All You Need to Know on Clear Aligners :: Bates Orthodontics

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“As a mom myself, I know we often tend to put our needs behind the rest of our family members. I saw a meme recently that said something like, ‘It’s either the kids, the house, or me that will look presentable at any given time–it can’t be all three!’ We all know our kids and house get tidy and cute long before we get the time to work on our own appearance, am I right?! The same goes for our smile. We’re over here taxi-ing our kids to their orthodontist appointments without even noticing our own teeth have shifted significantly since adolescence! My wake up call came a few years ago after taking a selfie with my then-infant daughter. I did a double take after noticing the shadow on one of my front teeth. It couldn’t be! No! I had to face the inevitable truth: My teeth shifted significantly as an adult, especially after pregnancy. I knew I didn’t want to go the metal braces route that I took in middle school, and I landed on clear aligners four years ago. I’ve never regretted it.” – Julie Tucker, Birmingham Mom Collective contributor

Clear aligners are an excellent option for adults looking to straighten their teeth. Birmingham Mom Collective recently chatted with Kathryn Bates at Bates Orthodontics to get answers to all the questions people might when considering straightening an entire smile or just correcting “that one tooth.” Kathryn did an excellent job filling us in on all things clear aligner technology.

What is Clear Aligner Technology?

“Clear aligner technology”, or “clear aligner therapy”, is an alternative treatment method to traditional braces, and a popular example of this technology that everyone has likely heard of is “Invisalign”. Invisalign was the first company to patent this technology. The patent expired a few years ago, which is why you are starting to see so many other names now. Clear aligner technology uses a series of small plastic trays to move the teeth in small, gradual movements when worn consistently. For great results, it is recommended to wear your trays 22+ hours a day, essentially only taking them out to eat, drink, brush, and floss.

What are clear aligners?
Clear aligners are removable plastic trays (or plastic shells) that fit over your teeth. They look similar to a bleaching tray or a clear retainer. Unlike braces, they can be easily removed when needed, and a single clear aligner is worn for about 7-14 days at a time.

How are they made?
A digital impression of your teeth is taken using a 3D scanner. From that scan, Dr. Bates uses computer software to create a personalized treatment plan to safely move your teeth in order to improve your smile, both functionally and esthetically. Your clear aligners are custom-made from virtual models of your teeth that show small increments of movement to your new straight smile designed by Dr. Bates!

How do they work?
A series of clear aligners is designed to move teeth in small increments at a time. (If you are Parks and Rec fan, imagine it like Ben’s new Claymation hobby when he is jobless – hahaha). When worn consistently, each aligner applies directed pressure and force to the teeth to cause movement. The number of aligners in a series can vary depending on the complexity of the treatment but a series can range anywhere from 3-50+.

What to Expect with the Clear Aligners Process

Is everyone a candidate for clear aligner orthodontic treatment? 
Historically, people associate orthodontics with straight teeth. But a huge part of orthodontics that isn’t talked about as much is the function – the way you use your teeth to bite, chew, speak, and how your teeth affect facial proportions and how you look. That function is the reason for orthodontic treatment, and straight teeth just happens to be a positive side-effect.  Every patient is different and has different treatment needs. While the technology has improved greatly over the years, it is still a young technology with limitations. Therefore, not everyone is a candidate for clear aligners as their treatment method. It depends on treatment needs and expectations and if those needs and expectations can be met using aligners. A consultation with Dr. Bates is always the first step.

Do you see a lot of adults getting aligners?
Yes yes yes! Clear aligner technology has definitely contributed to the exponentially growing number of adults of all ages going after that confident smile! The technology was essentially created for adults to improve their smiles in a more subtle way. As the technology has evolved and improved, it’s being seen in more kids as well.

What is the average treatment time in clear aligners?
With consistent wear and good patient compliance, the average time for comprehensive treatment is about 12-18 months (1-1.5 years). For a limited treatment where you’re correcting “that one tooth”, it could be as quick as 1-3 months.

Are they really “invisible”?
While the aligners are clear, there are some other “parts” that may be slightly noticeable:

Attachments – tooth colored buttons temporarily attached to your teeth during treatment  act as pressure points. These help apply specific pressures to get specific movements out of certain teeth
Rubber bands – like with braces, sometimes rubber bands, or “elastics”, are needed to help improve bite. They can be attached to cut outs in the aligners or buttons

Will my teeth be sore?
Yes. With moving teeth, some soreness is expected – and lets the orthodontist know it’s working! It is mostly experienced when going from one tray in the series to the next, and it’s nothing a little ibuprofen can’t handle. Changing your aligners at night before bed so you sleep through that first soreness is recommended. A good comparison is a sore muscle you didn’t even know you had after a Pure Barre workout. It’s sore for 2 days, but then then you are right back to normal.

