I got braces two weeks before my 15th birthday, and was convinced my life had ended. Fast forward 12 years and I can admit that wearing braces for less than three years in high school really wasn't that big of a deal, but straightening my teeth would have been a less emotionally painful experience had the metal brackets been invisible.
Today, that's a reality thanks to Invisalign. It's a teeth-straightening system where patients wear what looks like clear retainers over their teeth to correct a series of aesthetic dental issues. To get a detailed breakdown on exactly how the system works and how much it costs, I reached out to New York City-based cosmetic dentist Dr. Marc Lowenberg for his insight.
How Does Invisalign Work?
It's actually pretty high-tech. "Invisalign is a computer-generated system that changed the entire orthodontia movement," Dr. Lowenberg says. The aligners are made of a plastic-like material called SmartTrack. The doctor takes a 3D image of your teeth using an in-office scanner, and then molds are made of your teeth. "They are made on a computer-generated program based on the knowledge of how much teeth can move," he continues.
You don't just get one set of aligners, though. "Clear plastic 'trays' are custom-fitted to your teeth and changed every two weeks to gently and discreetly guide them into new positions," he says. Each tray moves the teeth little-by-little until the issue or problem is corrected.
If you have a non-severe correction, sometimes patients are given five trays at a time. Each week, they use a different tray. "When the patient changes the aligner at home, they can tell if something isn’t going according to plan. If the aligner doesn’t fit correctly, the patient should see their doctor immediately."
According to the brand's website, Invisalign can be used to correct crowded teeth, overbite, underbite, crossbite, gap teeth, and an open bite. However, Dr. Lowenberg says Invisalign cannot be used if significant correction is needed—the patient then might need traditional braces.
Who Can Get Invisalign?
"With Invisalign, you can have mildly crowded teeth that will end up being straight, but you wouldn’t get 100% perfection if your teeth are really crowded or you have a snaggle tooth or something more significant to straighten out," Dr. Lowenberg explains.
Your dentist or orthodontist can help you decide if this is an option for whatever issue you're looking to correct. Teens and adults can both be treated with Invisalign.
How Long Do You Have to Wear Invisalign Aligners?
It really depends on the issue, but Dr. Lowenberg says the minimum amount of time it takes to correct an issue is usually two months. Extreme crowding, though, only takes about six months to fix. Your dentist or orthodontist will determine how long you will need to wear your trays.
Do you have to wear them all the time?
Pretty much. Unlike regular braces, you can remove them when you eat, eliminating that no-gum-chewing rule. However, after you're done snacking, those trays need to go back in. "Ideally the aligner should be worn about 22 hours a day," Dr. Lowenberg says. "You are supposed to wear the aligner at all times, except when you eat. The more you wear the aligner, the better the result."
He also says that some people think you only have to wear them at night, similar to retainers, and that's where issues start. "The problem is that if they're only worn at night, your teeth will move back into place during the day."
How Much Do They Cost?
Again, this depends on how severe your issue is. "Invisalign has different types of cases, such as Invisalign express, which is 10 trays or less," says Dr. Lowenberg. A full Invisalign treatment offers unlimited trays until your issue is fixed. The cost isn't cheap: He said that in New York City, it can range from $5,000 to $10,000.