More and more these days, orthodontists are using Invisalign to treat their patients. Invisalign is a clear plastic aligner company that uses modern technology to provide a truly esthetic and comfortable option for patients that want straight teeth and healthy smiles. What was once only done with metal braces and wires is now almost completely available to patients through clear plastic aligners, and by the time you are done reading this post, you will know how that is possible.
First thing: Invisalign is a company, not a product. There are many companies that provide clear plastic aligners for tooth straightening, some of which you can do from your own living room (or bedroom or kitchen). Invisalign, is however, the best at straightening teeth with aligners, has been around the longest and usually has the latest and greatest options for their patients. Invisalign is also really good at marketing, which is probably why you haven’t heard of any of the other companies. Regardless, trust your orthodontist to pick which product is best in your case and hope that they exclusively use Invisalign.
The Invisalign process starts with something called an impression. This is where the orthodontist takes a model of your teeth. In most newer offices, this is done instantly with a 3-dimensional scan of your teeth and bite which is automatically uploaded to a computer. Within 3-5 minutes, a digital model of your teeth is on the screen right next to you and is ready for the doctor to work on to create your treatment plan.
In older offices, an assistant will take an analog impression with a gooey material (that probably drips to the back of your throat) for 7-10 minutes and mails to Invisalign headquarters where the impression is “digitized” and a digital model of your teeth is created. FYI, the second process takes up to 2 weeks!
After the digital models are created, it is up to the orthodontist to create a plan and move the teeth (on the digital model) to exactly where they need to be. The doctor works with a special computer program where he or she can control each individual tooth and jaws. The end-product of this is a final result that you, your doctor and your loved ones will all be excited for!
Once the final position is determined, the computer system takes over. Based on research and scientific data going back as far as 60 years ago and through experience the orthodontist can determine how fast teeth can move (per day, per week, per month etc). The computer software is used to create a unique road-map of how each tooth needs to move in order to get to the final position. By knowing how much each tooth can move per day/week/month, the orthodontist can make each tooth take exactly the movement that is possible and make all the teeth take one “step” at a time, together. Each “step” is programmed into a single aligner. A treatment is made up of 10 or 20 or 30 (or more) aligners or “steps”. Each aligner gets us one step closer to the final position. Think of it like this: if we stand in one corner of a room and want to get to the opposite corner, we would have to take a certain number of steps to get there. Each aligner is each one of those steps. When you wear your aligner as prescribed (22 hrs/day), the aligner will apply a force on your teeth that will cause them to move. After a period of 1-2 weeks of wearing an aligner, the aligner is switched to the following one and the next movement is under way. Teeth move bit by bit all the way until the final position is achieved.
Now that you know how the system works lets cover some details. Each aligner picks up where the previous aligner leaves off. That means in order for this system to work, the teeth need to move exactly as the system predicted it would. In other words, if we do not get the correct movement during aligner number one, aligner number two will not do what it is supposed to do. If we do not get the proper movement out of aligner number five, then aligner number 6 will not be able to do its job. So it is SUPER important that each aligner gets its job done. How can we guarantee this? The answer depends on you and your orthodontist. If the movements are programmed to be small enough, that makes the job of each aligner a lot easier. If your job is easier, it’s much more predictable that the job will get done; that part depends on your doctor. If the movements are programmed well, all that remains is your part: WEAR YOUR ALIGNERS (at least 21-22 hours/day). Teeth move under CONSTANT AND GRADUAL pressure. If there is no constant pressure (meaning if you do not wear them at least 21-22 hours/day), then the teeth will not move as directed and the aligners will stop fitting.
So in review: you take an impression (digital or analog), digital models are created, your doctor uses a special computer program to manipulate your digital models until a “final position” is determined, the computer software then makes a specific set of aligners that move your teeth “step-by-step”, you wear your set of aligners and BOOM your teeth move!