Common Errors to Avoid with Clear Aligner Treatment

Written by Chris Pearson GDP Registered Dentist

Every year, more people make the choice to use clear aligners. These plastic trays are affordable, efficient and an easy route to straighter teeth.

Clear aligners are popular for several good reasons. They’re comfortable, convenient and almost invisible, so most people won’t realize you’re wearing them. It’s easy to see why so many people are choosing clear aligner treatment.

As long as you follow rules and recommendations, your aligner treatment should be successful. Unfortunately, there are mistakes that could damage your chances of success. Some mistakes are completely accidental, but others are things that you might have control over.

Make the right decisions and you’ll have a smile that you can be proud of. Always do your best to avoid these common clear aligner errors:

Rushing your dental impressions

Unless your provider has a clinic you can visit for a 3D scan, it’s very likely that you’ll be making your own dental impressions at home. Even if clinics are available, some people prefer to buy impression kits.

With an impression kit, you can make a mold of your upper and lower rows of teeth. This mold is used to check that you’re a suitable candidate for treatment. If you’re successful, this mold is also used to create every set of clear aligners. In short, it’s very important.

Rushing the process of making dental impressions is likely to lead to mistakes. To work properly and be accepted, your molds must be absolutely perfect. Each set of aligners will move your teeth an almost imperceptible amount. There’s no room for error when your aligners are made.

Before you start making dental impressions, read the instructions several times. Check that you’ve got everything you need and make sure that you understand the process. Supplies of putty are limited, so if you make a mistake you’ll probably need to buy another impression kit. Each impression kit costs money, so you could be increasing the cost of getting ready for treatment.

Some providers will refund the cost of your second impression kit. They’ll refund if your second attempt works, and you’re approved for clear aligner treatment. Don’t rely on this or put yourself in a position where you could lose money. Take your time and make sure that your first attempt goes exactly right.

Skipping aligner cleaning

It’s very important to clean your aligners. Clean them properly twice a day, and also rinse them after every meal.

When you eat or drink, remove your aligners so that they’re not damaged by your food. Before you put them back, clean your teeth and rinse your aligners with clean water. If you don’t do this, you risk trapping food against your teeth underneath your aligners. Trapped food will damage your teeth and might lead to gum disease and cavities.

Cleaning your aligners isn’t always convenient, especially if you’re dining out. It can be tempting to skip cleaning your aligners, but this can lead to a build-up of bacteria that could cause further problems in future.

Incorrect cleaning of aligners

There are many different ways to take care of clear aligners, but each provider will give recommendations. Some would prefer that you just use warm water. Others recommend using soap. Rarely a provider might suggest using toothpaste, though most will recommend against this option as toothpaste can be very abrasive. Using the wrong product could leave your aligners looking scratched and off-color.

If you want to ensure a good clean, buy denture or aligner cleaning tablets. These are gentle against the clear plastic, but keep your aligners free from stains and invisible bacteria.

Rushing treatment

Your treatment plan has been carefully designed to maximize your chance of success. You’ll wear each set of clear aligners for about two weeks in total. Really it isn’t that long, but when you’re going through treatment the days and weeks can feel like they’re going on forever.

It can be tempting to switch to new aligner trays before your treatment plan tells you to – a day early, two days early, or a whole week before you should. You might think that quicker progression will lead to faster results. Wouldn’t it be nice to reach the end ahead of schedule, and finish using clear aligners sooner?

There are very good reasons for sticking to the timings in your personalized treatment plan. The biggest reason is that sticking to the plan will avoid the risk of damaging your teeth. Though movement is small and gradual, it’s been designed that way intentionally. Moving your teeth too quickly can cause bone damage, gum damage and problems with the roots of your teeth. If your roots are damaged your teeth will start to wobble and they could, eventually, fall out.

Your clear aligners aren’t just designed to move your teeth into place. Your teeth might spend the first week moving and the second week just sitting still. This is your smile’s recovery time and it’s just as important as the movement. When your teeth are held still, they settle into place and the bones and gums heal around them. When your teeth aren’t moving, this is time that is used to secure your new smile. If you rapidly progress from one movement to the next, you’ll skip the all-important healing. By the end of your treatment, there’s a much higher chance that your teeth will move back to where they were.

Remember that your aligner treatment will be over pretty soon. Most people complete treatment within 12 months, so you could have your perfect smile next year. Every week you’ll see your smile improve, so you don’t need to wait until the end of your treatment to see the results in the mirror.

Not wearing aligners enough

Clear aligners should be worn every day, for about 22 hours. If you’ve chosen to use nighttime-only aligners, these should always be worn when you’re sleeping.

Wear your aligners as often as you can. Only remove them for mealtimes. If you don’t wear your clear aligners enough then your teeth won’t be moving as they should. They’re also more likely to start shifting back during times when you’re not wearing your aligners.

