They say that ‘nothing you wear is more important than your smile’. Unfortunately, many people aren’t happy with their pearly whites.
Your teeth are an important part of the way you look, and beyond that, they’re also practical tools that you hope will do their job well for decades. So, what are your options if your smile doesn’t make you feel confident?
Invisible dental aligners, or teeth aligners, are a popular modern solution. And here are just some of the most popular, frequently asked questions about them.
What are dental aligners?
If you’ve ever worn a gum shield for a game of hockey, you’re thinking along the right lines.
Aligners are like a custom-moulded gum shield, designed for your unique teeth. They fit securely and should be worn almost full-time, to slowly move and manipulate your teeth.
Over time, wearing aligners, you’ll see your smile improve. Your teeth will be straighter, and you’ll notice the practical and cosmetic benefits.
Why choose aligners?
In the past, most people wore wired metal braces. These were fixed in place and caused some self-esteem issues. Aligners are a modern alternative.
When you wear an aligner, nobody can tell unless they’re studying your teeth at close range! Aligners are clear and almost completely invisible. There are no sharp wires to cut your cheeks or tongue, and you can remove them for comfort when you’re eating.
Aligners provide a way to get straighter teeth without any visible treatment.
How do teeth aligners work?
A mould of your teeth is taken, to form your dental aligner. This way, your new aligner will be custom made to fit your mouth. This doesn’t need to be a physical mould – instead, it can be taken using digital measurements and 3D imaging of every tooth in your mouth.
If you’re choosing dental aligners from home, you’ll receive kits to make your home moulds. These kits contain everything you need to create a mould of your teeth, which can be used to make personalised aligners.
The aligner is made of medical-grade plastic, which means that it’s sturdy and hygienic. It’s safe to wear even while you sleep.
As your teeth are moving, you will regularly need a new aligner. In most cases, you’ll get an update every few weeks.
Are aligners the same as clear braces?
Sometimes, aligners are described as clear braces. In fact, these treatments aren’t the same.
Usually, clear braces are traditional fixed braces but with transparent fixings and wires. The brackets may be clear, so that they don’t show when fixed to your teeth, or might be ceramic much like a white enamel filling.
Clear braces are different from clear aligners, which are plastic covers that you place over your teeth.
It is important to understand this difference. If someone suggests clear braces, make sure that you know exactly which treatment you’re discussing.
Are aligners suitable for everyone?
You’ll get the best results from dental aligners if you have mild to moderate orthodontic problems. It’s often harder to create an effective aligner for people with severely misaligned teeth.
If you have significant over-crowding or larger gaps between your teeth, then you may need a different method of dental realignment.
In some cases, dental patients may need to have some teeth removed before realignment treatment can begin.
Are there times when dental aligners are completely unsuitable?
Consult your dentist or aligner provider to make sure that they’re an option for you. They may not be suitable if you have certain dental problems.
Aligners are not always suitable for people with dental implants, osteoporosis, receding gums or gingivitis.
Can I get aligners if I have wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth won’t stop you from getting and using clear aligners. That said, if you have problems with your wisdom teeth it’s best to get these dealt with in advance. If you already need to have your wisdom teeth removed, schedule this treatment with your dentist before you make your moulds for clear aligners.
If you’ve had your wisdom teeth removed, wait about two months before applying for your home impression kit or booking a 3D scan.
If your wisdom teeth have never caused you any problems, there’s no need to worry about them. Aligners only move the visible front teeth, so they won’t come into contact with your wisdom teeth.
Can teenagers use aligners?
Dental aligners are available to teenagers, but you should make sure that all your teeth are in place. In most cases, it’s best to wait until you’re a few years past your 18th birthday.
Wisdom teeth usually erupt some time before your 13th and 25th birthday. They typically appear in early adulthood around your 18th birthday. If you start using clear aligners too soon, then you risk the arrival of wisdom teeth erasing all your hard work. Before you plan your perfect smile, make sure that any late arrivals won’t show up to spoil the party.
Can I use aligners while I’m pregnant?
During pregnancy, teeth need extra care. It’s safe to use clear aligners during pregnancy, but with some extra precautions.
