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How do Clear Aligners Work?

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Exactly how do Clear Aligners like Invisalign® work and can they work for you?

You have arrived at the right destination to see how clear aligners work and what they can do for you. Thanks to clear aligner treatment, or (nearly) invisible braces, smile correction can be done with little disruption to your life. For most patients, clear aligners have many advantages over traditional metal braces.

You can eat all the foods you enjoy, brush and floss the same way you always would, and smile just as widely as ever while your aligners get to work straightening your pearly whites. However, having properly aligned teeth isn’t just about that dashing smile; it can also reduce your risk of excessive tooth wear over time, as well as make it easier for you to remove plaque from your teeth. Plaque accumulation can lead to gum disease and tooth decay.

To answer the question, “how do aligners like Invisalign® work?” we need to first discuss the difference between these types of nearly invisible braces and their traditional metal counterparts.

How Do Clear Aligners Differ from Traditional Braces?

If you’re considering teeth straightening options, you’ve no doubt questioned which you should choose between clear aligners like Invisalign® and conventional braces. In most cases clear aligner treatment is just as effective for straightening your teeth as traditional metal braces. However, the nearly invisible braces approach is ideal for social and active lifestyles, particularly among adults and self-conscious teens. People may not even notice you’re wearing the clear plastic aligners.

Virtually invisible, clear aligners is perfect for adults and teens who would rather avoid more obvious braces
Virtually invisible, clear aligners is perfect for adults and teens who would rather avoid more obvious braces

Unlike traditional braces, you can remove the trays to brush and floss your teeth without worrying about the issue of trapped food that sometimes occurs with metal braces.

Traditional braces use metal and wires that may irritate the inside of people’s cheeks. Clear aligners are made of a smooth plastic that is more comfortable for extended wear.

So, Exactly How Do Clear Aligners Work?

The first step is to get an examination from your orthodontist. During the exam, the orthodontist will help you to decide if you are a good candidate for treatment, based on your individual needs. There is more than one type of aligner, and if clear aligners are right for you, your orthodontist can choose from an array of providers, not just Invisalign®. The most important factor in determining your outcome is the skill and expertise of the provider, not the brand of clear aligner used in the process.

What Happens If You’re a Candidate? How Clear Aligners Work:

If it turns out that Clear Aligners are suitable for you, your orthodontist will take records, including photos of your face and teeth. An X-ray and scan of your mouth will also be arranged. The records are then sent out to a clear aligner lab like Invisalign® where a 3D model of your teeth is created. Your orthodontist will design your personalised treatment plan and then order your series of trays. Dr Fine also has an on-site aligner manufacturing facility, so he doesn't need to outsource the aligners, and can start the treatment sooner.

When you receive your trays – called aligners – you will need to wear each one for a week or two at a time. Your teeth in each tray are a little straighter than your last aligner tray. On average, teeth move about 1/10mm with each tray. The difference between your current alignment and the slightly different impression of your teeth in your new aligner puts pressure on your teeth. Over the week (or two) course of wearing the tray, your teeth will begin to move to match that tray. The light pressure from the series of trays is how clear aligners work over time.

You May Have to Use a Few Attachments

Most people may need to use attachments on their teeth. These are small bumps of plastic material that are translucent, or a similar colour to your teeth. They provide a gripping point for your aligner to easily grip into place and remain there. They also help to place targeted pressure on the right parts teeth to help straighten them. Attachments can help the aligners to rotate your teeth as needed, as well as move your teeth up, down, and side-to-side as required by your treatment plan.

Some patients may need to wear rubber bands with their aligners, similar to the requirements of metal braces. The bands work to put extra pressure on certain teeth and/or to correct your bite. It’s all a part of how aligners such as Invisalign® work as a teeth straightening solution.

How Long Do You Have to Wear the Aligners?

One of the big benefits of clear aligner systems is that you can remove the aligners to eat, drink, brush and floss. They’re easy enough to clean, too, just with your usual toothbrush. So, you should wear the aligners for approximately 22 hours a day to allow your teeth the best chance to move to their final, straighter position.

