Invisalign vs traditional braces

Dentist Dr Tim Eldridge explores the two treatment options

Girl With Braces

What is Invisalign?

The Invisalign system works by repositioning teeth discretely, little by little, using a series of custom made transparent ‘aligners’, made from flexible polymer, which are changed at weekly increments. The aligners can be removed during treatment for short periods of time to allow you to eat whatever you want, keep up your normal good oral hygiene routine, and ensuring that your lifestyle can be maintained without anyone knowing that you are undergoing orthodontic treatment. You can even take your aligners off for special occasions, like a wedding, job interview, or for playing a sport or a musical instrument.

Invisalign treatment can used to remedy most tooth misalignments, including closing gaps, tackling overcrowding, addressing sticking out teeth, and resolving under or overbites. According to clinical studies, Invisalign is as effective as metal braces in even the more complex tooth straightening issues.

What are lingual braces?

Another option for moving teeth are lingual braces, wires that are fitted behind the teeth, and cannot be seen from the front. The custom-made brackets are cemented behind the teeth, and whilst you will still able to feel them with your tongue, the brace is not noticeable to others. There may be a period of adjustment when the brace is first fitted when you may find it harder to eat certain foods, and your speech may be affected, but for the majority of people this is relatively short.

As well as straightening teeth, there are other, less obvious benefits to lingual orthodontics. Lingual systems are easier to clean than conventional braces, and it is often found that damage due to poor brushing is minimised in patients with lingual braces, compared with those with traditional 'train tracks'.

Day to day

You will need to take your Invisalign clear aligners out to eat. For the best results, you need to wear your aligners for 20 to 22 hours a day, taking them out just for eating, drinking anything other than plain water, brushing, and flossing your teeth.

Because you take your aligners out to eat, there are no food restrictions at all. With traditional wires and brackets, there’s a long list of foods you unfortunately can’t enjoy, as they can damage or get stuck in your braces.

Are they painful?

Train tracks are obtrusive, can be uncomfortable and may cause mouth ulcers and cuts to the gums, inside of the mouth and lips.

Invisalign treatment moves your teeth by applying gentle, constant force. Some of my patients say they do feel temporary discomfort for the first few days of wearing a new set of aligners. Typically, they describe it as feeling “pressure” and it’s normal — it’s a sign your aligners are working and transforming your smile.

Invisalign aligners are made of a unique SmartTrack material, so they are more comfortable to wear and easier to put on and take off than other clear aligners. Your Invisalign aligners will also be trimmed based on your gum line, which will make them more comfortable. As there are no metal brackets or wires that could irritate your mouth or break, they should be less painful than traditional braces.

Which should I choose?

Some people may prefer fitted braces if they are worried they won’t wear aligners for 22 hours a day. However, some of my patients find train tracks obtrusive and uncomfortable.

A small number of people aren’t eligible for Invisalign treatment. For example, when the patient needs to have their jaw broken to reset an extreme over or underbite. This is a complex treatment that can only be planned and coordinated by an orthodontic specialist.

Girl With Braces
Tim Eldridge

Meet the Expert

Dr Tim Eldridge is the clinical director of myFACE dental practice and myFACE training in Cheltenham. He is a key opinion leader for Sinclair Pharma and writes articles for the professional press. He also lectures in facial aesthetics on some of the leading dental restorative courses, both nationally and internationally.