As those of you with very good memories may recall, at around this time last year, I started using Invisalign clear braces to straighten my crooked, gappy teeth. I actually finished my treatment a few weeks ago (I would actually have been done much quicker, but there were a few long gaps in the treatment where either I was on holiday, or couldn’t get to the dentist for some reason, and that made it last a little longer than anticipated), so I figured now was a good time to look back on the experience and tell you how it turned out.
(This is long, so I’ve put most of it under the jump. If you want to know more about Invisalign in general, you’ll find my other posts on it here.)
First things first: as I’m sure you can tell, the teeth in the photo above aren’t mine, and nor will I be posting any photos of my teeth. I know that sounds a bit odd considering that this is a review of a tooth product, but one slightly unexpected consequence of using Invisalign is that it’s turned me into a tooth perfectionist. When I started the treatment, all I wanted was to make my teeth straighter. I wasn’t even aiming for ruler straight: even just a little bit straighter than they were would’ve been good enough for me, because my bottom teeth in particular were so crooked that I figured any improvement would be enough.
What I found, though, was that as the teeth gradually begun to straighten, I started to notice new “flaws”. Why was that tooth such an odd shape? Why was this one slightly longer than the corresponding tooth on the other side? Was that a fang I could see? In short, being forced to look closely at my teeth every couple of weeks (OK, I wasn’t forced, exactly, but the dentist did take lots of close-up photos, and I was naturally interested in seeing the difference after each set of braces) made me obsess a little over them, and by the end of the treatment I had a whole new set of issues I’d like to resolve before I’ll be completely happy with them – or at least, happy enough to want to post close-ups of them on the Internet (I’m not sure that’ll ever happen, to be honest!).
Now, none of this is the fault of Invisalign. Way back at the start of the process, my dentist spent a lot of time explaining the limitations of the system: for instance, while it can make teeth straighter, it may not be able to make ALL of your teeth PERFECTLY straight, and it also obviously does nothing to change the shape or colour of them. In my case, while my teeth are now much, much straighter than they were to start with (the Before and After photos were a revelation to me: I hadn’t realised quite how big the difference was until the whole process was finished!), they’re not 100% straight, and my dentist explained to me before I signed up for Invisalign that the ruler-straight, Hollywood smile was something I wouldn’t be able to achieve in a year with Invisalign: in fact, I’d need several years, train track braces and a whole ton of money to be able to get that. Needless to say, I passed on the latter option, and am confident I made the right decision, because I’m pretty sure the little niggles I still have about the straightness of my teeth are things that are noticeable only to me and my overly-critical eye.
Once I took the braces off for good, however, I still wasn’t done. In fact, I had two more steps to go through:
1. Realignment of the teeth
Once my bottom teeth were straight, the tips of the teeth had to be realigned, because they all ended up at different heights, which wasn’t exactly attractive. This process basically involved the dentist “filing” down the teeth until they were the same height: it sounds alarming, but I honestly didn’t feel a thing, and it didn’t even require anesthetic or anything.
This is something a lot of people don’t consider when they decide to use Invisalign, or some other method of straightening teeth, but it’s so important, because if I finished the Invisalign treatment and did nothing to keep the teeth in place, sooner or later they’d just revert back to their original positions and all of that time and money would have been totally wasted. There are two types of retention: fixed retainers and removable ones, and I have one of each. On my lower teeth I opted to have a fixed retainer, which is basically a thin strip of wire attached to the back of the teeth. It took around 20 – 30 minutes to fit (again, totally painless, although it was a little uncomfortable to keep my jaw open for that long!) and although I was very aware of it for the first 48 hours or so, I now don’t notice it at all. On my top teeth, meanwhile, my dentist was of the opinion that there wasn’t enough room for a fixed retainer, and because I’m also a “grinder”, he advised me to have a removable splint, which both holds the teeth in place and stops me grinding down on them while I sleep. I wear this at night, and it looks a lot like one of the Invisalign trays, although it’s softer, more flexible and a little thicker. Because I was so used to wearing my Invisalign braces by this point, I had no trouble at all adapting to this: I just have to remember to put it in every night!
