How Do Clear Aligners Straighten Teeth? (Read This Before Treatment)

A close-up of a woman putting a clear aligner in her mouth with text "How do aligners move your teeth? What you need to know before starting treatment!"
 A close-up of a woman putting a clear aligner in her mouth with text "How do aligners move your teeth? What you need to know before starting treatment!"

It’s a known fact how clear aligners (Invisalign®, etc.) work – we’ve all seen the results.


How do clear aligners straighten teeth precisely?

After all, clear aligners are vastly different than traditional braces, yet they can accomplish a majority of the same results.

In this blog, we’ll cover the basics of clear aligner technology to help you understand how aligners move teeth. This includes answering these questions:

What is aligner technology?

Aligner technology is an alternative to orthodontic braces. Invisalign® is one example of this technology.

It uses thin, transparent plastic shells to move teeth in small increments when worn consistently.

Instead of braces that are attached to your teeth, aligners are removable and changed at intervals of 7-14 days. They look like dental bleaching trays or clear retainers.

A series of aligners are manufactured from virtual models of your teeth, with gradual or incremental movements toward straight teeth.

The typical range of aligners per series is 10-50. It takes anywhere from one to three series of aligners to produce a good result.

The range depends upon the complexity of your bite, how consistently your aligners are worn, and how much resistance to movement your jaw bone presents.

How do aligners work?

Aligners are designed to make small movements at a time by putting gentle pressure on your teeth. That pressure is transferred through your roots to your jaws.

Your jawbone responds to forces by essentially moving the sockets, and your teeth go along for the ride.

Because the changes from aligner to aligner are small, treatment with aligner technology tends to be gentle and comfortable.

Aligners need to be worn 22 hours per day to be effective. This leaves time for eating, brushing, and flossing without aligners in.

Aligners need to be worn 22 hours per day to work

How do clear aligners straighten teeth?

From a basic understanding, you might assume you just snap on the aligners, and your teeth begin to move.


That’s not the case entirely.

There are a few other “parts” to clear aligner therapy.

Since aligners aren’t attached to the teeth, we need little pressure points called attachments.

Digital preview of a smile with clear aligner attachments on teethAttachments are tooth-color bumps bonded to your teeth during your treatment. The placement and shape of them will depend upon the movement required.

Attachments help apply pressure from the aligners onto your teeth and direct them into the proper position. In the example, the attachments are shown in red.

Additionally, your treatment may call for elastics, which are also commonly used with traditional orthodontics.

Elastics (similar to a tiny rubber band) are sometimes needed to allow shifting of the upper vs. the lower teeth. Elastics are attached to slots in the aligners or small buttons attached to the teeth.

Lastly, your teeth may not fit ideally within the aligners. In that case, minor reshaping or resizing can work wonders.

These procedures are minimal and typically don’t require anesthetic because they don’t cause discomfort.

It’s also important to note that while clear aligners solve minor to complex cases, severe cases requiring challenging movements may be best suited for conventional orthodontics.

That way, you get your desired result and spare no time or money in the process.

Things to remember with clear aligners

  • Teeth only move when forces are applied consistently. For that reason, you must be disciplined in wearing your aligners 22 hours per day. Otherwise, you’ll extend treatment and force compromises in the result. This is true when wearing elastics too.
  • Keep to the aligner change schedule your orthodontist recommends.
  • Monitor the fit of your aligners and contact your orthodontist if you have any concerns.
  • Keep in mind that it’s impossible to accurately predict how many aligners or even series of aligners it will take to reach your goals. Try to keep an open mind and be flexible.
  • In some instances, the bone will not allow the teeth to move into the desired position. In these cases, you can either accept the result, consider braces, or look into dental treatments, such as veneers, to achieve the desired results.

Have a question about orthodontics?

Contact our orthodontist in Bellevue, WA! Dr. Jeff Schur provides all your orthodontic services under one roof, including:

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Schur Orthodontics is conveniently located in Bellevue, and proudly serves surrounding communities, including Redmond, Kirkland, Seattle, Renton, Eastside, and Woodinville, WA.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2018 and has been completely revamped for comprehensiveness and timeliness.


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