We know: All About Braces and Invisalign

What are braces and what is Invisalign?

Braces are a traditional way dentists use to align the teeth in your mouth. Using braces applied to the teeth, a dentist can correct crooked teeth, crowded teeth, overbites and underbites. It's also possible to correct problems with the jaw.

Invisalign is a newer technology that can be used instead of braces in some cases and is often faster. More is explained below.

How do braces work?

Braces work by putting pressure against the teeth, moving them gradually over time. Most of the pressure is applied by a metal wire, called an archwire, that runs on the outside of the teeth. "Rubber" bands, actually made from surgical latex, put additional pressure on the teeth that the archwire alone cannot do.

Today, the archwire is attached to tiny brackets made of metal or ceramic. The brackets are bonded with a glue-type agent to the front of the teeth. Some of the bonding agents continuously release fluoride to help protect the enamel of the teeth underneath the brackets. Metal bands may still be used on the back teeth, but they are smaller and lighter than bands used previously.

When should people get braces?

Braces used to be put on only after all the permanent teeth came in. Today, a multitude of dental devices, or orthodontic appliances, are being used at an early age to simplify later treatment, provide a better outcome, and, in some cases, avoid braces altogether.

Adults, who make up one-fifth of orthodontic patients, also are opting for straighter teeth as more choices in orthodontic appliances become available.

How long do I wear braces?

Braces, on average, are left on between 20 and 24 months.

What about wearing a retainer afterward?

To keep teeth straight after braces are removed, people must wear retainers. These appliances hold the teeth in their corrected position until the bones grow around the teeth to stabilize them. Since teeth tend to shift as a person ages, wearing retainers periodically may be a life-long requirement.

What is Invisalign and how does it differ from braces?

An alternative to braces, Invisalign, was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration to straighten crooked teeth in people who have all of their second molars, permanent teeth that usually come in by the late teens.

Invisalign uses a series of clear removable aligners instead of wires and brackets.

How does Invisalign work?

A dentist takes impressions of the teeth and sends these models to the maker of Invisalign. The company uses a computer-generated simulation of the desired movement of the teeth to custom-make the aligners for each patient. Each aligner is worn for about two weeks.

The aligners are removable for eating, brushing, and flossing, so unlike people who wear braces, Invisalign-wearers aren't restricted from eating hard or chewy foods. But they still must visit their orthodontist every six weeks during treatment to ensure proper progress.

Who can benefit from Invisalign and how long does it take?

The total treatment time with Invisalign averages between nine and 15 months and the average number of aligners worn during treatment is between 18 and 30. For some people, a combination of braces and Invisalign is successful, requiring less time in traditional braces.

Invisalign is not intended for younger children and is for mild to moderate teeth corrections.

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