How do aligners work?

Aligners work by using carefully calibrated force to move your teeth into a new position, forcing the body to adapt by remodeling the bone. Each set of aligners is a unique 3D-printed model of the teeth designed to move them into different positions along the way to the desired end result.

When pressure is applied to a tooth, the periodontal ligament surrounding it is stretched on one side of the root and compressed on the other. Then, following the inflammation that occurs during the body’s initial attempt to heal, two kinds of bone cells are produced: osteoclasts and osteoblasts. Osteoclasts break down existing bone on the compressed side of the periodontal ligament, while osteoblasts build new bone on the stretched side.

The individualized treatment plan your orthodontist prescribes will harness these biomechanical processes to straighten your teeth gently and gradually. Each step — that is, each new set of aligners — will move them only in small, conservative increments. Eventually your teeth will have moved fully into place, and the active phase of treatment will be complete.

Next comes the passive healing phase, when force is no longer being applied to the teeth. During this phase, which can last months, it’s crucial to wear your retainer as prescribed. If you don’t, your teeth will start to shift back to their original position.