Overall, I’m really pleased I decided to go through with Invisalign, and although it hasn’t created the perfect smile, it has made enough of a difference that when the dentist pulled up the “before” photos of my teeth on his computer a few weeks ago, I honestly didn’t realise it was my teeth I was looking at. In fact, my first thought was, “I wonder why he’s showing me this poor person’s teeth?” and my second was, “Wow, I’m glad they’re not mine!” (The third needless to say, was “Thank God I got Invisalign…”)
- Straight teeth! Need I say more?
- Relatively short treatment time – it took me just under a year to complete the treatment, and it would’ve been even quicker if not for the two vacations I took, one of which came right after the worst snowfall of the year (I was snowed in and had to miss an appointment) and right before Christmas, meaning that it was over a month before I could make it back to the dentist. My top teeth, meanwhile, were finished in under two months, although they were a very easy Invisalign case: obviously everyone’s treatment time is different.
- Relatively pain free: only one of my braces was painful to wear, and that was only for a couple of days.
- The braces are more or less invisible: none of my friends realised I was wearing them, and when I told them, they had to be actively looking for the braces to see them.
- Once I got used to the sensation of wearing them (which took a couple of weeks at least) I didn’t even notice them: they were completely comfortable.
- Frequent visits to the dentist: this may not be an issue for everyone, but my dentist is an hour’s drive away, so it took up a lot of time on the days I had to go in.
- Having impressions taken for new braces: this happens every six weeks or so, and I absolutely dreaded it. I know some people don’t mind it at all, but I always felt like I was going to gag while I was having the impressions taken!
- When I was wearing braces on my top and bottom teeth, the top brace changed the shape of my face slightly – my top lip looked like it was protruding, and while it was a very subtle change (and a temporary one, in that as soon as the brace came out, my lip reverted to normal), I was a little self-conscious about it. Luckily for me, I only had to wear the top brace for a couple of months, so this was short-lived.
- Having to remove them to eat. Not an issue at home, but a bit of a pain when I was out and about, especially when I had to clean my teeth in public bathrooms!
- Migraines. I suffer from focal migraines, and towards the end of the treatment, I started to get more of them than usual. I can’t say for sure that Invisalign caused this, but my dentist confirmed that it was a possibility: it’s putting pressure on/changing the shape of your jaw and face, so it can cause headaches. On the other hand, if you suffer from headaches, Invisalign can also reduce them, so I guess it’s just my luck that it was the other way around for me. (I should also point out that I got through many months of Invisalign without an increase in headaches, so there may have been another explanation for that.)
- The Invisalign diet. I’m including this as a “con”, although, to be honest, I actually didn’t find it nearly as difficult to deal with as I’d expected to. Because you need to wear the braces for as long as possible each day, and remove them to eat (and to drink anything other than water), Invisalign can call for a major adjustment in your eating habits. On the plus side, many people who use Invisalign lose weight in the first few weeks, which could be a major plus if you were looking to lose weight anyway!
- The expense. Oh my holy hell, the expense. This obviously differs from person to person, but most dentists seem to quote a starting price of around £1,500. Yeah.
Looking at those lists, I can see I’ve got more “cons” than “pros” there, but actually, that’s not really indicative of how I felt about it. Overall, the downsides (other than the cost, which is a major one) are all fairly minor, and they were all things I was willing to put up with in the short term in order to have straight, healthy teeth in the long term. Now that I’ve done it, my only regret is that I didn’t do is sooner: I really wish Invisalign had been available when I was a teenager, for instance, because while I wouldn’t have been willing to put up with traditional braces when I was younger, Invisalign is so unobtrusive I’m sure I could’ve been persuaded to give it a go, meaning I’d have had my straight teeth much earlier in life.
C’est la vie, though, and I’m really glad I’ve done it now. I can’t stress often enough that every case is different, and that your Invisalign experience could be completely different from mine, if you decide to go for it, so I guess my best advice to those thinking of trying it would be to make an appointment with an Invisalign qualified dentist/orthodontist and get a professional opinion. Most dentists seem to offer consultations for free, so you have nothing to lose but your time – and, of course, if you have any general questions, please feel free to ask!