If you’re prone to pregnancy sickness, be aware that it is important to keep your teeth and aligners clean. Remove your aligners, where possible, if you’re experiencing sickness. Always clean your teeth after episodes of sickness. Clean your aligners before you put them back into your mouth. Do your best to wear the aligners as often as possible, still.
Pregnancy can lead to sensitive gums, more at risk of damage and gum disease. Be sure to keep attending your regular dental checkups. If you’re experiencing too much discomfort, stop using your clear aligners. You can always return to teeth straightening treatment after the arrival of your baby.
Can I smoke while wearing aligners?
It’s best not to smoke whilst wearing your aligners. Smoking will very quickly stain your aligners, leaving them yellow and unsightly. You could remove your aligners whilst you smoke, but it’s important to remember that aligners must be worn for around 22 hours a day. You already need to remove your aligners when you’re eating and drinking, so be conscious of how much time you spend with your aligners out of your mouth. If you take 40 minutes to enjoy each meal at a leisurely pace, there’s no time left for cigarettes during the day.
If you do need to smoke during teeth straightening treatment, try to fit your smoking into your existing mealtime windows. Then, you can brush your teeth before you reinsert your aligners.
Can dental aligners fix a notable overbite?
If you have an overbite, aligners should be able to fix this.
Treatment for a significant overbite can take quite a long time. You will likely need to wear dental aligners for up to 4 years.
Are aligners available as an NHS treatment?
Orthodontic treatments on the NHS are limited. Invisible aligners are a luxury treatment and not one that the NHS offers.
How much do teeth aligners cost?
Aligners are a bit of an investment. Treatments start at around £1,500. If you need longer treatment, you might end up paying up to roughly £6,000 in total.
You will need a dental assessment to get a personalised quote for teeth alignment.
For online aligners, you can fill in a quote form. Some providers charge a set fee for all of your dental aligners.
Most people don’t pay upfront for their dental aligners. Whichever type you choose, you will probably be offered a monthly instalment payment option. Bear in mind that paying in instalments will usually mean that you pay more overall for your treatment. Interest costs are often added. Always check the small print.
Check out our comparison page to see specific provider costs
Do aligner providers offer a guarantee?
Different aligner providers offer different guarantees. Some providers won’t offer a guarantee at all. That’s why it’s important to compare providers, checking every last little detail.
It’s common for providers to offer guarantees only if you’ve kept to your treatment plan. You’ll need to prove that you’ve worn your aligners as you were told to at the start. If your provider asks you to send regular updates and photographs, make sure you don't fall behind. If you want to make use of a provider’s guarantee, they’ll be checking your updates for evidence.
Providers will usually send you extra aligners if you’re not happy after treatment. These ‘refinements’ will keep adjusting your teeth until you’ve got the promised results.
Before you start treatment, be sure to check if your provider offers a guarantee. Also check your treatment plan, making sure that you’re happy with the projected results. Aligner providers can’t work miracles, and they’re only aiming to achieve the results that you can see in your treatment plan. If you’re not happy at the start, don’t go through treatment expecting something different at the end.
How long are aligners needed for?
Some people will be able to enjoy their new smile in as little as 3 months.
For most people, dental aligner treatment lasts between 6 months and 2 years.
Short treatment times are for people that only want very small adjustments to their teeth.
If your case is more severe, you may need to use dental aligners for closer to 4 years in total.
Do you need a full set of aligners?
You might be happy with your top teeth but think that your bottom ones are wonky. But, aligners usually work together in order to shift and move your teeth.
You will need aligners for your top and bottom teeth, to get the best results from your treatment.
If your top teeth look almost completely straight, then your top aligner will not make any significant difference. But, it still needs to be used.
Do aligners affect your speech?
At first, you might find that the dental aligners make it more difficult to speak. You might notice a slight change to the pronunciation of words, or to the way that talking feels.
Clear aligners are thin but sturdy. You should get used to them very quickly, and soon you won’t notice them at all.
Most people notice a difference for a few hours at most, whilst they’re getting used to the cover on their teeth.
Are aligners worn at mealtimes?
You should be wearing your aligners for at least 20 hours per day. This includes sleeping. They should be removed for mealtimes.
Aligners are strong, but not completely bulletproof. Hard and chewy foods can damage them.
Each set of clear aligners will only need to last a week or two. But, if yours gets broken, you’ll be setting your treatment back.
