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How Does the Invisalign Process Work?

See the updated blog post here for the latest advancements in Invisalign at Warford Orthodontics.

Invisalign is becoming more and more popular each day as an effective alternative to braces for straightening your teeth. Because they don’t look like traditional braces with brackets, you may be wondering how the whole process works.

While Invisalign is really good at what it does, there are certain situations where Invisalign will not work very effectively, which is why it’s important to start your Invisalign treatment with a free exam at our office. The exam we will determine whether or not you are a good candidate for Invisalign treatment. A key to remember is that Invisalign works for teens and adults. Kids that still have baby teeth, or adult teeth that still have to grow in a lot do not qualify.

Once we determine you are a good candidate for Invisalign, we take records. The records include:

  • Photographs of your teeth and face
  • Dental impressions of your teeth
  • Two x-rays

Once we have those records, We send them off to Invisalign with detailed instructions on how we want the teeth to be moved.

Next, Invisalign scans your impressions, so that they have a 3D model of your teeth in their computer. Their technicians will move the teeth step by step in the computer model to their final positions.

We then log on and review the movements of the teeth. Typically, they get it pretty close, but we may have to instruct them on some fine point details of how I want the teeth to be moved.

They make the changes, and then we review them again. We usually need to do this a couple of times to get the teeth exactly where I want them.

Once we are satisfied, I ask Invisalign to go ahead and make a series of trays (called aligners) and mail them to our office. It usually takes about 4 weeks from the time of the impressions until we get the trays back to our office. Then you are ready to start straightening your teeth!

You will wear a set of Invisalign trays for two weeks at a time. Each tray is manufactured so that the teeth are slightly straighter than the previous tray. The teeth will typically move 1/10mm per tray. So when you put a new tray in, the teeth in the tray are slightly straighter than your teeth are. This puts pressure on your teeth, and over the course of two weeks your teeth will move so that they match the tray.

There are some variations to consider in the process:

Most people that get Invisalign treatment have crowded front teeth, which means there is not enough room for the teeth to fit. We need to make more room somehow and we do this in several ways.

The first way, which is common on most people, we will have the trays do some expansion of the back teeth. This has several benefits including it makes more room to correct the crowding in the front and it makes for a broader smile, which also looks better.

The second way we will bring the front teeth forward slightly.

The third way we make more room to correct the crowding is to make some of the teeth slightly skinnier. This process is called interproximal reduction (a fancy way of saying we do a little bit of sanding or filing in between some of the teeth to make a little bit more room). This is not something that is noticeable and it stays well within the enamel of the tooth so that you don’t get sensitivity later.

On some people we use something called ‘attachments’ on the teeth. Attachments are small, tooth colored, bumps of plastic material (composite) that we attach to some of the teeth. Basically, what they do is to give a handle or gripping point for the aligner to click into place around. They help the aligner stay on better and they also can put pressure on the teeth in the direction we need to straighten them out. Not everyone needs to use attachments.

Sometimes we will also ask people to wear rubber-bands with their aligners. This is very similar to what we would ask a Patient to do with traditional braces. We will use these to rotate a particular tooth, or to help correct the bit if they are worn from the upper aligner to the lower aligner.

Once your aligners are in, we will ask you to wear your aligners close to full time. A major advantage of the Invisalign system is that you can take them out to eat. We also ask you to take them out to brush and floss. You will clean the aligners with a toothbrush at the time you are brushing. Typically, you will have your aligners in for about 20 hours a day. Wearing your aligners for this long will help the teeth move to their final position for that particular tray. If your teeth are not in final position when you go on to the next set of trays, they will not fit quite as well. This has a cumulative effect and by the time you get 3 or 4 trays down the line, they will not be fitting well at all.

It is not uncommon to get finished with your last tray and still have a few teeth that are still slightly out of position. We will explain this ahead of time, because it is pretty normal. If that is the case, we take a new set of impressions and have Invisalign make us some more trays to detail things. The process for this is identical to the process described above. The new trays will come back in 3-4 weeks and we will continue with straightening your teeth. Invisalign refers to these as refinement trays. There is NO ADDITIONAL FEE for this as it is part of the process. Most people need to get 1 set of refinement trays. Invisalign allows us to do this up to 3 times, but in our experience that is very rare.

Once we are done with your final trays, it is time for retainers. Most Invisalign Patients chose clear plastic retainers that look like Invisalign trays. Some people choose to get a fixed (permanent) retainer on the inside of their lower front teeth. This is a wire that goes across the inside of your lower front 6 teeth. The choice will be yours as to what kind of retainer we use. I ask most people to wear their retainers full time for 2 months and then we cut back to just while sleeping. Eventually, we get to the point where you are just wearing it a night or two a week. People often ask why we need to use retainers. The simple fact is that nothing about your body remains constant. It all changes as we age and that includes your teeth. Biting and chewing can put a lot of pressure on your teeth, and over time, these forces can move your teeth around.

Well, that just about does it. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at our office (701) 255-1311 and we can set you up for an exam and get you that winning smile you have always wanted!