Honest thoughts on getting Invisalign as an adult
I’ve never been someone who felt particularly self-conscious about my smile. There are lots of bits of my face and body that have made me uncomfortable over the years (and continue to do so), but my smile doesn’t rank very high on this list. For the most part this has been validated by my dentists. As a child, one dentist remarked: ‘you could get braces, if you want them’, but they weren’t strictly necessary. What child is going to volunteer for braces? So I resigned myself to being a bit snaggle-toothed and just getting on with it. I had bigger body image fish to fry.
But as I approached the end of my twenties I started to notice things changing. My previously fairly straight front teeth started to crowd together and jumble up. I assumed this had something to do with my wisdom teeth coming through, but apparently this is actually just very common at this age, they’re not actually related. I pushed these observations to the back of my mind, but slowly it started to dawn on me that I might need to get something done about it. The final straw happened on the plane on as I was moving to Australia. Teary-eyed and emotionally exhausted, somewhere over the Equator, in the mirror of the tiny plane bathroom, I noticed a crack in one of my upper eye-teeth. I was heartbroken. I had visions of trying to make friends and go for job interviews, only for one of my teeth to fall apart. Literally the stuff of nightmares.
Thankfully that crack didn’t amount to anything more than wake-up call. Once I’d settled in Australia and found gainful employment, I immediately started saving for whatever horrendous amount I might need to spend getting my teeth fixed. I took the plunge and applied for a general dentist check-up, ticking the box to say that yes, I was interested in Invisalign. I’d done some Googling and found that Invisalign seemed to be the most reputable solution for non-wire braces. What follows in this post are some reflections on my experience of Invisalign treatment – from the very first assessment to where I am now, on my set of refinement aligners. While I was researching I struggled to find in-depth reviews, but the videos and posts I did find were reassuring. So I hope this post will be helpful if you’re thinking about going for Invisalign, or will help you feel more prepared if you’ve already made your decision. I should note that I am not a dental professional, nor am I affiliated with Invisalign in any way. I am simply offering an anecdotal assessment of my experience.
In this first post I’m going to give you a pretty blow-by-blow account of my journey thus far, from how you get going, to the fitting, to life with Invisalign. In the next Invisalign post, I’ll talk about some of the pros and cons, and finally I’ll give an overall assessment of what it’s been like, and whether I think it’s been worth it.
How does it actually work?
Invisalign offers a tooth-straightening service like that of traditional wire braces, using sets of clear, personalised aligners. Unlike wire braces they can be removed for eating, and they’re much less obvious (hence the name) than traditional braces.
Once you and your dentist have agreed on an Invisalign assessment, they will scan your teeth, getting a detailed 3D image. This is sent to Invisalign HQ, where they will work up a plan for you. This will essentially model the change that can be achieved, and calculate the number of aligners needed. Each one is ever so slightly different to the previous one, so your teeth slowly move over time. Once this plan has been created, you review it with your dentist. It is at this point that you’ll know how many aligners you’ll need, and therefore the cost of your treatment. There are I believe three different ‘plans’ depending on the level of treatment you need. I was lucky to be eligible for Invisalign Lite, the shortest and cheapest option. At this point, you can choose not to go ahead with treatment.
If you say yes, your journey really begins. Your aligners are produced and sent to your dentist, and you start payment. I’ll cover this in more detail later, but you can pay in installments, after the initial deposit, which is all you pay at this point.
You typically have to wait at least a couple of weeks for your aligners to be produced and delivered (at least for my dentist here in Australia). Savour your last few weeks of freedom! You can snack, drink coffee and sodas, and dine out to your heart’s content! I appreciated having a little bit longer to save-up for payment, and in all honesty I was kind of dreading treatment, so liked having this little reprieve.
Then the phone call came – my aligners had arrived earlier and I could go in and get them fitted. I felt sick with nerves. I soldiered through it, and consoled myself that if it started early, at least it would finish early too. The aligners fit into you mouth with ‘attachments’, little blobs of the same material used for white fillings. Putting them in and out is just like using a retainer. My dentist fiddled in my mouth for what felt like ages getting each of the attachments applied. Then the moment finally came – in went my aligner. My first of 14, to be kept in for a week each. To my horror, I was also given elastics, which fit from the bottom to top aligners to help pull your teeth into shape. These are something that doesn’t get mentioned much in the advertising material, and seriously compromise the ‘invisible’ part of Invisalign. I made my way home with a sore mouth and heavy heart, as I faced what in the moment felt like an eternity of embarrassment and discomfort.
The first few days
The first set of aligners is undoubtedly the worst. I felt super self-conscious, and the pain was great enough that it was impossible to forget they were in my mouth. The worst part for me was the scratching where the elastics hooked – they pulled sharp little points on the aligners that cut the soft tissue around my lips, and left me feeling very sorry for myself. On top of this there was the general teething ache of my teeth getting used to being moved. The weird up-closeness of Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings didn’t help my new found social awkwardness. I avoided having the camera on whenever possible, aware that I had developed the slight lisp typical of early treatment. In one particularly excruciating moment I was asked if there was ‘something wrong – do you have toothache?’ But for the most part I think I noticed it a lot more than anyone else, and people were very chill and understanding if I had to explain it to them.
