Clear Aligners vs. Braces: Everything You Need to Know

Clear Aligners vs. Braces: Everything You Need to Know
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Clear Aligners vs. Braces: Everything You Need to KnowClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Braces vs. Aligners
  2. Cleanliness
  3. Visibility Issues
  4. Pain Tolerance
  5. Checkups
  6. Treatment Time
  7. Cost Considerations
  8. Make the Right Choice
  9. References

Both clear aligners and braces help to straighten your teeth. The devices can also adjust the way your teeth fit together.

When it comes to getting that better bite, you have two main choices: braces or aligners. Which is right for you? This helpful chart could help you make a quick decision.

Braces vs. aligners: which comes out on top?

Let's dive into each area in detail, so you'll have all the information you need to make the right decision for your health and your mouth.

BracesAligners
Ease of cleaningX
PrivacyX
ComfortX
Fewer AppointmentsX
CostX
Treatment LengthX

Cleanliness: how vulnerable are your teeth?

You must brush your teeth to keep them clean, whether dental appliances are in use or not. But braces can make cleaning your teeth tough.

Brackets for braces are glued onto your teeth, and wires connect them. None of these things come out during your treatment. This permanent hardware creates spaces that trap bits of food, and when bacteria start feeding, plaque forms. That can lead to tooth decay. This is a known short-term risk with braces, says Mayo Clinic.

Aligners are different. You take out these devices and clean them when you eat and when you drink anything other than water.

You can clean your teeth unimpeded. When you have aligners, you don’t have to change how you:

You simply take out your aligners before you do these things.

Head to the dentist for a cleaning, and you can take out your trays for a full polish and fluoride treatment.

The result is a healthier, cleaner mouth.

Visibility issues: do you want your treatment noticed?

Modern braces are typically made of metal or ceramic materials, and companies have developed colorful wires and bands to string the teeth together. Some people want to express a personal sense of style with their braces, and they appreciate the color, Humana says. You may not agree.

Researchers say about half of all people who have orthodontic treatment are self-conscious about their looks during the treatment program. You may feel like:

  • People are watching your teeth rather than looking into your eyes.
  • Everyone notices how crooked your teeth are.
  • People make assumptions about your vanity or your health.

For the privacy conscious, aligners are a better choice. The devices are still noticeable for those who look hard, but they don't catch the sunlight the same way metal wires do.

You should wear your aligners almost all the time, but if you have an extremely high-pressure situation, such as a job interview, you could take them out. You're in control of your appearance with aligners.

Pain tolerance: how much discomfort can you handle?

Your mouth isn't accustomed to the constant presence of metal or ceramics. While both aligners and braces can cause some discomfort, the pangs you'll feel with braces are likely stronger than those you will feel with aligners.

Researchers say that people with braces experience a dip in quality of life during the first three months of treatment. That might be caused by a painful adjustment to a mouth filled with braces. You must grow accustomed to:

  • Chapped lips. Your lips must stretch to make room for the brackets that sit beneath the surface. Your lips might not close all the way, resulting in a dryer mouth and lips.
  • Poking wires and brackets. The brackets stick out from your teeth, often rubbing the inside of your lips. Your devices can also rattle loose, and when that happens, you can get scrapes and sores.
  • Mouth sores. Welts are common during braces treatment. Wax can help, but your mouth will feel sore and tender until you develop calluses.

Moving teeth is painful, and both braces and aligners cause that discomfort. But aligners are both thin and smooth. They don't pull on your lips, and they don't poke your gums. Your teeth may be sore, but your soft mouth tissues should emerge unscathed.

When you're living with a better bite, you'll reduce your risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and chewing problems, the American Association of Orthodontists says.

Checkups: how much time do you have?

Every step in your treatment plan, with both aligners and braces, is supervised by a professional. But one method requires in-person appointments. The other does not.

Opt for braces, and prepare to see your orthodontist every four to six weeks, experts say. That means sitting in a crowded waiting room, hoping your visit will start on time, and ideally, you'll be back to work or your daily schedule without much delay.

Choose doctor-monitored, at-home aligners, and you'll deal with your teeth on your schedule. A doctor will oversee the whole process, ensuring that your treatment plan is designed appropriately and things are moving along as planned. But you won’t have to deal with in-person appointments and crowded waiting rooms.

Treatment time: how long will it take?

Moving teeth can take time, especially if crooked or missing teeth significantly impair your bite. But braces tend to be more time-consuming than aligners.

Compare these two common scenarios:

  • Braces: A typical treatment program takes 24 months. Miss an appointment or adjustment, and you'll add time to the plan.
  • Aligners: Many treatment programs take between two and four months. Accelerated orthodontic treatment with vibration is effective, researchers say, as these vibrating tools speed up bone remodeling and reduce pain. Companies that add these tools can significantly shorten treatment timeframes.

It's important to understand that every mouth is different, and it's almost impossible to determine an average treatment length. You may need more time if your teeth are very crooked, rotated, or missing. But for people with mild issues, aligners come with a much shorter treatment time than braces.

Cost considerations: how much will you pay?

Insurance companies can and often do chip in to help families cover the cost of orthodontic care. But some plans don't cover the full cost, and others place strict limits on who can and can't use the benefit. For families on a budget, understanding cost is crucial.

Braces cost between $5,000 and $7,500 on average. Aligners cost about $2,000. For people looking for the smallest price tag, aligners are clear winners.

Do your homework and make the right choice.

Your smile is one of the first things people notice about you. It makes sense to invest both time and money to ensure that your teeth look and feel as good as possible.

Do your homework and make the choice that's right for you, your schedule, your budget, and your personal preferences. Your teeth will thank you.

References.

Adult's Guide to Orthodontics. American Association of Orthodontics.

Dental Braces. (May 2019). Mayo Clinic.

Dental Braces: Facts and Benefits. Humana.

Effects of Orthodontic Treatment on Self-Confidence: Perspective Survey by Dental Hygiene Students. (August 2011). Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene.

The Impact of Orthodontic Treatment on Quality of Life and Self-Esteem in Adult Patients. (September 2014). European Journal of Orthodontics.

How to Treat a Cut in Your Mouth. (January 2020). Verywell Health.

Why Do the Corners of My Mouth Crack—And How Do I Fix It? (February 2020). Self.

Straight Talk About Braces for Adults. WebMD.

Are You Too Old for Braces? Harvard Medical School.

Do Braces Hurt? (November 2017). Healthline.

Frequently Asked Questions. Byte.

The Effects of Brief Daily Vibration on Clean Aligner Orthodontic Treatment. (December 2018). Journal of the World Federation of Orthodontists.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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