You should clean your teeth after every meal, before reinserting your aligners.
Are there any aligners where you only wear them at night?
It is possible to get nighttime-only aligners, though only a few providers offer them. Unlike other clear aligners that need to be worn for 22 hours ever day, nighttime-only aligners will only need to be worn whilst you’re sleeping in bed.
As you won’t wear your aligners as much, treatment will be slower to progress. Expect your total treatment time to extend by 2-3 months. You might also pay a little bit more for your teeth straightening treatment.
SmileDirectClub and WonderSmile are two providers that offer nighttime-only aligners.
How do you clean dental aligners?
Your aligners will need cleaning as often as the teeth underneath. Always remove them for regular cleaning, when you brush your teeth.
Dental hygiene is particularly important when you’re wearing aligners. The plastic aligners can trap food and drink against your teeth, which is why you need to do a good job of brushing and flossing.
If you’re eating, removing the aligners should reduce the risk of food being trapped against your teeth for too long. Removing your aligners will also let your saliva, or a drink of water, rinse your teeth. If you’re drinking soft drinks, try to follow up with a glass of fresh water or rinse out your mouth when you can.
Though they’re made of sturdy clear plastic, there is a chance that your aligners will become a bit discoloured. This shouldn’t be a big problem but is best avoided by minimising contact with hot drinks, soft drinks and oily or greasy foods.
Just like brushing your teeth, you should brush your aligners all over and rinse them out with water. Some people clean their aligners by putting them in a cup of water, with a denture cleaner. You can also use a product like Retainer Brite for more effective cleaning and removal of bacteria and odours.
Is it safe to sleep in dental aligners?
It’s not only safe to sleep in your aligners but absolutely essential for treatment.
When you remove your aligners, your teeth will start to slowly move back to where they were. This is fine in short bursts, such as when you’re eating, but it isn’t an option long-term.
Most providers of dental aligners will set strict limits for removal. At most, you’ll be able to take out your aligners for a total of 4 hours each day. In most cases, you’ll be asked to keep them in for up to 22 hours.
Are online or at home teeth aligners safe?
When you pay for dental aligners, precise measurements are taken to build a full image of your mouth. Every tooth is mapped. The result is a unique set of dental aligners that are made to fit you perfectly.
Home kits send you the things you need to make your own dental impressions. This is often the cheapest option, but more open to human error.
It’s safe to use dental aligners by taking moulds at home, using provided mould kits. But, make sure that you follow the instructions to the letter.
Do teeth aligners hurt?
With aligners, your teeth are subjected to constant pressure that forces them to move and shift around. Understandably, they won’t be completely pain-free. But, you should only feel minimal aching and tenderness.
You shouldn’t experience pain. There should be, at most, a mild soreness that you can ignore.
Aligners can hurt a little more when they’re first put into your mouth. This is because, at this stage, the fit isn’t quite as secure. Biting down hard should help them to slip into place.
Some people choose to swap their aligners at night. That way, the biggest adjustment takes place whilst they’re asleep.
Where can you get teeth aligners?
There are many companies offering teeth aligners. Your dentist may be able to suggest where to start. Or, look online for dental aligners from home.
Before agreeing to teeth alignment, compare providers and find out which is the best choice for you.
Do I need to change my diet?
With aligners you don’t need to change what you eat, but you’ll probably need to adjust your eating habits and schedule.
You need to remove your aligners before eating, then clean your teeth and rinse your aligners before you put them back into your mouth. This can be inconvenient, especially when you’re not at home. Most people choose to stop snacking between meals, so they only need to worry about their dental hygiene two or three times a day.
Whilst wearing your aligners, you should only drink water. Just like with food, you’ll have to take out your aligners if you want to drink something else.
As you’ll remove your aligners when you’re eating, there’s nothing to stop you enjoying all your favourite foods and drinks. You can still enjoy crunchy apples, crisps and chewy sweets. Unlike with traditional braces, you don’t need to worry about hard foods causing any problems.
Can I whiten my teeth while I use aligners?
You can whiten your teeth whilst you’re using clear aligners. In fact, some providers will even send teeth whitening kits with your aligners.