Aside from the physical aspects of these first few days, there are various lifestyle adjustments. You can’t consume hot drinks with the aligners in, as it risks deforming the aligner. If you want anything other than water, including of course food, you basically need to take the aligners out, and brush your teeth after, or you’re asking for dental damage. You’re advised to have your aligners in for as long as possible – ideally 20-22 hours a day. This is when they’ll be most effective, but my dentist assured my that up to six hours without the aligners in a day is acceptable, and for ‘special occasions’ like a wedding, longer would be okay. I decided to aim to be as strict as possible, and try for two hours a day. If you don’t fancy brushing your teeth six times a day, this means that a lot of simple pleasures are off the menu. That mid-morning coffee is now a no-go, and tea-time snacks are a thing of the past. There’s an Invisalign app to help you track your wear time and general progress, so it’s easy to be vigilant/obsessive. My dentist tells me they call it the ‘Invisalign diet’, and many people lose weight while using Invisalign. I can see how this would happen, but I can also see how it might encourage binge eating.
All in all there’s a lot to get used to with your first set of aligners.
The long haul
Thankfully the extreme discomfort of the first few days soon wears off. Liberal applications of Bonjela and judicial use of Ibuprofen eased the pain until my mouth got used to its new occupants, and it wasn’t too long before the lisp began to fade too. Then you’re just left with the long slog of weeks of progress. I only had 14 week for my first set, although the lockdown did cause me some delays. You’ll have appointments with your dentist to monitor your progress and make minor adjustments, some of which lockdown caused me to reschedule. But overall it was just a matter of slowly adjusting to what I could call, without exaggeration, a new way of life. It’s awkward – there’s no getting around it – but in the first few months I was buoyed by pretty obvious progress. You can see your teeth moving week by week, and it all feels worth it. The cost makes you take it seriously – you’ve really invested, so you want to make the most of it. I used to snack a lot, but I feel the aligners have helped me re-engage with my actual appetite. There are times this has worried me – I don’t think aligners would be good if you have a history with disordered eating. My relationship with food has definitely been uncomfortable at times, and still is, but I think generally I’ve coped ok with the feelings aligners have brought up. But this is definitely something you should consider, and take seriously.
As the months went by I definitely got into a rhythm with my aligners, and by the end of my first round I didn’t even really have to think about my timings. It became quite natural to pop them back in after eating. I’d take them out for big events or coffee meetings, but for the most part I grew accustomed to just leaving them in. Lockdown has been a strange blessing in a way – perpetually working from home and not being allowed to see anyone has definitely made it easier to be what Invisalign terms ‘compliant’.
By week 14 I could see a huge difference in my teeth – the crowding was gone and even my canines, once so prominent, were blending in with the rest of my teeth. So I went in to get the verdict from my dentist, knowing I would probably be prescribed some ‘refinement’ aligners. The dentist was pleased with my progress, and took another set of scans. In another horrifying moment, I was told it was usual to need the same number of aligners again in refiners. Another 14 weeks? I shuddered at the thought. But to soothe the blow, I was allowed to just use my latest set as a retainer, with no elastics, while I waited for my refinement aligners. For one sweet month life returned to normal. I was a little worried I’d start snacking left, right and centre, but the 18 or so weeks I’d been on my aligners had really instilled better habits. The only real difference was the return of the treasured mid-morning (and sometimes afternoon) coffee. I made the most of being able to pop to a café without thinking about when I’d take my aligners out, or getting lunch and not eating quickly so I’d have time for a big dinner. I’m not going to lie: it was blissful. My teeth were still covered in attachments, and visibly needed some adjustments, but it was as close to normal as I’d felt for a long time, and I loved it.
Flash forward to today: I’m back in my aligners, elastics and all, making my way through another 14 week stint. Yes, it really was 14 weeks. I was pretty dismayed when this was confirmed. After a month off, I had all the same problems as I did with my very first set. Out came the Bonjela again. But by the end of the first week, things started to settle again. I may not love having the aligners in, but I have come to live with them. Someone once said that you know you’re an adult when you start voluntarily booking your own dental appointments. By that reckoning I’m an old lady. Knowing that I’ve made a sensible investment for my future health is a good feeling. Right now, I’m counting down the weeks until it’s over, but like so many things right now, I’ll believe it when I see it. For the moment, my aligners and I have reached, if not quite a state of harmony, then a reasonably happy balance. Long may it last – and yet not.
Stay tuned for my next Invisalign post, where I’ll get right into the nitty-gritty of pros and cons, and what you really need to think about when you’re considering taking the plunge.
Have you used aligners? Apparently they’ve really increased in popularity over the pandemic, with hours of Zoom meetings leaving us starting at our screens and noticing the state of our teeth. Months being sequestered indoors certainly seems like an opportune moment to get it ticked off your to-do list. How have you found it, and what did you wish you’d known before you started? I’d love to hear in a comment! I hope this post has been helpful, and thank you so much for reading!