What Are Teeth Straightening Aligners and How Do They Work?

dr. trevor nichols
By Dr. Trevor Nichols
Mesa, Arizona
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Over the last few years, orthodontic treatment options have seen tremendous growth. But more options can also lead to more confusion for patients. That’s why I encourage my patients to ask questions that enable me to better educate them on the various orthodontic treatments and their differences.

Recently, I have been getting a lot of questions about teeth straightening aligners and how they work. Clear aligners can be a great option to create beautiful smiles for a wide variety of teen and adult patients with different orthodontic issues at different levels of severity. While clear aligner trays may not be suitable for every malocclusion, they efficiently and effectively treat most cases of overcrowding, overbite, underbite, open bite, deep bite, crossbite, and sizeable gaps between teeth.

How Do Clear Aligner Trays Work?

Clear aligner treatment is done through a series of removable, clear plastic trays that are made of a semi-rigid material specifically designed to gently move teeth to a more desirable position. These teeth straightening aligners are custom-made from a 3D scan of the patient’s mouth. The orthodontist can then devise a treatment plan with sophisticated software, comparing and contrasting multiple treatment approaches.

Depending on the case complexity, the doctor may incorporate special attachments into the treatment plan, which are fixed onto the teeth to further aid in creating the desired movement. Once this plan has been created, many patients can be treated in 10 to 20 months depending upon the severity of the case. However, treatment duration will vary since the teeth-straightening aligners are customized to each patient.

The number of aligner trays a patient will have to wear also varies based on the required treatment time. If a patient’s treatment protocol is expected to last 12 months, the patient likely will wear 20 to 24 different sized teeth-straightening aligners until treatment completion. Most patients receive new aligners about every two weeks and they should be worn about 22 hours a day except when eating, drinking, or brushing teeth.

What are the Benefits of Clear Aligner Trays?

In addition to effectiveness, clear aligners offer some other desirable characteristics:

  • Aligners provide a very discreet teeth-straightening option because they are made out of nearly invisible plastic versus shiny metal.
  • Patients don’t have the discomfort associated with wire changing, tightening, or potential scratching inside the mouth that comes with traditional metal braces.
  • Aligner trays are removable so that patients can eat, drink, brush, and floss without any restrictions.
  • Aligner treatment usually requires fewer in-office visits, enabling patients to visit their orthodontist for a checkup and pick up new aligners about every 8 to 10 weeks.

How Do I Keep Clear Aligners Clean?

Since each aligner set will be worn for about 1 to 3 weeks, patients usually ask me how to keep their aligner trays clean. My advice is for patients to clean their aligners when they are brushing their teeth since the aligners will already need to be removed at this time. This will reduce bacterial buildup and keep the aligner as clear as possible. Aligners can be cleaned with soap and water or with a solution of 50 percent hydrogen peroxide and 50 percent water or vinegar.

Know Your Clear Aligner Options

Several companies now offer teeth straightening aligners, which you may have seen on TV or in social media advertising. If you are considering one of these options, it is essential to do your research. While these may seem like good options, several of these products are purchased directly from the manufacturer and do not involve any doctor visits. The American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) recommends aligner treatment to be done under a guided treatment plan with a trained orthodontist since the science behind moving teeth typically requires moving jaws and root structures, not just the teeth. Using an at-home treatment regimen without doctor supervision can lead to patients not getting the smiles they expect, and later having to invest even more time and money to fix these problems.

While some manufacturers sell aligners directly to patients, others sell only to orthodontists. Some doctors do not provide clear aligners as an option while some exclusively use this treatment method. Additionally, each doctor will also have their own preferences when it comes to manufacturers for teeth-straightening treatments. Be sure to ask your orthodontist about which products they use and inquire about newer options with modern advantages.

My patients like the benefits of the Spark™ Clear Aligner System, which has been available for several years in the US and other countries. It produces truly beautiful smiles by offering a more discreet option using a clearer and more stain-resistant material compared to the leading aligner brand**. My patients also find Spark to be more comfortable than the leading aligner brand because it is made with a softer material and comes with polished, scalloped edges.**

Successful orthodontic treatment starts by having a consultation with one or more orthodontists who will provide you with a diagnosis. Based on your clinical assessment, you can ask each doctor what he or she recommends as a preferred treatment approach. If you are interested in clear aligners, ask:

  • Are clear aligner trays a good choice for me?
  • Do you use Spark Aligners or another manufacturer’s product?
  • How long do you predict treatment will take?
  • What are my insurance coverage options for teeth straightening aligners?

I hope this information helps you as you look to achieve the smile of your dreams. A healthy, beautiful smile is priceless and provides years of happiness, improved self-confidence, and the benefits of good oral health. In my experience, Spark Clear Aligners are one of the best ways to get that smile. Get in touch with a Spark Aligner Provider today to get answers to all your questions and start on your journey to a healthy smile.

*Dr. Trevor Nichols is a paid consultant for Ormco. The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Trevor Nichols. Ormco is a medical device manufacturer and does not dispense medical advice. Clinicians should use their own professional judgment in treating their patients.
**Data on file.