Can Children & Teenagers Use Teeth Aligners?

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Can Children & Teenagers Use Teeth Aligners?Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Adolescent Mouth Growth
  2. Teen Aligners Process
  3. Teen Eligibility
  4. Teen Success Tips
  5. Frequently Asked Questions
  6. Resources

Yes, aligners can work for some teens and adolescents. Plenty of young mouths have benefitted from treatment with clear aligners.

Aligners appeal to teens because they're discreet, effective, and quick. In fact, researchers say 79 percent of adolescents think their appearance is important. If their smiles are filled with crooked teeth, these young people know it. And they probably want to do something about it.

But before your child signs up for care, you'll need a formal smile assessment from a professional. If your child is accepted, you'll need to stay involved in the treatment plan too.

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:

  • 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.

If your child isn't ready for aligners right now, you can address the issue and come back for another assessment later.
Aligner Treatment Process for Teens

How Aligners Work in Teens

Aligners are clear, plastic trays that slide over upper and lower teeth. These are medical devices, and they're just as effective as braces in moving teen teeth.

In fact, teens may have a better experience with aligners than adults. Researchers say adolescents, when compared to their older counterparts, benefit from:

  • 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.

An aligner treatment plan for teens involves:

Assessments
Molds and photographs of your child's teeth help orthodontists assess how their smile looks right now.
Planning
If your child is approved for aligners, dental professionals make 3D models of what the teeth will look like after treatment. You and your child can look over these plans, and you can make adjustments if the end result doesn't look quite right to you.
Preparing
Treatment teams make several aligner trays. Each one looks slightly different and represents a step on your child's path to a better smile. All of those trays are labeled and sent to your family.
Treatment
Your child wears aligners the majority of the day, and each week, old trays are swapped out for new versions.
Protection
Retainers ensure that teeth don't move back after the treatment plan is complete.
Parents must be involved in each step of the treatment program. They must approve the plan, in most cases, and parents often pay for the care their children need.

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 due to:

  • 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. Work done on their teeth could be undone with age.
  • 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. Rambunctious teens may break their aligners in sports, and absentminded 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.

Tips for Aligner Success in Teens

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 & Teenagers FAQs

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 with vary based on individual needs, however.

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.

Most adults wear clear aligners for a few weeks to about a year. If your teenager has not had braces yet, they may need long-term aligner treatment, up to two years. If they are realigning their teeth after some shifts post braces, aligner treatment will likely only take a few weeks.

What are the risks to teens wearing clear aligners?

The biggest risk to teens using clear aligners is noncompliance. It is important that teenagers who have invisible aligners wear them for 20 to 22 hours each day of treatment, even if the device is uncomfortable.

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 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 wear the aligners while performing onstage. Aligners do not generally get in the way of speaking or playing musical instruments.

Resources

Body Image in Childhood. Mental Health Foundation.

Comparison of Orthodontic Tooth Movement Between Adolescents and Adults Based on Implant Superimposition. (2018). PLOS One.

Braces. American Dental Association.

Adolescence and Commitment. (March 2014). Psychology Today.

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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