5 Stages of the Invisalign Treatment Process

Invisalign Journey: 5 Stages Explained

According to the American Association of Orthodontics, an estimated 4.5 million Americans, the majority of which are children, wear braces at any one time. And while 80% of the individuals who get braces are aged 6 to 18, clear aligners have led to more adults straightening their teeth in recent years, with Invisalign leading the way. 

Since its development in 1997, Invisalign technology has been established worldwide as an aesthetic alternative to metal braces. As of March 2023, 15 million people have straightened their smiles with Invisalign. Due to a huge demand for a therapeutic alternative to traditional braces, a number of competitors have since introduced their own versions of clear aligners. 

If you desire a straighter smile but don’t want to wear traditional metal braces, Invisalign may be the perfect solution. The easy-to-remove clear aligners are virtually undetectable so no one will know you’re straightening your teeth. 

Invisalign: How it Works 

A qualified dentist will help you decide what straightening methodology works best. But learning how Invisalign works is essential prior to scheduling a consultation. This will help you understand what it entails, prepare the right questions to ask your dentist, and make an informed decision if clear aligners or conventional braces are the best option for you. 

Invisalign vs. Braces 

Invisalign vs Braces

Materials: Invisalign aligners are fabricated from a medical-grade material called SmartTrack. This proprietary BPA-plastic applies gentle and constant force, improves control of tooth movements, and fits snugly and comfortably around teeth to straighten them predictably. 

After proper alignment is achieved, customized Vivera retainers provide the same virtually-invisible look and comfortable, custom-fit as Invisalign aligners. 

Traditional braces are made of high-grade stainless steel and consist of small brackets adhered to your teeth with a solid adhesive compound. The brackets are connected with a thin metal wire called the archwire. Rubber bands, also called elastics, are used with braces to apply additional force to certain teeth. 

After correction with metal braces, a custom-made retainer needs to be worn for a period of time to maintain results. This can be made of gum-colored acrylic with thin wire or all plastic. A permanent, ultrathin wire retainer is placed on the back of bottom teeth. 

Oral Hygiene and Comfort: Unlike metal braces, clear aligners are minimally invasive, removable, and won’t trap food particles and plaque between your teeth. It’s easy to remove the aligners when you floss, brush your teeth, eat, and drink.

Metal braces make oral hygiene difficult and frequently cause gum irritation and discomfort. Because food particles can get stuck in braces, this can cause tooth discoloration and bad breath. 

Convenience: Invisalign braces can be removed whenever necessary and you don’t need to visit your dentist every time you change out the aligners. 

Traditional braces require regular orthodontic visits to adjust or tighten the archwires, replace the elastics, and ensure movement is progressing as it should. 

Timeline: Invisalign aligner trays need to be worn 20–22 hours a day for the most optimal results. While the entire Invisalign process can take as little as six months, average treatment lasts about 12–18 months. 

Traditional braces need to be worn continuously for a period ranging from several months to a couple of years, depending on the nature and severity of your misalignment. 

Who is a Good Candidate for Invisalign? 

Invisalign is a particularly good option for adults with functional and cosmetic issues due to crooked teeth that weren’t straightened during their teen years. Clear aligners are also a potential alternative to traditional braces for some teens with malocclusion (bad bite), overbite, or underbite. 

Although Invisalign is a great choice for most people, this method isn’t capable of raising or lowering the position of teeth in the jawline, correcting a midline discrepancy of more than 2mm, or resolving severe overbites or large gaps. 

Serious alignment issues are better corrected with traditional orthodontics or surgery. 

The Invisalign Process: Step by Step 

1. Initial Appointment & Consultation 

Initial Appointment & Consultation

During your initial consultation, the dentist will assess your overall dental health and digitally map out your teeth to determine if you’re a good candidate for Invisalign. 

In addition to clinical considerations, you must be able or willing to wear the aligner trays for nearly 24 hours a day. 

It’s important to check your insurance coverage to see if your carrier covers the cost of Invisalign and also compare its coverage to traditional metal braces. 

2. Digital Impressions and Fabrication 

If you qualify for Invisalign clear aligners, the next step is taking impressions with an iTero Element scanner. The scanner can take 6,000 digital images per second, far more precisely than the messy molding material used in traditional impressions. Mapping software helps calculate the right amount of force for every tooth movement. 

This data is sent out to the Invisalign lab, where trained technicians conduct a thorough analysis, develop a straightening strategy, and create a series of customized clear aligner trays. 

Each aligner is trimmed to your gum line for optimal comfort and appearance. 

Some patients also receive SmartForce attachments—small, tooth-colored devices that are affixed to teeth. SmartForce attachments come in different shapes and sizes, each one designed for a specific movement or particular grip. 

Due to the collaborative relationship between the Invisalign lab and certified dental providers, your dentist can check the technician’s progress and advise the lab on necessary tweaks to ensure the aligners meet their specifications. 

3. Fitting Your First Aligners 

As an Invisalign expert, your dentist will help you feel comfortable and confident when wearing your new aligners. They’ll teach you how to insert and remove your aligner trays, take care of them, and keep them clean. Your aligners are all different and must be worn in a specific order. Getting accustomed to wearing aligners takes only two or three days, in most cases. 

4. Follow Up Appointments for Fit 

Invisible aligners are changed out about every two weeks. With every new set of aligners, your teeth begin to shift a little closer to your desired smile goal. About every six weeks, you’ll meet with your dentist to review your progress and make any needed adjustments. 

If treatment isn’t progressing as planned, your dentist may need to take a new digital scan and send it to the Invisalign lab to analyze and possibly create an additional set of aligners. 

After you’ve worn the last aligners, a few teeth may still need minor adjustments. If that happens, your dentist will contact the Invisalign lab and order “refinement” aligners. This may take up to a month, but the good news is there’s no extra charge. 

5. Maintaining Your Straight Teeth 

The Vivera retainer prevents your teeth from gradually shifting back toward their initial position after Invisalign treatment is complete. Wearing and maintaining retainers as recommended will protect the investment you’ve made in your smile and save you money in the long run.

Vivera retainers are 30% stronger than and twice as durable as other clear retainers. They typically come in packs of multiple sets. All of that adds up to a longer lifespan, fewer replacements, less hassle, and an excellent value over time. 

Your dentist will determine the best regimen to maintain straightening, based on your unique alignment issues and treatment plan. An example protocol may require wearing your retainers full time in the beginning, then gradually reducing the time you wear them per day. In some cases, you may be able to wear them only at night or as few as three nights per week. 

Schedule an Invisalign Consultation to See if You Qualify 

If you’re interested in learning if Invisalign is the right choice to straighten your teeth, there’s only one way to find out. Schedule a consultation with an Invisalign-certified dentist with a track record and great online reviews to determine if Invisalign or another straightening protocol can deliver the smile of your dreams!

Dr. David A. Sabourin, D.D.S.

Dr. Sabourin relocated to San Diego from Ann Arbor, Michigan where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Michigan. He graduated at the top of his class with High Honors from the University of Detroit School of Dentistry where he received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree.

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