How Does Invisalign® Work?
The Basics of Invisalign®
“Invisalign works through a series of clear nearly invisible plastic aligners that the patient wears,” says Pamela Doray, DDS, an AACD member dentist from Philadelphia, PA. These aligners are similar to trays used in teeth whitening, but completely customized and much more durable.
“Invisalign trays are stronger, as they are designed to move teeth. Over the course treatment, the shape of the Invisalign aligners changes very subtly,” says Debra Gray King, DDS, of Atlanta, Georgia. “Wearing the different trays in the Invisalign process creates the gradual forces that cause the teeth to move into proper alignment.”
“Aligners are worn [approximately] 22 hours a day, removing only to eat, floss and brush,” Dr. Doray explains. “Typically each aligner is worn for 2 weeks, at which time the patient changes to a new aligner. The patient receives a few sets of aligners at a time, returning to the dentist for evaluation and the next set of aligners at the appropriate interval. Depending on the amount of orthodontic correction needed, the patient may have anywhere from four to 50 aligners. The length of treatment depends on the number of aligners.”
The Invisalign Process Explained in 5 Steps
Step One: Consultation and exam with an Invisalign provider
“The dentist can discuss with you the kind of results you may be able to achieve,” says Dr. King. If, after the initial exam, the dental practitioner determines you are a good candidate for Invisalign, he or she can then prepare a treatment plan for you.
At this point, “you have a chance to see the costs and decide whether you want to proceed with the Invisalign treatment plan,” Dr. King advises.
Step Two: Creation of Records and Treatment Plan
Once you’ve decided to get Invisalign to straighten your smile, your provider will take X-rays, photos and impressions of your teeth, says Doray. Based on these records, and the results you aim to achieve, the dental professional works with Invisalign to create your personal treatment plan.
Step Three: Your 3-D Smile from Start to Finish
Based on the information from your dentist or orthodontist, Invisalign creates digital 3-D imaging of your proposed treatment from start to finish. “The dentist will be able to see from this 3-D rendering a virtual and real representation of your teeth before, during, and after completion of the Invisalign treatment,” says King. “This is very informative, as it shows what your smile is projected to look like when your treatment is completed.”
Step Four: Custom Aligners are Created and Delivered
Next comes delivery of the first sets of aligners with instructions for use and care. “The Invisalign lab creates customized aligners for you to wear at each stage of the process,” King explains. Each Invisalign aligner is worn for approximately two weeks before being replaced with the next one, until your teeth are straight, she explains.
Step Five: Invisalign Wear, Care and Follow-Ups
You will be scheduled for periodic evaluation by the dentist, during which you’ll receive the next sets of aligners in your treatment process. Doray advises that these visits are typically every 6-10 weeks, although may vary by case.
“During this process,” says King, “you will be able to watch your teeth, little by little, move into place. Your smile will slowly morph into what was projected—a nice, proportional smile.”
Says Doray, “At completion of the treatment—when the teeth are straight!—the dentist may need to refine the bite (minor occlusal adjustment) and then retainers are made.” These retainers, she says, are simply a stronger clear plastic aligner worn at night to maintain the corrected tooth position.
While each patient is different, the Invisalign process generally takes anywhere from a few months to a year and a half to complete.
This article was created by the Top Dentists editorial team.