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Braces and Invisalign (a brand of clear aligners) are popular orthodontic treatments that straighten teeth. But which of these options is best for you?
In this article, we’ll compare Invisalign aligners and braces to help you make the right decision. However, you should always discuss orthodontic treatment options with your orthodontist.
Braces are the most popular, versatile, and accessible type of orthodontic treatment. Traditional braces consist of brackets attached to each tooth and wires held together with metal or elastic ligatures.
Invisalign and braces use a similar approach to creating straighter teeth. Both treatment modalities apply pressure to misaligned teeth until they align perfectly.
Unlike Invisalign aligners, braces can address more serious jaw alignment problems.
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Invisalign was the first brand of invisible aligners and may have more name recognition than any other brand. They consist of thin plastic aligners custom-made to fit over your teeth.
Over several months, Invisalign trays put pressure on crooked teeth. This brings them into the desired position and creates a straighter smile. Clear aligners are an excellent alternative to conventional braces for moderately crooked teeth.
Note that Invisalign is an in-office treatment. You’ll have periodic check-ins at your orthodontist’s office to monitor your progress while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
Invisalign typically involves a shorter treatment time than braces. However, treatment times vary from person to person. Talk to your orthodontist about the expected time range for your particular needs.
Part of the reason Invisalign treatment may be faster is that it handles less complex issues than braces. The longer treatment times associated with braces may be necessary for severe alignment issues involving the jaw and not just the teeth.
Interested in straightening your teeth at home? Here are the best clear aligner companies.
Braces and Invisalign cost about the same. Expect to pay $3,000 to $7,000 or more for either treatment.
Less-visible braces, such as ceramic or lingual braces, will likely cost more than Invisalign without insurance.
Orthodontic treatment costs will vary according to your location, your specific treatment needs, and what your dental insurance covers.
Whether Invisalign or braces are better for you will depend on unique factors, including the orthodontic problem that needs to be fixed. Consulting with an orthodontist is the best way to determine which treatment is right for you.
However, learning the benefits and disadvantages of both treatments is wise.
Here’s a quick look at some of the major differences:
|Best for||Mild to moderate misalignment, excluding skeletal (jaw) issues||Moderate to severe misalignment, including skeletal issues|
|Cost||$3,000 to $8,000||$3,000 to $12,000|
|Treatment Time||6 to 18 months (12 months on average)||6 to 36 months (24 months on average)|
|Orthodontist Visits||Every 6 to 8 weeks||Every 4 to 8 weeks|
|Appearance||Nearly invisible||Often very visible, but more discreet options exist|
|Convenience||Removable (but must be worn properly for most of the day)||Not removable (but no need to remember to put them on)|
We’ll discuss the pros and cons of Invisalign and braces below. But remember that Invisalign isn’t your only option for clear aligner treatment (see near the bottom for more information on alternatives).
Advantages Invisalign aligners over braces include:
Clear aligners like Invisalign are virtually invisible. Transparent aligners allow a more discreet orthodontic treatment than traditional metal braces. Teenagers and adults may choose Invisalign for this reason.
Clear aligners are removable, and braces aren’t. Although you must wear Invisalign aligners for most of the day (20 to 22 hours), you can also easily take them off for meals and cleaning.
You also won’t have metal brackets or wires in your mouth, which makes Invisalign aligners more comfortable than metal braces.
Invisalign requires orthodontic check-ins about every four to six weeks. Unlike braces, these won’t involve tightening or changing ligatures.
The ability to remove an Invisalign tray means you can eat what you want without worry. People wearing braces must avoid chewy or sticky foods to prevent damage and irritation.
Invisalign makes it easy to maintain good oral hygiene. Simply remove your Invisalign aligners to brush and floss your teeth as usual.
Cleaning your teeth while wearing braces is much more difficult. It can be tricky to floss around the arch wire and brackets.
Regarding average treatment time, Invisalign tends to be faster than braces. Invisalign treatment may be as short as six months for people with less complex alignment issues.
Note that this isn’t guaranteed. Individual treatment lengths vary, and it may take over a year for Invisalign treatment to be completed.
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Potential downsides to Invisalign include:
Both Invisalign and braces cost about the same — around $5,000 without insurance. Many dental insurance plans offer partial coverage for traditional braces but not Invisalign. This might make Invisalign significantly more expensive.
On the other hand, Invisalign may still be cheaper than ceramic or lingual braces. These are more expensive than traditional braces, and insurance won’t always cover them.
The convenience of clear aligners may be a downside for some people. Because clear aligners are removable, you must remember to put them back in consistently.
