Clear Aligners vs. Metal or Clear Braces – What’s Better?
Sometimes it feels like we should all be flying in our personalized drones wearing silver space suits while our robot maids give us massages with all the advances in technology these days. Orthodontics has made huge leaps and the digital age is revolutionizing our industry. Many people are excited about the opportunity to straighten their teeth faster by using plastic aligners to do the job. For adult patients, sometimes metal brackets are an obstacle to starting orthodontic treatment! So if we have the option of straightening teeth without metal brackets anymore, why are they still around? Wouldn’t it seem like no orthodontist would use them if clear aligners were the new gold standard?
How Can You Know What’s Best For You?
These are difficult questions for consumers – and with all of the direct-to-consumer marketing done by large companies, it would almost seem that clear aligners are faster and work better than braces. There are so many at-home clear aligner companies nowadays, it’s hard to find the right choice! Snap Correct, Smile Love, Candid, Smile Direct Club…the list goes on and on. It’s true that products like Invisalign and Smile Direct Club can make your teeth straighter in some cases – Invisalign has made some great advances in how much aligners can accomplish. As an orthodontist, I think these can be great options when I know they will finish the job and not leave someone with a terrible bite. The fact is, however, that some of the marketing is misleading. When a company claims that you can “finish in six months” or that the product is “faster than braces,” please be aware that metal brackets can straighten your teeth in six months for almost any case as well. And most orthodontists are happy to do a short six-month treatment for roughly the same price as the at-home aligner companies!
The reality is that metal braces do not take any longer, and in many cases are faster than clear aligners. The misconception is that treatment with an orthodontist can sometimes take a little “longer” because in most cases, orthodontists are hoping to correct the alignment of the upper and lower jaws, improve the esthetics of a patient’s face, lips, and chin, and help the teeth arrive at the perfect spot for an ideal smile – with a nice smile arc and perfect gingival display. Straightening teeth is the easy part and can be done relatively quickly. Most of the companies that offer “six-month braces” are only straightening the teeth, and are not concerned with overall facial esthetics. For some people, this is fine. For those whose only concern is crooked teeth, traditional metal braces or clear aligners are both great options – and both can work quickly to get your teeth straight. In fact, braces can sometimes work faster in a patient who lacks the diligence to wear clear aligners for at least 20 hours a day. With brackets, there is not really an easy way to not be compliant, unless you’re good at ripping wires out of your mouth! If you think your teenager is responsible enough to keep the clear aligners in 100% of the time, the teeth will get straight. If not, braces are a much better option.
So in the end, I believe that brackets and clear aligners both work at about the same speed – and depending on the severity or simplicity of the case, sometimes one can outpace the other by a month or two of less treatment time. Each case is unique, and for those looking to enhance their overall facial balance including straightening their teeth, one should consult with an orthodontist who is a specialist in facial proportions and balance, which includes probably the most important part of your face – your smile! If you are just looking to straighten your teeth, you should still visit an orthodontist, because we can provide a cost-effective shorter treatment option as well, either with aligners or traditional brackets…with the added bonus of having a local professional who can help with problems arising from orthodontic treatment.
Dr. Nelson is an Orthodontic Specialist who completed his dental training at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania and his orthodontic residency at the renowned St. Louis University.