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Types of braces: Aligners

Clear overlays to line up the teeth

"Invisible" aligners for straightening teeth have featured widely in the press recently. It is important to be clear about the circumstances in which these devices are best used.

What are aligners?

Aligners are thin clear flexible plastic 'mouthguards' which fit closely over the teeth. A series of these appliances is used to obtain incremental changes to correct the teeth according to a treatment plan developed by the orthodontist. Aligners are commonly known by their trade names such as "Invisalign" or "Clearstep".

Because they are unobtrusive, aligner appliances are ideally suited to adult patients whose life-style or work commitments make it difficult for them to wear conventional appliances.

A proper orthodontic assessment, diagnosis and treatment plan is essential to successful aligner treatment, as with any other form of orthodontics.

An accurate impression of the mouth is used to create the tailor-made aligners. Each appliance moves the teeth a small distance towards the intended position and is then replaced with its successor until the final result is achieved. Aligners need to be worn full-time, day and night except for meal times. Aligner treatments tend to take longer than conventional braces to achieve the same effect.

When should aligners be used?

Aligners are best suited to cases needing simple alignment of teeth without extractions:

  • Mild dental irregularity
  • Crowding which can be corrected with a slight expansion of the dental arch
  • Crowding which can be corrected with minor reductions in tooth width
  • Mild spacing

When should aligners not be used?

  • Moderate to severe crowding
  • Treatments that require space to be made by tooth extraction
  • Treatments that require complex tooth movements particularly of the tooth roots
  • Problems that reflect an underlying discrepancy in size or position of the jaws

These cases are much more effectively treated with conventional methods; the use of aligners is liable to lead to disappointment.

It is important to seek an opinion from an orthodontic specialist who will be able to give authoritative advice on the options.

For further information, the following links may be of interest:
www.invisalign.co.uk
www.clearstep.co.uk

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