How long does Invisalign treatment take, and am I, or is my child, a good candidate?

In our practice, Invisalign and traditional treatment with brackets and wires require similar treatment lengths; the total time being dependent upon case complexity.  The key to efficient and excellent treatment with Invisalign is the clinical understanding of Invisalign mechanics, which differ greatly from wire and bracket mechanics.  Most patients, adult and teen, can be effectively treated with Invisalign through the incorporation of advanced Invisalign techniques, the proper sequencing of tooth movement, and, when needed, the limited use of traditional orthodontic auxiliaries.  Many cases that would be difficult to treat with Invisalign alone are hampered by the position of one or two teeth and the corresponding corrective movements that are necessitated.  Often, by utilizing traditional techniques to align these teeth in preparation for Invisalign, an experienced orthodontist can transform the case into one that will allow successful and efficient Invisalign treatment.  Orthodontists skilled in both the use of Invisalign and traditional care can effectively integrate the use of auxiliaries and eliminate those failed Invisalign cases that have resulted in the erroneous impression that Invisalign is either ineffective or takes longer than traditional braces.

Certain cases, such as surgical orthodontic therapy with skeletal fixation, are most commonly treated with traditional braces.  However, Invisalign is a superior modality for non-surgical, high-angle, and/or anterior open bite cases.  And, for the majority of presentations, as noted above, traditional treatment or Invisalign may be effectively used.

Suitability of Invisalign for a child is highly dependent upon not only the orthodontic diagnosis but also the expected level of patient participation.  The necessity of consistent wear of the clear plastic aligners over the full length of treatment can make Invisalign inappropriate for some individuals, whether adult or child.  (Experience in orthodontic practices across the country indicates that the percentage of patients that present with insufficient aligner wear is similar in adult and teen populations.)  The likelihood of high compliance will be discussed with your orthodontist to determine if your child is a good candidate.  I often ask the younger patient if he or she is the type of person who always makes the bed, or habitually brushes his or her teeth without being reminded.  If the answer is no, accompanied by a chuckle and knowing glance between parent and child, I remind everyone that our ultimate goal is to have an ideal result, which will necessitate 22+ hours of aligner wear every single day of treatment.  If the desire for the benefits of Invisalign is not sufficient to instill the necessary dedication and commitment, I suggest that the family reconsider their options.  Patients that do not sustain the necessary level of aligner wear can still attain an ideal result, but usually only following a transition into braces.  Such cases take longer and may cost more than if they had been started with fixed appliances (braces).  Thus, even though many teens prove to be some of the best Invisalign patients, it is important to have a frank appraisal of the most likely level of patient participation before entering any treatment.

While the vast majority of adult patients seek out Invisalign over braces, some adults opt for traditional treatment, preferring not to remove and replace aligners.  This is particularly appropriate if the patient is both busy and unconcerned with visible brackets.  We offer crystal clear brackets and tooth-colored wires that greatly reduce the visual impact of traditional treatment.  Lingual braces are yet another option for the adult patient.  These options are available in most orthodontic practices and provide the adult with many acceptable alternatives to metal braces.

Regarding treatment length, there are now technologies (Acceledent, Propel, and Wilckodontics) that enhance the biological processes involved in tooth movement, reducing the time required to achieve an excellent orthodontic result by 25-40%, regardless of modality chosen.  Some of these technologies are easily incorporated, such as Acceledent, and can have the added benefit of reducing the discomfort of orthodontic tooth movement.

In all cases, I recommend that you seek an examination with one or more orthodontists and choose that practitioner who is willing and able to address your questions and concerns.  If Invisalign is your preference, you must use your own judgment regarding the practitioner’s expertise.  As an aid, you may wish to inquire about continuing education; Invisalign is a rapidly evolving modality with many opportunities for advanced training.  Some very competent and busy orthodontists have not yet been able to devote time to Invisalign education and, while excellent practitioners of traditional treatment, are not able to effectively and efficiently utilize the Invisalign system.  As Invisalign becomes more and more prevalent this situation will likely become rare.  For the time being, however, potential patients should educate themselves and be willing to ask questions to determine expertise.

Best wishes on your future treatment, and keep smiling!