The technology used by orthodontists to straighten teeth has advanced over the past few years. Specifically, tools such as computer modeling, digital x-rays, and 3-D printing, have given orthodontists and their patients many options for straightening teeth. Here are three differences between two of those options – traditional braces and Invisalign braces:
Brackets vs. Aligners
Traditional braces include brackets that are cemented to the teeth. Wires attach to the brackets and nudge the teeth into their intended position.
Clear aligners, such as Invisalign braces, exist because of sophisticated three-dimensional computer modeling. These computer programs model the patient’s teeth and shape the aligners so they apply the right amount of pressure in the right places to straighten the patient’s teeth.
Aligners are manufactured using a 3-D printing technique called stereolithography. The aligners fit over the patient’s teeth. The aligners are worn in stages, with each stage moving the teeth a little more than the preceding stage.
Because metal brackets are cemented to the teeth, they can often irritate the lips, gums, and tongue. Moreover, impacts to the face and mouth area, such as during sports, can cause brackets to cut into the soft tissue of the mouth. Aligners are made from smooth plastic. As a result, aligners typically cause less irritation to the lips, gums, and tongue than brackets.
Conversely, traditional braces are able to accomplish more radical straightening. For example, traditional braces are often suitable for rotating teeth, drawing teeth backward, or pushing teeth forward. Aligners, on the other hand, are well suited for correcting spacing problems in the teeth. A local orthodontist in San Mateo or Half Moon Bay can provide guidance in selecting braces or aligners based on the positions of the teeth.
Fixed vs. Removable
Because they are cemented to the teeth, traditional braces are not removable. Aligners, on the other hand, only fit over the teeth and are removable. This difference has many implications.
- Patients who use aligners must be disciplined enough to wear the aligners for 22 or more hours per day. Patients who are unable to stick with such a rigorous schedule may be better served by traditional braces which are not removable.
- Since aligners are removable, the aligners are often removed when eating. This addresses a common complaint among wearers of traditional braces that they are limited in the foods they can eat because of the brackets and wires. For example, traditional braces can inhibit a patient’s ability to eat whole fruit or vegetables, such as apples or corn on the cob.
- Aligners are also removed while brushing and flossing teeth. Again, this addresses a common complaint among those with traditional braces. Brushing teeth around the brackets and wires of traditional braces is difficult and time-consuming. Orthodontists often advise using a technique to push any food trapped between the teeth and the wires out before brushing the teeth. Moreover, flossing becomes difficult since the wires inhibit the passage of the floss between the teeth and many patients simply stop flossing while wearing traditional braces.
Visible vs. Invisible
One of the most apparent differences between traditional braces and clear aligners such as Invisalign braces is their appearance. Since most patients for braces are between 8 and 14 years of age, appearance is often a highly important consideration. Traditional braces use metal brackets and wires that give traditional braces their metallic look. Newer forms of braces use ceramic brackets that are either white or clear to reduce the metallic look. However, even with ceramic braces, the brackets are somewhat visible on the teeth, particularly as the ceramic brackets discolor or stain over time.
Aligners, by contrast, are made from clear plastic. As mentioned previously, aligners are manufactured through a 3-D printing process called stereolithography. Stereolithography uses a liquid resin that solidifies when exposed to certain wavelengths of light. A laser is aimed into a tank containing the liquid resin at precise locations and the aligners are formed a layer at a time. The resulting aligners are clear when placed over the teeth.
In sum, traditional braces have not been replaced by clear aligners. Rather, they are different tools used by orthodontists to accomplish the goal of straightening teeth. Balancing the benefits and drawbacks of each can be aided by consulting with a Half Moon Bay or San Mateo orthodontist.