How often are my appointments with clear aligners?
With the aligners, you’ll typically be seen every 8-10 weeks (2-2.5 months). Aligners are popular for this reason since it’s less time missed at school/work for appointments.

Do I have to change my eating habits?
Nope! Eat and drink whatever you want, but don’t eat or drink with aligners in. You don’t want food or bacteria getting trapped underneath the aligners – yuck! It’s okay to drink cool water with them in, but hot liquids can cause distortion of the plastic. Non-clear liquids could stain them since they are clear plastic. That means no red wine with these in! After eating or drinking, it’s recommended that you brush before replacing your aligners, but at a minimum you’ll want to at least rinse your mouth with water.

Are they hard to clean?
Super easy. Most just brush them out with their toothbrush in the morning and at night when they brush their teeth. It’s recommended that you rinse them with cool water throughout the day when they are taken in and out. If they do get discolored or kind of dingy looking, there are different types of cleaning tablets for them to spruce them up! But honestly, you only wear them for a week at a time so if they get a little dingy looking, it’s usually toward the end of the week and then POOF you are on to the next one anyway!

Do I still have to wear retainers when I’m done with clear aligners?
Well you didn’t just move those teeth for nothing! If you want them to stay there and prevent another round of treatment, yes, you will need retainers.

How do I get the best results possible?
The people who get the best results are those who are mentally invested in their treatment and excited about it. They wear their aligners consistently and come to their appointments to have progress checked and issues addressed. Bates Orthodontics wants patients to get the most out of their treatment (and money), so they work hard to prepare them for the process. They’ve only seen great results in their patients, and these are the reasons why.

See Your Orthodontist, Not a 1-800 Number

It’s no secret that there are direct-to-consumer options for clear aligners. The marketing is great, but the bottom line is that undergoing a medical intervention of any kind, like one that will move your teeth should always involve a doctor. (Read here about Dr. Bates and his credentials.) Orthodontists see horror stories from these services regularly, and it’s no surprise given what it really takes for aligners to be successful. (Remember where we mentioned visits to the office every few weeks to make adjustments and see how things are progressing? That doesn’t happen when there is no orthodontist involved.) This example is gold: If you break your arm, are you going to go online and order a “cast kit” in the mail and put the cast on yourself? No, you are going to go see a doctor to put the bones back together in the right spot, put a cast on, and monitor the healing process until the cast comes off.

The national organizations of The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) and the American Dental Association (ADA), do not support direct-to-consumer orthodontic products. Orthodontic treatment is a medical/dental treatment that should be provided and delivered by a licensed and trained orthodontist. There are risks associated with orthodontic treatment, and unmonitored treatment could result in major dental complications, such as impaired function, bone loss, or tooth loss. Just see an orthodontist.

You’ll love the “Iron City” industrial theme decor used throughout the office!

Are You Ready to Get Started?

Maximize your first appointment.
Before coming in for a consultation, Bates Orthodontics asks you to be up-to-date on dental visits. If you have not seen a general dentist for your routine cleaning and exam in the past 12 months, they request you go ahead and schedule that appointment. If you don’t have a dentist, they are happy to provide you with a recommendation. At Bates Orthodontics, healthy teeth and gums are a requirement for orthodontic treatment.  

Enjoy your complimentary consultation.
All consultations at Bates Orthodontics are complimentary, and the appointment generally lasts about an hour. You’ll also provide your dental insurance information so they can verify if your policy has orthodontic coverage. This allows them to give you accurate treatment fee estimates at your appointment (more on that below).

At your first appointment, after checking in at the front desk, you can help yourself to refreshments in the reception area. If you’re lucky, you may even get a chance to pet the four-legged office mascot, Roux! (If you’re not a fan of dogs, just let the front desk know and Roux will retreat to her office for nap time during your office visit)! You’ll have x-rays and photos of your face, teeth, and jaws that will help Dr. Bates and his team best assess and discuss your treatment needs. Then Dr. Bates will examine your photos and x-rays before performing a full orthodontic examination, making notes with your treatment coordinator on what he sees.

Explore payment options.
If treatment is recommended, your treatment coordinator will break down the fees associated with your recommended treatment options. You’ll also discuss your estimated insurance coverage as well as Bates Orthodontics’ flexible payment plan options, including interest-free options, pay-in-full discounts, and automated monthly payments. Bates Orthodontics’ goal is to find a payment plan that works best for your family and your monthly budget!

Dr. William Bates is a board-certified and licensed orthodontic specialist and proud member of the American Association of Orthodontists. When you’re ready to get started on your new smile, simply visit Bates Orthodontics online at bracesbybates.com (click the “Schedule Consult” button to schedule from your phone or computer) or on Facebook and Instagram.
We have a partnership with Bates Orthodontics, and we appreciate their expertise on all things clear aligners. This is sponsored content.

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