Many people want straighter teeth. In the United States and Canada alone, more than 4 million people are currently in an orthodontist's care, reports the Canadian Association of Orthodontists. If you're interested in straightening your teeth, you may have heard about teeth aligners you can buy at a store or online. Before you purchase teeth aligners over the counter, here's what you should know.
How Over-the-Counter Teeth Aligners Work
Teeth aligners are clear, thin trays that fit on top of the teeth. These trays gently shift the position of the teeth. Each tray is worn for approximately two weeks, and then it is replaced with a new tray that continues to shift the teeth until they reach the desired position. Orthodontists can provide clear aligners, but some companies sell them directly to consumers.
Generally, these companies provide customers with a modeling kit. Customers need to take impressions of their own teeth with this kit and send the impressions to the company. The impressions are used to create a set of custom-made aligners, which are then shipped directly to the customer. Once the aligners arrive, customers wear them as directed. Typically, this treatment process does not require a visit to a dentist or orthodontist.
How Traditional Braces Work
Traditional metal braces require a different process. People who are considering braces must meet with an orthodontist in person for an oral examination and evaluation. This evaluation will likely involve X-rays of the head and mouth and dental impressions. The orthodontist can then review the X-rays and create an individualized treatment plan. Once the metal braces have been applied, you can expect to return to your orthodontist every four to six weeks for adjustments.
For people with severely overcrowded teeth, metal braces tend to be more effective than other orthodontic options, like aligners. Metal braces give orthodontists a lot of control over the movement of the teeth, and they can shift the teeth in precise increments until the perfect result is achieved.
Potential Issues With Over-the-Counter Aligners
While purchasing teeth aligners over-the-counter may seem like an easy, affordable way to get straighter teeth, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) lists a number of potential issues to consider first. Patients may not receive an in-person evaluation before treatment begins, which is concerning because not everyone is a good candidate for aligners. Some individuals' teeth and gums aren't healthy enough to begin orthodontic treatment. Others may have orthodontic conditions that are better suited to traditional braces or need treatment prior to braces being placed.
While using over-the-counter aligners, you may not receive hands-on supervision from an orthodontist, who is able to monitor your progress and address any concerns that arise during treatment. The AAO emphasizes that when orthodontic treatment isn't done correctly, complications — like gum damage, tooth loss and bite changes — can occur. It can be expensive to repair these problems, and in some cases, the damage to your teeth may be irreversible.
If you want to straighten your teeth, consult your dentist and orthodontist. These dental professionals can determine if you're a good candidate for orthodontics, and if so, they can design an appropriate treatment plan to make your ideal smile a reality.