The Invisalign® orthodontic system. - An introduction to removable / invisible braces.

| What do the tooth aligners look like? | Advantages of the Invisalign® system vs. conventional braces. | Other removable aligner systems- ClearCorrect®, OrthoClear®, eCligner®, ClearPath®, and Simpli 5®.

What are removable / invisible dental braces?

Plastic tooth aligner systems, like Invisalign® (and similar systems), are a relatively new treatment option for orthodontic patients.

Unlike conventional dental braces that consist of brackets, wires and elastic bands ...

... these systems (sometimes referred to as CAT = "clear aligner therapy") straighten your teeth by way of you wearing a series of removable plastic tooth aligners.

Advantages of CAT systems.
  • The clear nature of the aligners makes having your orthodontic treatment fairly invisible.
  • And being able to take your appliances out whenever you need to makes for a giant convenience factor.

What do removable tooth aligners look like?

Invisalign® aligners are thin, clear vacuum-molded plastic appliances designed to fit snugly over your teeth.

Sideshow explaining what Invisalign® tooth aligners look like.

Slideshow explaining what Invisalign® tooth aligners look like.

  1. They look a lot like bleaching trays.

    However, tooth aligners are made out of a thinner, stiffer type of plastic that's more optically clear (medical-grade polyurethane). This makes wearing them less obvious than trays.

  2. They are also very similar, almost precisely so, to clear plastic vacuum-molded (Essix/Vivera®-style) orthodontic retainers.

    Although, tooth aligners are typically made out of plastic that's just a little bit thinner. And the appliance's edges usually have a more scalloped outline.

What do ClearCorrect® and Simpli 5® aligners look like?

For all practical purposes, the aligners worn with competing removable/invisible systems look essentially the same as Invisalign®.

Slideshow explaining advantages of Invisalign® vs. metal braces.

Slideshow outlining advantages of Invisalign® vs. conventional braces.

Advantages of Invisalign® vs. conventional braces.

Removable aligner systems have some obvious advantages over regular wire-and-brackets braces. They include:

  • They're less irritating to soft tissues. - A major complaint of patients who wear fixed braces is the way their brackets and wires scrape against and irritate their lips, cheeks and tongue. Due to the smooth contours of plastic aligners, for the most part these issues don't exist.

    It is possible that when the Invisalign® system is used to treat relatively more difficult cases, the use of "buttons," "anchors," and elastics may be required and they can be an annoyance. It's also possible that from time to time a sharp aligner edge is discovered and must be trimmed down.

  • Eating food is a lot easier. - With conventional braces, eating is typically a messy, possibly embarrassing, ordeal. With Invisalign® aligners, you simply take them out to eat.
  • Cleaning your teeth. - Those who wear fixed appliances know that few things are more difficult than brushing and flossing their teeth. And for patients who fail at this task, they place themselves at greater risk (possibly significantly so) for complications with gum disease and tooth decay.

    Due to the removable nature of plastic tooth aligners, this can be a non-issue. That is, assuming you take the time to do it.

Other advantages of Invisalign®.

Besides issues that are obvious to the patient, there are other, more technical, advantages that using one of the removable systems (including ClearCorrect® and Simpli 5® too) can offer.

  • An alternative to cosmetic dentistry. - Dental work, porcelain veneers in particular, are frequently placed just to improve the apparent alignment of the patient's teeth.

    In all cases, if just straightening the teeth would give the same outcome, doing so would make the more ideal treatment choice. And for some, the comparatively simple experience of wearing removable aligners as opposed to traditional braces might make this choice acceptable.

  • Patients with existing dental work. - With fixed braces, brackets must be bonded to the patient's teeth. And in the case where they have existing porcelain or metal restorations (veneers or crowns), creating or maintaining this bond may be difficult. (Damaging the surface of the restorations is a possibility too.)

    With aligner systems, this difficulty doesn't exist.

  • Virtual treatment planning. - Case planning for the Invisalign® and ClearCorrect® systems involves digitizing the patient's information, and then via the use of software, creating a on-screen, animated visual representation of it.

    This presentation can then be viewed and manipulated by the dentist, thus aiding with both treatment planning and the evaluation of case progress. It also allows an opportunity for the patient to see detailed information about their treatment and its expected outcome, even before committing to it.

    Conventional orthodontic treatment offers nothing like this. (Neither does the Simpli 5® system.)

