Straightening your teen’s teeth – with traditional braces or clear aligners – may be something you and your family are considering this year. While previously offered only to adult patients, nearly invisible aligners are now available for teens as well. They can be a tempting alternative to braces, providing a more discreet option with added benefits in comfort and better oral hygiene. If you are considering purchasing aligners for your teen, here are the top 10 things you should know before you commit.
1. Aligners use a different process to get the same result as braces.
Both braces and aligners apply pressure to help teeth shift into proper alignment over time. Traditional braces involve fastening metal or clear brackets onto the front of the teeth, which are connected with wires and elastic bands. Every 8-10 weeks, an orthodontist checks the progress of the pressure and adjusts the system as needed to keep the teeth moving in the right direction. Aligner systems involve the use of a series of custom-made clear trays that fit snugly over the teeth. Based on impressions taken at home or in the dental professional’s office, aligners are created to move the teeth into position to fit into the next set of trays. Patients wear each set of aligners for a set period of time (usually 1-2 weeks), and progress to new aligners as the teeth move into position. To compare the top brands of aligners, check out our list of best clear braces.
2. Aligners can correct many common types of orthodontic problems, but not all of them.
Like braces, aligners can correct overbites, underbites, and crossbites, and can minimize excessive space between teeth. They are not effective at correcting severe problems, however, including those that require tooth extractions, jaw surgery, or palate expansion. Because braces are directly attached to the teeth, they are able to withstand more manipulation and stronger adjustments that may be needed for serious problems. In these cases, traditional braces may be the best option to achieve a more perfect smile. It’s important to note that whether you opt for braces or aligners, your teen will need to use retainers in the long term to keep teeth in their optimal position.
3. Make sure your teen’s teeth are mature and healthy enough to begin the orthodontic process.
During the preteen and teenage years, the mouth develops at a quick pace: baby teeth fall out, adult teeth come in, ligaments form, and roots grow. This happens at different times for different children. Your teen should be far enough along in their tooth maturity to benefit from orthodontia, and aligners require the presence of molars to anchor them in the back of the mouth. Try not to wait too long, though: if you begin at the “sweet spot,” your teen will benefit from shorter treatment times and less pain than if you wait until their adult years, when stronger roots and ligaments become more difficult and painful to move. Before beginning any orthodontic program, you will need to make sure your teen’s mouth is healthy. Make sure a dentist resolves any gum issues and fills any cavities before starting any tooth straightening system.
4. If you choose aligners, your teen needs to commit to the program.
Although your teen may like the idea of invisible aligners, make sure they are ready to make the commitment to using them correctly. Most brands of aligners need to be worn for 20-22 hours per day in order to work effectively enough to progress to the next set at the proper time. This takes discipline on the part of your teen, and some oversight on the parent’s part as well. If aligners are not worn for the prescribed time, this can prolong the total treatment period, and make the next set of aligners more uncomfortable. Some brands of aligners offer indicators on the device to alert parents and dental professionals if the aligners have not been worn enough. If you believe your teen will have trouble sticking to the routine required with aligners, traditional braces may be a better option.
5. Aligners make oral hygiene easier.
With traditional braces, the difficulty in cleaning around brackets and wires often translates into poor oral hygiene. This can cause problems such as gum inflammation and recession, tooth decay, and discoloration. Because aligners are removable, they do not present barriers to proper hygiene. Your teen will be able to floss and brush normally throughout the treatment period, without the need for special tools. They just have to remember to clean their aligners and put them back in after brushing!
6. Aligners may be a better option than braces for some teens’ lifestyles.
In addition to making it easier to floss and brush, aligners offer additional lifestyle benefits over traditional braces. The aligners are removed for eating, so there is no need to avoid eating certain foods, like popcorn and sticky candy, that can damage braces. Because they are made of softer material than braces, aligners feel more comfortable in the mouth, with less irritation than traditional braces with their brackets and wires. Teens may also find aligners to be more compatible with sports, as they are less likely to cause a mouth injury or become damaged in the case of a collision in a practice or game.
7. Prices for aligners vary, but some are cheaper than braces.
To compare the prices and features of dental aligners, check out our list of best clear braces. Some brands purchased through an orthodontist’s office come at a similar price tag to traditional braces, often in the $3-5,000 range. Other brands, like SmileDirectClub, operate on a direct-to-consumer model, and pass on overhead savings to the consumer. With these brands, aligners will be directly delivered to your house, and dental professionals will check in virtually to assess your teen’s progress. For both braces and aligners, it makes sense to check in with your dental and medical insurance providers to see how much, if any, of the treatment will be covered. Prices and coverage for both aligners and braces will depend on the extent of alignment needed for each patient.
8. The timeline for a great smile is similar for braces and most aligners.
With any orthodontic treatment, the total treatment time varies according to each individual’s needs. In the case of aligners, treatment time is also affected by whether or not your teen keeps up with wearing them for the required 20-22 hours per day. At your teen’s initial consultation, the orthodontic provider will create a 3D model to visualize your child’s progress and provide an estimate of how long the process may take. For less severe orthodontic needs, or to correct shifting since previous orthodontic work, the total treatment time could be as little as a few weeks. For most common problems, the treatment time for teens is similar for braces and aligners, often in the range of one to two years.
9. Talk to an orthodontist.
Whether you decide to opt for traditional braces, aligners provided by a dental professional, or direct-to-consumer aligner brands, it’s a good idea to bring your child in to an orthodontist for a consultation. Often these sessions are free, and include a dental and medical history, x-rays, an exam, and molds of the mouth. Your orthodontist can provide suggestions for a timeline and the products that can most benefit your teen. If you decide to go with a direct-to-consumer option rather than an office-based system, your consultation will allow you to be armed with useful information moving forward.
10. Make sure your teen is on board!
After you check out all the available options, make sure you have an honest discussion with your child about the best option for them. Are they interested in a nearly invisible correction option? Or would they prefer to show off some “mouth bling” with elastics in their school colors? Are they the conscientious type, who will always make sure to replace an aligner after eating? Or are they more likely to forget, setting back their treatment end point and causing frustration all around? Getting these answers before you commit to a program can save you and your family time, money, and frustration in the long run.
With the growing number of options for braces and nearly invisible aligners, it can be difficult to decide which option is best for your teen. Explore the pros and cons of the available orthodontic options and you’ll be more likely to make an informed decision to get your teen on the best possible path to a more beautiful – and healthier – smile.