What is aligner technology?
Aligner technology is an alternative to orthodontic braces. Invisalign is one example of this technology. They are clear, thin plastic shells that move teeth in small increments when worn consistently. Instead of braces that are attached to the teeth, aligners are removable, and are 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 number of aligners per series of aligners varies, but the typical range is 10-50. It can take from one to 3 or more series of aligners to produce a good result. The range depends upon complexity of the bite, how consistently the aligners are worn, and how much resistance to movement your jaw bone presents.
How does aligner technology work?
Because aligners are produced from virtual models of your teeth, with small movements at a time, the aligners put gentle pressure on your teeth. That pressure is transferred through your roots to your jaws. The jaw bone responds to forces by essentially moving the sockets, and the 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.
So, you just snap on the aligners and the teeth move?
Not exactly. There are a few other “parts” to aligner therapy. Since aligners are not attached to the teeth, we need little purchase points called attachments, which allow the forces to be directed in the proper direction. The shapes vary depending upon the movement. They appear red on illustration, but they are tooth-colored in the mouth. They are bonded to the teeth during treatment and will be removed at the end of a series of aligners.
In addition, just like with any orthodontic treatment, elastics 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. In cases of very challenging movements, conventional braces can be used to achieve desired results. Finally, some teeth just weren’t made to fit ideally. In those cases, minor reshaping or resizing can work wonders. These procedures are minimal and typically don’t require anesthetic because they don’t generate discomfort.
Aligner Technology tips:
- 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 will extend treatment and/or force compromises in the result. This is true when wearing elastics as well.
- Keep to the aligner change schedule that 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. 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 even a dental procedure such as a veneer to achieve the desired results.
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