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There have been many advancements in orthodontics over the years, but none so game changing as the advent of clear or “invisible” aligners. There are now many players and providers in this type of orthodontic treatment with many claims and promotions, not just from orthodontists and dentists, but also from companies marketing directly to the public. What we’d like to do is help you understand the pros and cons of this type of orthodontic treatment.

For the last 50 years or more, braces, or fixed orthodontic treatment, have been the gold standard for straightening teeth. (There even were gold braces at one point but that’s another story altogether!) Braces provided a controlled, sophisticated, highly engineered and accurate way to correct crooked teeth. The problem was esthetics. “Train-Tracks”, “Brace-Face” and “Tin-Grin” were common derogatory nicknames for kids with braces. Headgear, Monoblocs and other adjunctive appliances did little to help with the stigma of orthodontic treatment, so the industry began to look for more esthetically acceptable versions while providing the same quality of care. This led to the development of clear braces. Today orthodontists can provide the same high level of treatment with clear braces as with metal, but in a much more esthetic way. Also, braces have become generally more acceptable to kids, and even something desired by many.

Now however, there is an even more ideal esthetic alternative. Clear aligners. Clear aligners are a series of plastic trays that fit over the teeth, much like a mouthguard does. A series of aligners are made, each with a little bit of tooth straightening in them. A patient wears each aligner for one to two weeks before moving to the next in the series. Over time the teeth are straightened similarly to braces.

Like any new product there is a development curve where it evolves as more study is done and experience gained. This is where we currently are with clear aligner treatment. It can do many of the same things as braces – but not all. Nor should it. Braces have been studied, developed, analyzed and tweaked for over half a century. Clear aligners have been with us for over 10 years. It is the role and expertise of the orthodontist to determine which type of treatment is suitable for your child, and to provide the treatment with proper monitoring and follow-up to get you to the “finish- line” and beyond into retention of the result. At this time, braces are still the “gold standard” while aligners are improving all the time and could be considered the “silver standard”. That’s not bad, just different.


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