  • Treatment time. - It's sometimes suggested that the treatment time required for removable aligner cases is less than with conventional braces. However, rather than hard fact we'd consider this statement more along the line of conjecture.
  • Bruxism (tooth grinding) cases. - The treatment for patients who brux (grind) their teeth frequently involves their wearing a plastic dental appliance (nightguard, occlusal splint). But doing so typically isn't feasible for patients who have braces attached to their teeth.

    The nature of plastic tooth aligners, the way they fully cover over the chewing surface of both the patient's upper and lower teeth, can act as a passable substitute for these types of appliances.

(Boyd 2008) [page references]

All of the above advantages don't override the fact that treating patients with the Invisalign® system (or equivalent) can have some disadvantages too. In fact, there's enough to know that we've given this topic its own page.

What else do you want to know about Invisalign®?

If you're seriously considering having your teeth straightened using the Invisalign®, ClearCorrect® or Simpli 5® systems, we have lots of information to share. Here's an outline of our other pages:

a) Basic information about removable/invisible systems.
b) Details about treatment and the treatment process.
c) Information about wearing your appliances.

Systems that compete with Invisalign®.

Invisalign® isn't the only invisible/removable braces system. There are other products that your dentist can choose to use for your treatment. They include:

a) ClearCorrect®

ClearCorrect, Inc., founded in 2006, manufactures an invisible braces product that is, at least in terms of what the patient experiences, very similar in nature to Invisalign®. Other such systems are eCligner® and ClearPath®.

Due to this similarity in patient experience, on our pages we consider each of these products equivalent and therefore make no distinction between them.

b) Simpli 5® - AOA Orthodontic Laboratory, Inc.

AOA Orthodontic Laboratories offers three invisible braces systems (Simpli 5® / Red White & Blue® / RW II®) that are, from the patient's standpoint, essentially identical to Invisalign®.

These systems are not, however, directly comparable in the way they are made or the types of conditions they are used to treat. In most instances, these systems are only used to treat cases that involve the realignment of anterior (front) teeth.

For more information, use this link: Simpli 5® / Red White & Blue® / RW II®.

c) OrthoClear, Inc.

For a time there was a competing, directly comparable, invisible braces product manufactured and marketed by OrthoClear, Inc. (founded in 2005).

This product is no longer available. In 2006, in response to on going litigation, Align Technology, Inc. and OrthoClear, Inc. reached a settlement. As a part of this settlement, OrthoClear, Inc. agreed to stop accepting new cases.

d) Other versions of Invisalign®

Align Technology, Inc. has developed variations of their basic Invisalign® system named Express and Teen (see link above), so to meet specific patient needs.

Who makes the Invisalign® system?

Align Technology, Inc. invented the Invisalign® orthodontic system. They began to make it available to dentists in 1998. This was the first invisible/removable braces system to be mass-produced, popularized and adopted into use by main-stream dentistry.

How does a dentist get "certified" to use Invisalign®?

Dentists are required to take some basic coursework.

Align Technology, Inc. requires that all dentists who want to offer the Invisalign® system to their patients must complete a certification course. Initially, this certification training was only offered to orthodontists. Nowadays, enrollment is open to general dentists too.

This training may not be quite as rigorous as you'd expect.

While additional coursework, workshops and seminars are available for those who are interested, the minimum amount of training required before a dentist can participate in the Invisalign® program has historically been a single one-day course.

Buyers beware - Your dentist's level of training and experience plays an important role in creating treatment success.

For the vast majority of general dentists, having a removable braces system to offer means that they can treat much more complex cases than they would otherwise be able to. This isn't, however, always a good thing.

A certain level of expertise is required.

During case planning, Align Technology, Inc. typically defers to the treating dentist's clinical judgment. That means that a case's successful outcome depends on both the dentist's ability to make a proper diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

The level of expertise needed to make these decisions may lie beyond that of many general dentists, many of whom may not be aware of their limitations. For this reason, seeking Invisalign® treatment from an orthodontist can have advantages.

What's the history of removable braces?

The concept on which Invisalign® is based has been around since the 1940's. In 1945 Dr. H.D. Kessling suggested that a series of "positioners" could be used to produce the tooth movements needed to straighten a patient's teeth.

After that point, removable appliances of varying sorts were used by dentists but the laboratory steps needed to craft them were prohibitively labor intense. And it was this difficulty that historically always dampened the widespread adoption of Dr. Kessling's idea by the dental community as a whole.

Now, as a result of the pioneering efforts of Align Technology, Inc., and their accomplishment in melding computer technology with custom manufacturing, the picture has changed. Removable braces technique has now become a practical treatment alternative.



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