Conventionally, anyone who wished to alter the appearance of crooked teeth had only two alternatives: spend anywhere from one to five years sporting the unattractive, metallic torture wiring of conventional braces, or have all of one’s teeth shaved down and fitted for crowns or veneers. The former conjures up images of a nightmarish, junior-high existence. The latter involves several extensive appointments with one’s dentist, requires local anesthesia (also known as the “dreaded injection”), and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Additionally, many cases require orthodontic treatment anyway, which brings us back to our original middle school debacle.
In the past few years, a third, kinder, gentler alternative has emerged. This alternative is the much talked about but little understood, Invisalign.
Many people have seen advertisements for Invisalign. The image juxtaposition of the shy young woman who is afraid to smile and the about-to-bloom rosebud has been placed in women’s magazines, television, and billboards. But what does Invisalign do, exactly? How does it work? Could it work for me?
Here is what you need to know. Invisalign is an orthodontic treatment similar to braces. However, instead of using brackets and wires, Invisalign uses tooth-colored attachments and custom-fitted, clear trays to move your teeth, rendering this treatment *almost*, but not quite, invisible.
Both orthodontists and general dentists can provide Invisalign treatment. Either professional is equally qualified for this; it is up to you to find the most comfortable provider. Once you have selected an office, you go in for a consult. The consult is one of your most important Invisalign appointments. This is when you discuss exactly what you want for your teeth, and your provider will give you an idea of what you can expect out of your treatment. Invisalign can correct several different bite situations, and in many circumstances, you can expect near-perfect results. Some situations, however, require more involved treatment to achieve the ideal outcome. At your consult, make sure that your expectations match those of your doctor.
Once you have completed the initial consult, pictures, and impressions will be taken of you. At some offices, dentists might use a digital impression system. This means that instead of using “goop” to make models of your teeth, dentists will use an intra-oral scanner to generate a digital model. Regardless of the model-making method, your dentist will send your pictures of your teeth and dental models to the Invisalign service center, which will then use this information to custom-design treatment for you. They will also consult with your doctor to formulate the plan that will work best for your needs. Within a few weeks (less if the digital scanning system is used), you can return to your office to receive your first “dental aligners.”
In most cases, tooth-colored attachments will be placed on the teeth to help treatment be as expedient as possible. These “buttons” are placed at your initial visit and will remain for the duration of your treatment. They are approximately 2-3 mm in the area and are generally only noticed by the wearer. Additionally, your dentist might mention “IPR,” “reduction,” or “slenderizing.” This involves filing away paper-thin sections of enamel to make space for treatment. It sounds scary, but it is not. You will not have sensitivity, you will not see spaces, and your teeth will not look smaller. The sensation is similar to that of filing one’s nails. Do not be afraid.
Finally, your dentist will try in your first tray. It will feel fairly snug for the first few days, and you might even feel sore. Within forty-eight hours, you won’t feel this snugness anymore. In two weeks, you will replace your initial tray with your second one. You will continue to replace your tray every two weeks throughout the duration of your treatment. You wear them all day and all night, except to eat. You clean them when you brush your teeth. Every three to four trays, your dentist will have you come in to ensure that the case is proceeding as planned. Most cases are completed within a year.
And that is how the mysterious Invisalign system works. You can consult the Align Technology website or have a discussion with your dentist or orthodontist for any further questions.