How To Keep Your Smile Bright During Clear Aligner Treatment
If you are thinking about clear aligners or have just started clear aligner therapy, you likely selected this treatment modality for their nearly clear, discreet appearance during treatment. Clear aligner treatment directed by an orthodontist is a very effective and popular approach because it provides a highly aesthetic option over traditional metal braces.
But without the proper care, clear aligners can stain and discolor, making the desired clarity much less desirable for the patient.
As an orthodontist with about 20 years’ experience and more than 2000 aligner patients, I wanted to share some practical tips and information so that you can select the best aligner product and keep it stain-free in order to feel your most confident during treatment.
Not All Aligners Are The Same
First, not all aligners are made with the same material. There is a newer aligner that is more clear and stain resistant — while being as effective, if not more effective, in moving teeth as other aligner products.* It is called Spark™ Clear Aligners and is made with TruGEN™ material, which has been proven to be more clear and stain-resistant than the leading competitor.*
There are other aligners you can order directly from the manufacturer, which do not involve a doctor or doctor visits in your treatment plan. I do not recommend these devices and treatment protocols because I have unfortunately been asked to correct one too many unhappy patients’ less-than-desirable smiles with some of these products.
How Do Aligners Stain?
Proper protocol while being treated with aligners is to remove them before eating and drinking. Then, ideally, you would brush your teeth before re-inserting your aligner. (Aligners should be worn about 22 hours a day, so basically whenever you are not eating, drinking, or brushing.)
But with today’s busy lifestyles, many patients do not brush after eating or drinking and before placing their aligners back in their mouths. As such, food and beverage residue can stain the clear plastic, turning it yellow and making it more noticeable during wear.
Any dark-colored food or drink can lead to stains, but here is a short list of some of the biggest culprits:
- Nicotine products, including cigarettes, vape products, and smokeless tobacco
- Berries (blueberry, raspberry, strawberry), cherries, or smoothies with these products
- Dark fruit juices (cherry, cranberry, blueberry, raspberry) and colored fruit-flavored drinks, such as Kool-Aid
- Dark, caramel-colored sodas, energy drinks
- Tea and coffee
- Alcoholic drinks such as red wine
- Deep, rich, colored sauces, such as spaghetti sauce and curry
- Hard or sticky dark or neon-colored candies
Tips For Avoiding Staining
The best way to avoid aligner stains is to eliminate the behaviors that cause them in the first place. These include:
- Do not drink or eat with your aligners in your mouth.
- Use a straw to drink dark beverages to reduce staining of your teeth (such as iced tea or coffee, dark juices, dark soda, etc.) with your aligners out.
- Brush your teeth after eating or drinking before re-inserting your aligners.
- Clean your aligners to keep them clear.
Tips For Keeping Your Aligners Sparkling
Some of the frequent questions I get include: “How do you clean stained aligners? or “What are the best ways to remove stains from aligners?”
Just as good oral hygiene is important for your teeth, it is also good for your aligners. But do not treat your aligners like they are your teeth. Toothpaste can be too abrasive for use on aligners, and it may make little scratches on your aligners, making them less translucent and more opaque or noticeable. Instead, here are some safe ways to clean and remove stains from aligners:
- Regularly wash your aligners with soap and water, and thoroughly rinse.
- Brush your aligners with a soft bristle toothbrush
- The key is not soak aligners in a heavy solution overnight or for an extended period, or using boiling water, and not to use toothpaste, which may have some abrasive crystals that could impact clarity of your aligner.
Other Questions I Get Asked
Patients have asked me, when they have an aligner that has started yellowing, if they can go back to a previous aligner or advance to their next aligner. I tell them that using old aligners is not an option, as this will cause the teeth to move back to the position of that aligner. Old aligners should be properly disposed of after their usage period. Similarly, patients should not advance to their next aligner unless their doctor says they can do so. Advancing too quickly means that your teeth may not have moved yet to the desired position directed by your current aligner and by inserting the next aligner you may experience discomfort as the movement may be too much too soon.
I also get asked regularly if drinking dark beverages such as coffee through a straw prevents staining aligners. As, indicated earlier, consuming beverages is best done after removing your aligners to keep them sparking clean and clear. But if you are going to consume a dark beverage with your aligners in, it is better to use a straw than not.
I also get questions from patients who ask me how to whiten aligners after staining has occurred or if they can use their aligners to whiten their teeth during aligner therapy. My advice is that no one should try to whiten any aligner. The integrity of the material used to gently move teeth into a desired position may be compromised with any bleaching or teeth-whitening products. I also do not recommend whitening your teeth during treatment as teeth during treatment are already sensitive due to their constant state of movement. For patients with teeth stains, completing treatment once the aligners are done with a teeth-whitening process might yield the finishing reward to the entire process — straight, beautiful, white teeth.
*data on file.
Dr. Stephen Moate
Beachside Orthodontics, Sydney, Australia
Dr. Moate completed his undergraduate dental education at the University Sydney, Australia. He then received a Master’s degree in Orthodontics at the University of Sydney. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons and a Fellow of the International College of Dentists. Dr. Moate lectures to specialist dental groups and is a Clinical Associate at the University of Sydney. He has run a private orthodontic office “Beachside Orthodontics” on Sydney’s northern beaches for the last 20 years.
*Dr. Stephen Moate is a paid consultant for Ormco.
The opinions that are quoted in this material are those of Dr. Stephen Moate. Clinicians use your own judgement when treating your patients.