Aligners for Kids & Teenagers: Everything You Need to Know
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Table of Contents
- Why Aligners for Teens & Children
- Adolescent Mouth Growth
- How Aligners Work
- Teen Eligibility
- Teen Tips for Success
- Teeth Aligners for Children & Teens FAQs
Since their introduction to the market, clear aligners have continued to grow in popularity, especially with teenagers. It’s easy to see why.
Clear aligners are removable and virtually invisible, and they offer fast results for many mild-to-moderate orthodontic issues. These factors also make them an appealing option for teens who don’t like the look or inconvenience of braces.
Many parents are also wondering if clear aligners could be an easier option for their smaller kids too. But are clear aligners a good option for teens and kids?
Why Aligners Can Work for Teens & Children
Clear aligners are a safe and effective option for teenagers who have lost all of their baby teeth. Usually, this means aligner treatment can start around age 12, with parental approval and supervision.
While aligners offer many benefits over traditional braces treatment (they are taken out to clean teeth and eat and usually work faster), they must be worn as advised (usually over 20 hours a day) in order to move teeth as intended. So, teenagers must be willing to follow the program to get the desired results.
For children who have not yet lost their baby teeth, options may be more limited. At-home aligner providers do not usually offer treatment for these younger patients. In-office clear aligners may be an option in some cases. Invisalign, for example, has treatment programs for younger children.
There is some controversy over the use of aligners with smaller children. Some say there is not enough tooth for the aligner to “grip” on to. Other issues may include the child’s willingness to wear the aligners continuously and being able to clean the aligners as needed.
Inside an Adolescent’s Mouth
Every parent knows that adolescents grow quickly. The pants you buy your child at the start of the school season rarely fit when spring comes. Growth in the mouth may be harder to see, but it's definitely happening.
As your child grows, these things happen:
- Old teeth fall out. As the roots of so-called "baby teeth" dissolve, the visible portion seems wobbly. In time, the tooth disconnects from the jaw altogether.
- New teeth come in. Adult versions of molars, canines, and incisors push into the space left behind by missing baby teeth.
- Ligaments form. New teeth attach to the jaw with strong but movable fibers.
- Roots grow. Adult teeth get longer and longer with time.
All of these steps happen incrementally. Your child may not feel the changes happening, and you may not see any differences on the surface. But with each passing moment, those adult teeth grow and become locked into semi-permanent positions. Before that happens, you have the opportunity to change the course of your child's smile.
How Aligners Work
Aligners are clear, removable trays that are custom-made to fit over the teeth. They look like exact replicas of one’s teeth, but they feature subtle changes and pressure points to force movement.
Aligners come in a series of trays. Each one is worn for a week or two before moving to the next. Each tray progressively moves the teeth, guiding your teen’s teeth along the journey to bite correction.
Aligners for Teens: Step by Step
Whether your teen chooses in-office or at-home clear aligners, the steps for treatment will include the following:
- An initial scan or impression is taken of your teen’s current bite. With in-office scanning tools or an impression kit (which may be done from home), the aligner provider or orthodontist gets a clear image of your teen’s current bite and orthodontic issues. They can then determine if your teen is a candidate for clear aligner treatment.
- An image of your teen’s ideal bite is created. Using software and/or specialty guidance, the provider is able to determine where your teen’s teeth need to move in order to create an optimal smile and bite.
- A treatment plan is designed, along with the corresponding aligners. If the treatment is with at-home aligners, the series of aligners will be sent. For in-office aligners, the trays will usually be given by the provider during visits.
- Your teen will begin wearing the aligners, usually for over 20 hours a day. Aligners will be removed for oral hygiene and eating but will be worn the rest of the day and night. Aligners must be cleaned regularly to avoid particle and bacteria buildup as well. A good oral hygiene routine should be maintained as well.
- Check-ins take place. For in-office aligners, check-ins will be conducted during in-office visits. For mail-order aligners, check-ins will be conducted virtually. Other online resources may be available as well.\ \ Byte, for example, has an award-winning app that allows users to check on their progress, track aligner use, and access their clinical and staff support.
- Treatment finishes. After the last aligner tray is complete, teeth will be in their correct positions. Your teen will check in (virtually or in-person) to ensure that the bite and smile are aligned as planned.
- They’ll wear retainers. Your teen will wear aligner retainers (full-time at first) to ensure teeth don’t move back. Eventually, retainers will only need to be worn part-time.
The Benefits of Aligners for Teenagers
For many teenagers, clear aligners are the obvious choice for correcting their mild-to-moderate orthodontic issues. In fact, teens may have a better experience with aligners than adults. Researchers say adolescents, when compared to their older counterparts, benefit from the following:
- Shorter treatment times: Weaker fibers mean faster tooth movement. Teens often have dramatically shortened treatment timelines as a result.
- Less pain: A teen's teeth move naturally. Applying force seems to cause a lesser amount of pain when compared to the discomfort adults feel.
Other benefits of clear aligners for teens include the following:
- Less visible than braces: One of the most compelling advantages aligners offer to teens is the chance to fix their teeth and smile without unsightly metal braces.
- Removable for special events: While aligners must be worn full-time to meet treatment plan requirements, they are removable for special events like prom pictures or college interviews.
- Won’t interfere with eating or oral hygiene: While braces can increase the risk of tooth decay and gum irritation (areas between the appliance and teeth can become hotspots for harmful bacteria and food particles), clear aligners are removed to eat and clean teeth.