Adult treatment time can be a few months only, or more commonly, an average of around twelve months. Treatment times vary depending on the severity of your case. Your orthodontist will work closely with you to come up with an individual treatment plan for your needs.

An important thing to remember is that you need to look after your trays and your teeth during treatment. An article in the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics reports that researchers noted that some patients drink (other than water) with their aligners still in. This traps sugars in your mouth, which in turn feed decay-causing bacteria. You need to remove the trays when eating and drinking (other than water) in order to avoid trapping sugars. Removing the aligners while eating and drinking also allows saliva to act as your natural tooth cleaning system in order to promote good oral health.

What Happens After the Final Trays?

When you are done wearing the final trays, you will receive retainers. Usually these plastic retainers look similar to the treatment trays. The purpose of the retainer is to help keep your newly-aligned teeth in place. You may need to wear the retainer for a period of 6 weeks on a full-time basis. You can then cut back to wearing it just while you sleep. Eventually – and only if supervised and advised by your orthodontist – you may be able to wear it only one or two nights a week. This is very case-specific, as some people's teeth are more prone to relapse than others.

What Can Aligners Fix?

Clear aligners can be used as part of an overall treatment plan to correct a number of problems, like:

  • Crooked Teeth

  • Crowded teeth

  • Gapped teeth

  • Underbites

  • Overbites

  • Open Bite

What’s One of the Biggest Benefits of Clear Aligners?

We’ve answered how clear aligners work, so let’s discuss a couple of great benefits.

Compared to braces, clear aligners minimise interference to your lifestyle! You can take your trays out in the morning and evening and brush them with a toothbrush. You can take the trays out when you eat, too, so there’s no need to miss out on your favourite foods.

Best of all, with clear aligners it is easier to keep your teeth cleaner (than with traditional braces), as you are able to continue brushing and flossing as normal.

Unlike traditional braces, with clear aligners you are still able to easily eat hard or sticky foods.
Unlike traditional braces, with clear aligners you are still able to easily eat hard or sticky foods. (Image: Flickr).

Are Clear Aligners for You?

This is a treatment that is low on maintenance, big on results, and fast on effectiveness.

To determine if you are a candidate for clear aligner treatment and how it works in more detail, book a free consultation* or have a free remote assessment* with Fine Orthodontics.

*If orthodontic X-rays are required, a fee of $180 applies. See Terms and Conditions. Treatment may not be suitable for you.

These Products are not available for purchase by the general public. They are however available to Fine Orthodontics patients. Treatment may not be suitable for you. Always read the label and follow the instructions for use.


Learn more about clear aligners:



Specialist Orthodontist Input by Dr Martin Fine BDS, MSc, MSc

Dr Martin Fine

Dr Martin Fine

Specialist Orthodontist Dr Martin Fine, BDS, MSc (Orthodontics), is based in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. With over 30 years' experience in private practice, Dr Fine has expertise working with a wide variety of orthodontic appliances, including braces and Invisalign. He has presented at orthodontic conferences globally, and has taught postgraduate orthodontic students at the University of Sydney. Dr Fine is a member of both the AAO (American Association of Orthodontists) and the ASO (Australian Society of Orthodontists), and is a former president of the Alpha-Omega Dental Society's Sydney Chapter.  In the past, Dr Fine's research has been featured in the Angle Orthodontist journal. Dr Fine is committed to providing outstanding patient care using the latest and most effective techniques. Most recently, Dr Fine has developed and introduced the innovative FineLine clear aligner system, which has been specifically developed to meet the needs of patients at Fine Orthodontics.

Written by Danielle Long, writer

Danielle Long

Danielle Long.png

Danielle Long is a writer at Fine Orthodontics. She holds graduate qualifications in English and Education and is an integral part of the team at Fine Orthodontics. Danielle Long has been assisting in the orthodontic care process at Fine Orthodontics for over fifteen years, working closely with the team to provide exceptional patient support, communication and coordination of treatment plans. As a writer and an orthodontic treatment coordinator, Danielle Long's primary responsibilities include facilitating exceptional patient education and communication, ensuring seamless coordination of treatment plans, and providing support to the clinical orthodontic team at Fine Orthodontics.

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