Removable clear aligners (like Invisalign) often appeal to teens because they aren’t as noticeable as traditional braces. They consist of a series of custom-made plastic trays that are swapped for new ones every one to two weeks. “They’re a great tool for simple cases, but not every kid is a good candidate,” says Christina R. Carter, DMD, a pediatric dentist and orthodontist in Morristown. “They can’t correct some issues, such as bite problems. Your child’s orthodontist needs to evaluate and recommend the best treatment plan.” Here’s what else you need to know:
They aren’t a quick fix. “People often don’t know you have to wear clear aligners 22 out of 24 hours a day,” says Padma Mukherjee, DMD, associate professor in the department of orthodontics at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. “Not all kids have the maturity to do that. I’m honest with teens about knowing yourself and whether you can make the commitment.” Treatment time is still about 18 to 24 months like traditional braces.
It’s easier to brush and floss. Because clear aligners are removed during meals, your child will be able to clean his or her teeth more thoroughly. Plus, your kid won’t have the restrictions that come with traditional braces, such as no sticky or crunchy foods like carrots or popcorn, says Mukherjee.
There’s a “water only” rule. “Clear aligners fit so snugly that saliva can’t protect teeth from acid and sugar,” says Carter. Your kid can drink plain water with aligners in place during the day, but seltzer, juice, soda and sports drinks are no-nos.
It’s one more thing your kid has to keep track of. If your kid always misplaces his or her ID, phone, backpack or keys, clear aligners may not be a great idea, adds Carter.
It isn’t a DIY job. Surprisingly, clear aligners are also sold over the counter or online—a thought that makes orthodontists shudder. “Would you do your own fillings? These DIY products have been linked with bone and gum loss, and even moving teeth out of the bone,” warns Carter. So make sure you get your child’s aligners from his or her orthodontist.
—Arricca Elin SanSone is a New York-based health and lifestyle writer.