If you don’t keep your aligners in for 20 to 22 hours daily, you risk a longer treatment time and may compromise the final results.
Because Invisalign aligners are essentially invisible, they can be easy to misplace. For this reason, some people accidentally throw their aligners away or leave them behind.
Replacing lost Invisalign trays can add to the overall cost of treatment. You should place your aligners in a carrying case whenever you remove them to avoid this.
Unlike braces, Invisalign aligners aren’t adequate for severe orthodontic issues that require major tooth movements.
You may not be a good candidate for Invisalign treatment if you have:
For these more complex orthodontic problems, you’ll likely need braces to meet your orthodontic needs.
Here are the major advantages of traditional braces treatment compared to Invisalign:
Braces are more versatile than Invisalign. They treat several orthodontic needs, including complex tooth and jaw misalignment cases.
Because braces exert and withstand more pressure than clear aligners, tooth movement can be more exact.
For milder cases of misaligned teeth, Invisalign can be just as effective. But braces are better at shifting the teeth into the desired positions for people with more complex needs.
You won’t need much discipline to wear your braces consistently because they’re bonded to your teeth. This is an advantage for people who fear they won’t be able to adhere to Invisalign’s 22-hour rule.
While traditional metal braces are the most common and affordable, they’re not your only option. If you want to avoid wearing metal brackets on the front of your teeth, various other braces are more discreet.
Alternative options include:
These alternative options tend to be more expensive than traditional braces. Insurance may not provide as much (if any) coverage for them.
Disadvantages of braces include:
Metal braces are much more visible than Invisalign clear aligners. They call more attention to the teeth than some people may be comfortable with.
The distracting appearance of metal braces can make this treatment modality less desirable for people who are good candidates for Invisalign.
While ceramic and lingual braces are more discreet, they’re more expensive and less convenient than Invisalign.
Unlike clear aligners, braces aren’t removable. They’re fixed in place until treatment is over.
This means braces require more care about what you eat and how you clean your teeth. Additionally, you must wear a mouth guard when playing sports or participating in activities that can damage your braces.
You’ll have to be mindful of what you eat to avoid getting food stuck in your braces. Hard, sticky, or chewy foods can get caught in the metal wires and cause damage.
Braces can cause mouth pain and discomfort beyond the pressure of shifting your teeth. Metal wires and brackets have sharp edges that can poke, rub, and irritate oral tissues.
Maintaining good oral hygiene is more of a challenge with braces than Invisalign. Cleaning your teeth around the brackets and wires is much more difficult.
Without proper care, this can lead to tooth decay and discoloration.
Braces often require more visits to the orthodontist than Invisalign. However, this varies from one case to another.
Visiting your orthodontist for braces treatment often involves replacing the wires and ligatures. This takes more time than a simple Invisalign check-up.
There are various ways to help cover orthodontic treatment costs with Invisalign or braces.
Many dental insurance plans provide some coverage for braces but not for clear aligners like Invisalign. This could make Invisalign more expensive than braces.
If you don’t have dental insurance, you may be able to find orthodontic treatment through low-income dental services. These options are more likely to cover treatment for braces rather than clear aligners.
Before starting treatment, discuss payment options with your orthodontist. They may offer an in-house payment plan to make payments easier for you.
If you have an HSA (health savings account) or FSA (flexible spending account), you can use those tax-free funds toward braces or Invisalign.
Invisalign is one of the most expensive clear aligner options available. It’s also the oldest clear aligner brand around. Many additional brands have formed since Invisalign started over 20 years ago.
Several alternatives exist if your orthodontic needs don’t require braces and you want a more affordable option than Invisalign.
The most affordable alternatives to Invisalign are at-home aligners, also known as direct-to-consumer aligners.
These clear aligners don’t involve any office visits. Instead, you’ll order an impression kit and begin treatment from home. These aligners include remote monitoring, which may or may not involve an actual orthodontist.
Common brands include:
Other clear aligner brands offer a similar in-office model to Invisalign. These options are typically hybrid, involving office visits and remote monitoring.
Invisalign and braces are two popular orthodontic treatment options. Both orthodontic treatments create a straight smile by applying pressure to your teeth. However, there are many key differences between Invisalign and braces.
Many people with mild to moderately crooked teeth choose Invisalign because the clear aligners are nearly invisible. Braces will likely be better for people with more complex alignment issues.
As always, consult your orthodontist and discuss treatment options. Only you and your orthodontist can come to a final decision about what’s best for your unique situation.
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