10 Mistakes to Avoid with Clear Aligner Treatment

Written by Chris Pearson GDP Registered Dentist

Wearing clear aligners for straighter teeth should be a safe, comfortable and successful experience.

When you reach the end of your teeth straightening treatment, you’ll want to be able to say that you did everything right and got the results you really wanted.

It’s possible to make mistakes, even unintentionally, that risk your smile or make your treatment much harder than it needs to be.

Clear aligners are convenient, discreet and comfortable. Avoid these 10 mistakes to make sure that they stay that way:

Rushing your impressions

Some providers of clear aligners have clinics you can visit for scans. These 3D scans can be used to check that you’re a suitable candidate for treatment. The images collected during the scans are also used to make your aligner moulds.

An alternative to a 3D scan is to order a home impression kit. These contain putty to make your own moulds from the comfort of your own home.

Don’t rush to make your impressions as quickly as possible. Take your time. Read the instructions before you start the process, then read them again to make sure that you didn’t miss anything.

Unless they’re perfect, your moulds can’t be used. One mistake could be costly, and you’ll need to buy another impression kit for a second attempt. Some aligner companies will refund your second kit if you get it right, but even the wait and up-front cost aren’t worth it.

Go slowly and make sure that your first attempt creates moulds that can be used for your aligners.

Incorrect cleaning of aligners

Every manufacturer has their own aligner cleaning recommendations. Follow these carefully, as they can affect the condition of your clear aligners.

Some providers recommend that you just rinse your aligners in lukewarm water. Others recommend aligner cleaning products, and some recommend mild soap. By following specific recommendations, you’ll keep your aligners at their best.

The most effective way to clean your aligners is with aligner, retainer or denture cleaning tablets. Of course, you don’t need anything expensive to keep your aligners at their best. Products that you use every day can be used when you’re cleaning your aligners – just be careful with toothpaste, as a lot of clear plastic can end up with scratches if abrasive toothpastes are used.

Skipping aligner cleaning

Your aligners should be removed every time you eat. They should only be put back into your mouth after you’ve brushed your teeth and rinsed your aligner trays. The same applies if you’re drinking anything other than water.

If you don’t clean your teeth and aligners thoroughly, your aligners can trap food onto your teeth and lead to the development of plaque. Over time, this can mean that cavities develop or that your teeth are stained. By rinsing your aligners and brushing your teeth, you’re working to maintain good dental health.

With your morning and evening brushing, your aligners should be given a more thorough clean.

Don’t skip aligner cleaning – it's recommended for the good of your teeth. Your mouth is full of bacteria, and over time this can build up on your aligners if you don’t clean them properly. Not cleaning your aligners can lead to staining, or at worst might contribute to problems like gum disease.

Rushing treatment

We understand that everyone wants fast results from their teeth straightening treatment. When you're on your way to the straighter smile you've always wanted, each day seems like it'll last forever. Don't be tempted to rush ahead, in hopes of getting through your treatment faster.

There's a reason that each set of aligners will need to be worn for two weeks. As well as moving into place, your teeth need time to settle before they start moving again. As your teeth shift, the jaw needs to heal around the space they've left behind. If you progress too quickly by moving to new aligners early, you're not giving your jaw the chance it needs. You might also be moving the teeth on the surface but not giving the roots the time they need. You're more likely to do damage, meaning that your teeth will never settle in their new positions. In a worst case scenario, you risk losing some teeth if you keep skipping ahead to rush your treatment. At best, expect some gum damage and the potential for your teeth to move back.

It's hard to have patience, but remember that clear aligners work their magic relatively fast. Almost all patients have finished their treatment within a year of first wearing aligners. In the grand scheme of things, it's not that long to wait and you'll see improvements every day.

Not wearing aligners enough

Your aligners should be worn for about 22 hours a day. If you have nighttime-only aligners, these must be worn every time you sleep.

If you don’t wear your aligners enough, they can’t move your teeth successfully. You’ve more chance of your teeth not moving as they should, or shifting back once treatment is complete.

Only remove your clear aligners for eating, drinking and brushing. If you’ve chosen aligners that should be worn during the day, make sure that you’re wearing them enough.

Try to stay in the habit of wearing your aligners all the time. ‘I’ll just take them out for this one meeting’ can soon develop into removing your aligners every time you have something to do or someone to see. Remember that clear aligners are comfortable and discreet, and people won’t even know that you’re wearing them. There’s no reason at all to remove your aligners unless you’re eating or drinking.