- At-home convenience: Braces treatment can involve many adjustment and checkup appointments that can be difficult to work into a teen’s busy schedule. At-home clear aligners allow teens to complete their treatment virtually while still under doctor supervision.
- Independence and accountability: In order for their aligners to work properly, teens must wear them as advised. This can be empowering for teens, and it can also help them to be more proactive about their oral health and self-care.
- Early orthodontic intervention: Even minor orthodontic problems can lead to complications later on. Issues like crowding and gaps can make it harder to clean teeth or avoid bacteria buildup, increasing the risk of decay, cavities, and gum problems.\ \ Misaligned teeth can also create abrasion and irritation that can weaken tooth enamel and result in easier tooth damage. Misalignment can even lead to jaw strain and problems like TMJ and headaches. Correcting orthodontic issues early on, when jaw and mouth development are still easier to influence, can prevent many problems and complications in the future.
- Affordability: If you don’t have insurance coverage or if your plan won’t provide coverage to fix your teen’s orthodontic problem, clear at-home aligners offer a cheaper alternative to braces. Many top providers, including Byte, offer a low one-time fee or easy payment plans.
Are All Teens Eligible for Aligners?
During an aligner assessment, some parents discover that their children just aren't good candidates for this type of treatment. It's relatively rare, but it does happen. \ \ Your teen might not be ready for aligners for these reasons:
- Age: Children as young as 8 years old have been through orthodontic treatment. But in general, it's best to find a sweet spot between childhood and adulthood. Very young people may not be ready for treatment yet.
- Missing molars: Aligners need anchors, and molars fill that role. If your child's teeth haven't come in yet, you might need to wait.
- Poor lifestyle choices: Teens may break their aligners in sports, and some teens may lose their trays or accidentally throw them away. Adults must be sure to explain how important the trays are and keep their children on track with treatment. But children who struggle with this may need a different approach.
Children are always growing and changing, and sometimes, problems disappear with growth.
Teen Tips for Aligner Success
Aligners and teens can go hand in hand. Their smiles aren't covered by miles of metal and brackets, and they can remove the devices for proper cleaning. Teens may also appreciate the opportunity to take out the aligners during very important moments, including classroom presentations.
Parents who choose aligners for their teens can take a few steps to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.
- Make a schedule. Your teen must agree to wear the devices the majority of the day. Agree on moments when your child can remove the trays every day. And if your child wants an exception, discuss that as a family first.
- Discuss barriers openly. If your child isn't wearing the aligners regularly, talk with your treatment team. Is pain a problem? Is the bite uncomfortable? Fix problems promptly.
- Celebrate progress. Each week, your child will trade one aligner set for another. It's a step on the road to an improved smile. Track progress with photos.
- Boost motivation. Sticking with an aligner plan isn't easy for some teens. It's a tradeoff of current freedom for future benefit. If your child slips, pull up the models of your child's future smile. A reminder of the goal waiting at the end of treatment could put your child back on track.
An open partnership between parents, orthodontists, and teens leads to the fastest and most effective aligner experience.
Teeth Aligners for Children & Teens Frequently Asked Questions
Can teens wear invisible aligners?
Yes, teenagers are great candidates for treatment with clear plastic aligners. Not only do invisible aligners quickly and safely align your smile, but they are also hardly noticeable when they are in place.
Teenagers are often very self-conscious about their appearance, which means they might be more interested in getting orthodontic treatment than their parents realize. But they may worry about how embarrassing traditional metal brackets can appear. Invisible braces are a wonderful solution to this problem.
Additionally, clear aligners require fewer visits to the orthodontist. After-school activities, hanging out with friends, and other important events are less likely to be interrupted by longer trips to the orthodontist.
How long should teenagers wear invisible aligners?
Treatment with clear aligners typically takes about the same amount of time as with traditional metal braces, so your teenager might wear aligners for up to a year. The total required treatment time will vary based on individual needs, however. With clear aligners, treatment time may be as short as 4 months.
An orthodontist will assess your teenager’s history with orthodontia, the extent of their alignment needs, and any potential future shifts in dental alignment to determine if your teen needs a retainer along with their aligners.
What are the risks to teens wearing clear aligners?
who have invisible aligners wear them for 20 to 22 hours every day of treatment.
Your teen might get tired of wearing the aligner and take it out, so they are not getting the full benefit of alignment with each device. This can prolong treatment, make the next aligner in the series hurt more, and puts the aligner at risk of being lost or damaged.
While you can replace a missing or damaged aligner, you have to trust your teen to inform you when this happens. A replaced or ignored aligner will make treatment take longer than initially suggested.
Do clear aligners work better for teens than adults?
Aligners are just as effective for teens as they are for adults. Both groups want a beautiful smile without noticeable braces. Improvements in orthodontic technology mean that teeth can shift into place faster than ever before, reducing required treatment time.
For teenagers, aligners are an even better option than braces because they are less noticeable, and they are safer to have in the mouth. For example, teens involved in sports are less likely to damage their cheeks or tongue if they get hurt during practice or in a game than if they have metal braces.
Clear aligners are also better for teens involved in the performing arts, as they can potentially take the aligners out for performances. That being said, aligners do not generally get in the way of speaking or playing musical instruments.
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No More Brace Face? Teens Increasingly Use Clear Aligners. (January 2019). The New York Times.
Body Image in Childhood. Mental Health Foundation.
Comparison of Orthodontic Tooth Movement Between Adolescents and Adults Based on Implant Superimposition. (May 2018). PLOS ONE.
Braces. American Dental Association.
Adolescence and Commitment. (March 2014). Psychology Today.