 Bad habits form quickly. You might want to leave your aligners out because you’re going on a date. Then, you might decide to put them in your bag because you’ve got an important business meeting. Suddenly, instead of 22 hours a day you’ll find you’re wearing your aligners a lot less.

Clear aligners are discreet, comfortable and easy to wear. Most people won’t see that you’re wearing clear aligners, so there’s no need to keep taking them out.

Losing or misplacing your aligners

If you damage or lose your aligners, you will need to pay for replacements. A set of upper and lower trays can cost more than $200. That should give you 200 good reasons to make sure that your aligners are stored safely.

Some providers ship your aligners one set at a time. That’s not too bad, because the worst you can do is lose a full set of aligners. Other companies ship all at once, so you could have more than 15 sets of aligner trays in your home. Think of the cost of replacing those trays if somebody threw them in the trash!

Store your aligners safely. If you’re removing them when you’re dining out, put them in a case and in your bag. Don’t leave your aligners where they could get damaged or taken away by someone else.

Letting your aligners get too warm

The BPA-free plastic that’s used to make aligners isn’t entirely invincible. It’s tough and sturdy, but like every good hero, any aligner has its weakness. In this case, heat is a clear aligner’s kryptonite and could lead to irreversible damage.

If your aligners get too warm, they could melt or warp out of shape. Even if they change shape slightly, they’ll probably become completely useless. Small changes might mean that your aligners don’t fit, become painful or damage your gums. Even if you can get them onto your teeth, they might move your teeth in the wrong direction.

One of the most common mistakes is leaving aligners in hot cars. You might remove your aligners, go a grab a bite to eat, then come back to find that they’ve melted. Whenever you’re leaving your vehicle, make sure that your aligners leave with you.

If you’re washing your clear aligners, use water that’s warm but not hot. Hot water, like the sun, will make your aligners change shape.

Not checking in when you’re asked to

As you go through clear aligner treatment, you’ll be asked to send regular updates. Usually, you’re asked to download an app, but other options might be available. Checking in could be as simple as taking a photo or rating your experience so far. Some providers want more information, but they’ll be clear about how you should provide it.

Don’t forget to check in. Checking in is one of your best forms of protection. If you’re not happy with the end result, you’ll use your check-in history as evidence that you’ve followed the provided treatment plan. Any guarantee might not be valid if you didn’t check in when you were asked to.

Checking in is also important for your health and safety. Professional dentists and orthodontists oversee clear aligner treatment, and from a few photographs they can tell if your aligners are working as they should. They might also notice if there are signs that your gum health is sub-optimal. They can spot early signs of cavities and damage to your teeth. By checking in (as well as visiting your regular dentist as usual), you’re making sure that your smile isn’t damaged whilst your teeth are being straightened.

Not visiting your regular dentist

Seeing your regular dentist is still important when you’re wearing clear aligners. They’ll monitor tooth and gum health, providing treatment if any is needed. Most clear aligner treatment is carried out without any direct supervision, so it’s very important that you keep your routine dental appointments.

Most dentists want to see their patients every 6-12 months. If you haven’t seen a dentist in a while, this should be very high priority.

Wearing braces or clear aligners can add more risk than usual. This won’t be a problem if you follow the care instructions you’re given, but could be an issue if you’re the type to cut corners every now and then. Your dentist can make sure that any corner-cutting won’t leave you with long-term dental problems.

Skipping retainers after treatment

Some people believe that once they’ve finished their treatment, they’re free from any ongoing aftercare. That isn’t true. It’s very important to keep wearing retainers after treatment.

When your teeth are moved into their final positions, they’re not sitting securely in place. Your gums and bones have moved and changed, so they’ll need time to heal. If you suddenly stop wearing clear aligners then your teeth might start to move back. All your hard work could be undone, but luckily there’s a simple fix.

Retainers are just like clear aligners – discreet and almost invisible. It’s especially important to wear them in the first few weeks after treatment. For a few weeks, wear retainers day and night just like a final set of aligners. Your retainers aren’t designed to move your teeth more, but to hold them in a final position. Retainers give your jaw, bones and teeth a good chance to heal after treatment.

Teeth can still shift slowly back, even years after treatment. To completely protect your new, straighter smile you should keep using retainers. After the first couple of weeks, your teeth will be sitting quite securely. At this point, move to just wearing your retainers every night. Long-term, retainers don’t need to be worn during the day at all.

Some people try to skip wearing retainers, because they cost extra to buy. The plastic trays should be replaced every 6 months and cost about $100 each time. Just remember that if you cut costs now, there may be consequences later. Once your teeth have moved back, there’s a high chance that you’ll need to go through treatment again. Usually, this will cost the same as when you originally started.

With retainers, you can keep the smile you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Follow the rules for successful treatment and a great smile that lasts for many years.

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