are fairy easy to place and remove just using one’s fingers. The patient will come in for office visits to ensure that the trays are producing the desired tooth movement.

In contrast, orthodontic treatment using braces is much different. After a diagnosis and treatment plan are determined, using the same records described above, the doctor and his team will place the braces on each tooth by hand. After the braces are placed, wires are engaged into the designated slot in each bracket. Initial wires are very small and flexible to align the teeth. At subsequent visits, wire sizes are increased to a designated wire size where the doctor will then make bends or adjustments to the wire to accomplish smaller tooth movement.

Clear aligner treatment, earlier known as “tooth positioners” date back to the 1940’s. These appliances were made of rubber to make final corrections after treatment with braces. Clear aligners, as an alternative to braces, began in the mid 1990’s. Since then, 3D technology has increased and we have made great strides to treat some truly amazing cases. Spark, in particular, is a type of aligner system that includes the latest and greatest in esthetics, comfort, and tooth movement.

Braces vs Aligners. Which are better?

Most patients that are interested in transforming their smile approach an orthodontic specialist with specific questions. A common question that I get in a smile-transformation consultation is, “which is better, braces vs aligners?” My response is that it depends on the case. There are several clear advantages to straightening teeth without braces using clear aligners. Ultimately, patients should seek out an orthodontist to determine what type of treatment is best for each case.

  1. The first clear advantage in aligner treatment is esthetics. Many patients are apprehensive about transforming their smile because they do not want metal braces, or wires. They want something that is effective at straightening teeth without braces. It is our task as orthodontist to provide an option that is esthetic that will also provide them with a fantastic result. It has been my experience after using many types of aligners to treat patients, that Spark is the most esthetic option that also provides the most effective and efficient result. Using clear trays that are changed every week provides patients with an option of nearly invisible treatment and reduces the barrier of metal brackets and wires to allow them to achieve the smile of their dreams without the braces look.
  2. The next advantage to using clear trays is that they can be much more comfortable than braces. Rather than having the potential of wires poking, and brackets rubbing on cheeks and gums, the clear trays provide a treatment option that is much more comfortable to the patient. Eating and chewing can be troublesome with brackets and wires, and the ability to have trays that can be removed while eating is always appreciated.
  3. The ability to plan a case digitally, using the most innovate technologies, allows doctors to treatment plan differently. Using Spark software, we have the ability to plan each tooth movement using science and mathematics that can be seen and shared with the patient before they even start treatment. This is a major win for patients to count down their treatment duration as they continue to switch trays for continued movement.
  4. Another advantage to using clear aligners if in efficiency of movement. One of the principles of orthodontic tooth movement is light and continuous forces. With the changing in trays and the consistency of light forces, patients can feel at ease, knowing the treatment is progressing as efficiently as biology allows. Furthermore, in most cases patients will be informed of their exact finish date, who doesn’t love that!
  5. In my practice treatment utilizing clear trays also allows patients decreased visits to the orthodontic office. With busy lifestyles and demanding careers many patients truly appreciate that they do not need to visit the office every month.
  6. Important to all patients is the cost of treatment. Thankfully using clear trays, specifically the Spark system, there are different levels of treatment based on a patient’s needs and desires. This allows for a flexible system for affordability for all.
  7. As a dentist and orthodontist, I am concerned with my patient’s ability to maintain optimal hygiene during treatment. Having metal braces, elastic chains, wires, and more can be a trap for bacteria and food, making hygiene more difficult and labor-some. Undergoing treatment with aligners allows for patients to remove the trays to floss, brush, and continue great hygiene practices much more easily. Before undergoing orthodontic treatment, all patients should consider seeking a qualified orthodontist. Patients should also understand that they have options when it comes to their treatment. If clear aligners are recommended, patients should understand that they also have a choice in the brand of the aligner, as this makes a significant impact on their case result.
Dr. Trevor Nichols

Ultimately, having options is important to all orthodontists, and to all patients. Clear aligners provide patients with an alternative to brackets and wires that might better suit their needs and desires. In addition, Spark™ Clear aligners offer an alternative to get straight teeth and a beautiful smile without braces or Invisalign™. If you are considering orthodontic treatment, I encourage you to see your local orthodontist and inquire about Spark aligners. They will then be able to answer additional questions and provide a braces cost comparison, inform you on how much clear teeth aligners cost, and offer you additional insights on your case to help you achieve the smile of your dreams. The Spark aligner system offers the most advanced aligners in terms of esthetics, stain-resistance, comfort and ease of use, predictable and efficient tooth movement, and quality of results. We have found in our practice that patients have been overwhelmingly happy with the Spark system.

*Dr. Trevor Nichols is a paid consultant for Ormco.
The opinions that are quoted in this material are those of Dr. Nicolas. Clinicians use your own judgement when treating your patients.

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