Braces or Clear Aligners? The Choice Involves More than Appearance
For many teens and adults, orthodontics offers a clear path toward straighter teeth and a more confident smile. Misaligned teeth are common and don’t generally pose oral health risks. So the decision to see an orthodontist is, more often than not, based on a person’s desire to achieve a cosmetically favorable result. But until recently, the only options available were braces, which not everyone found aesthetically pleasing. Clear aligners and “invisible braces” have since become incredibly popular, although differences exist between braces and products such as Invisalign – and those disparities go beyond appearances. Let’s explore the benefits of both and how to choose the approach that’s best for you.
Clear aligners are mouthpieces fashioned from medical-grade plastic. They’re custom-fitted to the patient’s mouth and work by applying pressure to teeth, directing them to the desired position.
In terms of looks, they are considered a discreet alternative to traditional braces because they can’t be noticed as easily. While they do offer some benefits over traditional braces, they also come with some tradeoffs.
Because clear aligners are made of plastic, they reduce the risk of cuts and minor irritation that braces can cause. Patients will still experience some discomfort while teeth are repositioned, just as with traditional braces.
Eat What You Like
People with braces are cautioned against eating chewy or hard foods that can damage the orthodontics and provoke irritation. Examples include popcorn, gum, taffy, nuts, and others. Clear aligners, conversely, are removable devices. That means you can eat formerly forbidden foods. Brushing and flossing are also less challenging since the aligner can be taken out.
Fewer Dental Visits
Recommended treatments occur every four to six weeks with clear aligners, although some online companies offer products directly with no required visits to an orthodontist. Braces must be adjusted routinely. The convenience of clear aligners is a bonus for some patients, but they may not be the best option for every individual.
Designed for Simple Corrections
Clear aligners are best suited to people who need only minor adjustments with their teeth and duration of treatment may take longer. They are poor substitutes for traditional orthodontics when treating more complex issues such as overbite, crossbite, abnormalities with the jaw, and other types of malocclusions.
Must Be Removed
On one hand, the removable nature of clear aligners allows patients to eat whatever foods they crave. On the other hand, the devices must be removed while eating or drinking beverages other than water to prevent damage or staining to the plastic. Not every person will find this convenient.
Discipline and More Frequent Care
On average, patients should wear clear aligners between 20 and 22 hours a day. And since the devices must be removed and reapplied regularly for eating and drinking, diligence is imperative for successful outcomes. Aligners are not a good option for those with compliance issues and those likely to misplace their aligners, for example in young children. The products can also cause halitosis and increase the risk of cavities for users with substandard oral hygiene practices. As a result, people may need to brush and floss more frequently throughout the day.
Braces have been and still remain the gold standard in orthodontics. Even though they’ve earned a reputation as aesthetically unappealing and uncomfortable, they offer a wealth of proven benefits.
Simple Solution for Complex Cases
Braces can universally treat even the most complex cases. Because they fasten to each tooth individually, they pack a more powerful punch than aligners. Orthodontists can make precise adjustments that deliver exceptional results, often faster.
Many patients may think of braces as unsightly metal work in the mouth, but the devices have evolved. There are now braces that fit behind the teeth (lingual) or others made of ceramic, which provide a greater level of discretion and invisibility.
No Need to Remove
Braces can’t be removed like clear aligners. Patients can drink what they like and eat most foods without worrying about taking the device out. They offer a straightforward approach to treatment without the compliance issues and additional maintenance that comes with clear aligners.
Metal braces in particular have a reputation for causing small cuts and other irritation. Wax helps buffer against the potential problems, but patients will need to grow accustomed to wearing them.
The biggest advantage of clear aligners is that they are harder to detect than braces. Even lingual or ceramic braces are more noticeable than an aligner.
Food Limitations and Frequent Treatments
As we pointed out previously, those who choose braces are slightly limited in what they can eat. Patients must also visit their orthodontist regularly for adjustments.
Naturally, patients will also consider the price of treatment in their oral health decisions. And in that regard, braces generally win out over clear aligners. The average cost of traditional braces for a two-year treatment plan ranges from $2,000 to $6,000. Clear aligners are more expensive, coming in at $3,000 to $7,000.
The reason braces endure as the go-to recommendation by most orthodontists is because they can treat any condition. Crooked teeth are caused by a variety of factors that include genetics, jaw size, poor myofunctional habits (e.g., thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, mouth breathing, etc.), malocclusion, poor nutrition, facial injuries, and more. While misaligned teeth usually pose no health risks, that’s not always true. As Healthline noted, crooked teeth can lead to some oral health complications.
- Periodontal disease. It can be hard to clean in between crooked teeth. This can result in tooth decay and gum disease. If left untreated, gum disease can lead to periodontitis, a more serious infection that can damage bones and teeth.
- Chewing and digestion. Crooked teeth can also interfere with proper chewing, which may cause digestion problems.
- Excess wear. Crooked teeth can also cause excess wear and tear on the teeth, gums, and jaw muscles, resulting in cracked teeth, jaw strain, temporomandibular joint disorder, and chronic headaches.
- Speech difficulties. If your teeth are misaligned, they can affect the way you articulate sound, causing problems with speech.
Simply put, always confer with your dentist to determine the best option and get a referral to an orthodontist. For minor corrections, clear aligners may do the trick. Overall, however, braces endure as a time-honored, proven, and affordable treatment option for any patient with any condition.
Photos by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash and Rainier Ridao on Unsplash