Losing or misplacing your aligners

Replacement aligners aren’t cheap. A set of aligner trays, top and bottom, could add £200 to your treatment costs. Some providers send all your aligners in one go at the start of your treatment. Can you imagine losing every set of aligner trays, and how much it would cost to replace them all?

Keep your aligners somewhere safe. Get into the habit of putting them into your bag every time you eat and drink. Buy a protective case, and don’t leave it on the table or anywhere it might get left behind.

Looking after your retainers, and keeping them safe, is your responsibility. Misplacing your aligners could be a costly mistake.

Letting your aligners get too warm

Aligners are made out of flexible plastic, which means that they can melt if they're too warm.

Be sure not to wash your clear aligners in water that's too hot, as this can make them warp and change shape. Once they've softened, your aligners will never return to how they were.

Melted aligners are useless. Even once they've cooled, subtle changes in shape will mean that they're not doing what they should. They might not fit securely into your mouth and may move your teeth into incorrect positions and lead to your treatment plan failing.

Warm water isn't the only hazard. Never leave your aligners in a bag in the sun, or somewhere inside your locked car. It's amazing how quickly the sun can heat plastic, and how fast it gets through layers of fabric. Though it's tempting to leave your aligners in the car when you're having a coffee with friends, take them with you and store them somewhere that's not directly in sunlight.

Not checking in when you’re asked to

When you’re going through treatment, you’ll be asked to check in – usually online or in-app. During a check-in you might be asked how you think your treatment is going. You’re also likely to be asked to take some photographs, to show how your teeth have been moving.

These regular check-ins are important. Your usual dentist isn’t managing your treatment, so this is how the professionals treating you can monitor your dental health and progress. By reviewing your photographs and any comments, they can check that your treatment is on track.

If something’s going wrong and your teeth aren’t moving as expected, or your dental health isn’t looking as good as it should, you might be asked (in rare cases) to pause treatment or change your approach.

There’s another good reason for checking in every time you’re asked to. Most aligner providers offer some guarantee in case you’re unhappy with the end result. In order to fulfil this guarantee, they’ll want to know that you did everything they asked. You’re unlikely to receive any further support if you can’t prove you followed the treatment plan. By checking in often, you’ll have proof that you’re committed to getting straighter teeth. Not checking in may invalidate any guarantee that was in place.

Not visiting your regular dentist

Even though you’re going through teeth straightening at home, you should keep your regular appointments with your usual dentist.

Attending routine checkups is very important, and helps to maintain good dental health. Your dentist can make sure that you don’t have any cavities and aren’t developing gum problems.

Most people are asked to attend dental checkups every 6 months or every year. How often you need to book an appointment might depend on your dental history. Dentists will want to see you more often if they need to monitor a problem.

It’s more important than ever to maintain good dental health during your clear aligner treatment. Your dentist, if you see them, can check dental condition and alert you to any concerns.

Most clear aligner treatment plans don’t include checkups of their own. Some providers do offer these, but it’s a rare exception. By making sure that you book your routine dentist appointments, you’ll be able to enjoy your in-home treatment without leaving dental problems unchecked.

Skipping retainers after treatment

Once you’ve finished your treatment, you’ll feel like celebrating and be glad to be free from aligners. Though clear aligner treatment is amongst the easiest and most convenient teeth straightening options, it still feels good to be free of plastic trays and to fully enjoy your new smile. Just don’t relax too much!

Retainers are important, and avoid the disappointment of your teeth moving back to old positions.

For the first couple of weeks after treatment, your retainers should be worn day and night. At this point they’re just like a new tray of aligners and wearing them won’t feel any different. After two weeks, you can wear your retainers only overnight when you’re asleep.

It can be tempting not to wear retainers – especially when they cost extra. Retainers should be replaced every six months, and this usually means that you’ll have ongoing costs of about £200 per year. You might tell yourself that retainers aren’t essential and that you can get by without them. Sadly, many people realise only too late that retainers are very important.

Once your teeth have started to shift back, and your smile’s not as straight as it was, most aligner companies have already ended your treatment plan.

When you’re using retainers, you’re post-treatment and expected to manage on your own. This means that fixing any problems might require a whole new treatment plan, with all associated costs and the effort of making new aligner moulds. Essentially, it’s like starting again and might require full payment for a second time.

As long as your wear retainers, there’s no reason your teeth should ever move. Your retainers will help your teeth to settle down, then keep them in place through the years. Though they cost a bit extra, it’s a small price to pay to keep the smile you worked so hard to achieve.

Most aligner treatment only takes about 6-12 months to complete. By sticking to the rules and recommendations, you’ll be making sure that your treatment is successful and your straighter smile will last for many years.

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