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What are invisible braces?

The term “invisible braces” can mean a few things. Ahead, we straighten it out for you.

Ariel Harris
Contributing Writer

For more than a century, Americans have sought orthodontists for their expertise in “malocclusion” a.k.a. imperfect positioning of the teeth and jaw. In that time, the technology orthodontists use to give Americans the gift of straight teeth has changed a lot.  

In the early days, Edward H. Angle (widely known as the father of modern orthodontics) used tools like the “jack and traction screw,” an appliance that used connecting metal sheaths and the turning of a key to move teeth. Then came early braces, those with wires wrapping around each tooth. Today, orthodontists have a variety of tools at their disposal that they use to customize treatment for individual patients. 

Among the most popular types of orthodontia today are “invisible braces” — basically, those that have a minimal appearance. Unlike traditional braces, which use wires and brackets glued onto the front of each tooth, invisible braces are more hidden in the mouth. Invisible braces are a common choice of braces for adults

Invisible braces can refer to clear aligners, ceramic or clear braces, or lingual braces. Each of these teeth straightening options is a little bit different. The type also determines how much invisible braces cost. Here’s what you should know.

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Clear Aligners 

Clear aligners, also sometimes called invisible aligners, are a series of custom-made, fitted mouthpieces (sometimes called retainers), that are designed to straighten teeth. Here’s how it works: Your orthodontist makes a mold of your teeth, then uses software to plot how your teeth need to move. He or she then provides you with an aligner that works to shift your teeth into position while you wear it. Over time, you exchange your old aligner for a new one, each one designed to progressively straighten your teeth. The number of aligners you will need depends on your specific situation.

The type of invisible braces you choose is largely a matter of preference. Because you take out clear aligners when you eat or as needed, this option is best for people who don’t want to wear braces on their teeth 24/7. Thanks to direct-to-consumer brands (like Candid and Smile Direct Club, for example) offering clear aligner and teledentistry services, this can also be a good option for people who don’t have time to visit an orthodontist regularly. 

That said, clear aligners aren’t good for people who need surgery or a device that widens the palate. 

Cost: Depends, based on how severe the corrections you need. Invisible aligners provided by in-person orthodontists will cost more than teledentistry services like Candid. Candid can cost as little as $88/month. How much is Invisalign? That depends on the provider, your insurance and your specific case.

Ceramic or Clear Braces

Ceramic or clear braces are just like traditional braces, except the brackets are clear or tooth-colored and therefore less visible. Your orthodontist may also use clear wires to make them even less obvious. These work just like traditional braces: Your orthodontist cements a clear or ceramic bracket onto each of your teeth, then uses a wire to straighten your teeth. 

Ceramic or clear braces are a good option for people who need traditional braces but want them to be less visible for cosmetic reasons. The only downside of ceramic brackets is that they increase friction between the wires and brackets, which can increase treatment time, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Cost: Typically, ceramic or clear braces cost slightly more than traditional braces, which cost roughly $5,000 on average, according to the American Dental Association. 

Lingual Braces

Lingual braces are just like traditional braces except that the brackets and wires are placed on the inside of the teeth, so that they are hidden. Orthodontists began offering lingual braces more often in recent years as the popularity of adult braces has grown. Although these work just like braces on the outside of the teeth, there are some pros and cons to consider. 

In the pro column, there’s the cosmetic factor of course, but also lingual braces require less force and so may even hurt less than traditional braces. On the other hand, lingual braces are harder to eat and talk with because they’re on the inside of your teeth. Because of this, they are associated with greater “overall oral discomfort” according to a 2015 review.  

Cost: Lingual braces are typically more expensive than traditional braces because these require careful placement and more expertise. 

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