Teeth whitening treatments can be carried out safely whilst your teeth are being straightened. Just remember not to keep your aligners out for too long, whilst you’re straightening your teeth. Your aligners should be worn for 22 hours a day, so make sure you can fit teeth whitening into your schedule.
Many people like to whiten their teeth at the end of their treatment, so they can enjoy their new straighter smile with a brighter, whiter shine.
Can I play sports while wearing aligners?
Clear aligners have been designed to fit securely, so you can wear them even during exercise. They should stay comfortably in place whether you're running, playing football, swimming or doing gymnastics. You don’t need to remove your aligners unless the sport you’re doing is risky enough to require the use of a mouth guard.
If you do need a mouth guard for a contact sport, just remove your aligners temporarily. Swap your aligners for a mouth guard, store them somewhere safe and remember to switch back at the end.
What are chewies?
Aligner chewies are small foam or plastic tubes, designed for use with your aligners. They may be plain or flavoured and can come in different colours, though they’re all very similar.
Chewies are used to help make sure that your aligners are in the correct position, to make them more effective and more comfortable. Once you’ve inserted your aligners, bite down on the chewies and the pressure will secure your aligner trays. This stops your aligners from slipping, moving or rubbing.
Your aligner trays should fit very securely on your teeth. The fit should be snug, with no gaps between the teeth and your aligner trays. You shouldn’t be able to see any clear plastic below the edge of your top teeth, or above the edge of your bottom teeth. Chewies can help to push the aligners into place.
Some providers will include chewies within your introductory pack. If you haven’t got chewies but would like some, they can be bought online at low prices.
Do dental aligners produce long-lasting results?
Teeth can start to shift back once your treatment is complete. To reduce this risk, you should wear a dental retainer.
Wearing your retainer won’t feel much different to wearing your clear aligners, as they’re constructed in the same way. In fact, your last set of aligners can be used as a long-term retainer.
Dental retainers can be worn overnight, and won’t be needed during the day. You can wear a retainer until your teeth are firmly set in their new place.
How do you know if aligners are worthwhile?
The cost of dental aligners can be a little off-putting. They’re not cheap and are usually only available if you’re paying for private treatment.
Luckily, your dental alignment provider should be able to offer some assurance. They might be able to show a prediction of your future, using computer imaging, or show samples from previous customers.
If you’re choosing dental aligners from home, look for a reputable company with good reviews to give you peace of mind.
How long will it take to see results?
You should start to see results by the time you have your second set of aligners. Changes happen surprisingly quickly, even in the smallest of increments.
For full effect, it’s important to follow your course of treatment through to the very end. You may then need a retainer, to make sure that results last long-term.
If you notice early results and stop too soon, you risk your teeth shifting back to where they were. Enjoy your new smile as the changes happen, but keep your aligners in.
Will my teeth not just move back when I’m done?
Your teeth can start to shift back to their original positions after clear aligner treatment. To stop this from happening, you’ll need to keep wearing retainers. Unlike aligners, retainers will only need to be worn overnight. For the first couple of weeks, just to be extra safe, wear them for 22 hours a day.
Retainers are just like aligners. They’re clear plastic trays that fit over your teeth and are easily placed and removed. Unlike aligners, they’re not designed to move your teeth. Your retainers hold your teeth in their final position, avoiding the need for further treatment.
It might seem inconvenient to commit to a lifetime of wearing retainers, but most people agree that it’s a small price to pay after teeth have been successfully straightened. You’ll soon get into the habit of wearing your retainers overnight whilst you’re sleeping.
Some providers will include your first set of retainers free of charge. Other providers will ask for additional payment for each set of retainers.
Though there are no strict rules, it’s best to replace your retainers every six months. Over time, retainers can warp and weaken. If they’re even slightly misshapen, retainers might become less effective. By regularly replacing your retainers, you’re ensuring that your teeth stay exactly where you want them long-term.
When you’re considering the cost of clear aligner treatment, it’s best to consider the ongoing costs of maintaining your new straighter smile. Each set of retainers will usually cost around £100, so you can expect to spend £200 per year to keep your smile in top condition.
If you've got a question relating to clear teeth aligners that we haven't answered here yet, please drop us a line and we'll endeavour to answer it and add it to these FAQs. Alternatively, visit our forums here to ask a question.