I had braces when I was in third, fourth and fifth grade. After that, I had a retainer for less than a year, but I kept losing it and breaking it, so my parents refused to get me another.
They and I had no idea that not wearing a retainer meant my teeth would shift and return to their original state. I also did not know that having four molars extracted to make room for my teeth to move before I got braces would cause dental problems for the rest of my life. Mainly, because the molars that moved to fill the void were not designed to take the crushing force of biting, all of them eventually cracked, and I ended up with root canals and caps and later two had to be replaced with implants. There’s been a big learning curve regarding my dental wellness, and now in my fifth decade, I finally grasp the whole picture regarding a great smile.
Frankly, I had not thought about my teeth and their positioning since I had braces as an adolescent. The impetus for me to examine my teeth was a comment by a rejected suiter I met on a dating app, who, in an amazing show of immaturity, said that I should look into dental work because I looked like a chipmunk. It was an incredibly hurtful insult, and from that moment on, I became self-conscious of my two front teeth, which, during some time of my journey into adulthood, had taken a slightly protruding stance, and had become misaligned.
When I studied my teeth intently, I realized all of my teeth were a little off to the left, and the two front teeth had started to overlap the incisors on either side. I asked my dentist about Invisalign. Ironically, as a blogger, I have been approached by Invisalign a couple of times, and they had offered to provide me with free braces if I would write about the experience. I had declined, not thinking, I really needed them, and because when clear aligners first appeared on the market, they were an anomaly, and I simply thought they were “weird.”
It’s figured it was just as well that I had to pay $4,500 of my own money, none of it reimbursed by dental insurance, to get Invisalign. Because I can give an honest review now, without feeling obligated to give an overly positive assessment of what it’s like to wear these things for nine months, which is a pretty short amount of time compared to many Invisalign treatment plans.
For starters, the electronic scanning of my teeth to effectively measure for Invisalign was fairly painless and easy. The technician rubbed a wand around my teeth from every angle to re-create them in a 3-D software program. Those images were shipped off to Invisalign, where an orthodontist consulted with my dentist to develop a treatment plan for the most ideal alignment of my teeth. In my case, it would be 19 retainers, each worn for two weeks, so a total of nine months.
My case was an experiment for my dentist and Invisalign, because in order to get the best results, we temporarily removed three implants, otherwise, the teeth would’ve had to conform to those implants versus later, having the implants remade to conform to my new smile. This meant I would be without three teeth for nine months. It was a commitment and a big sacrifice.
By the way, the third implant resulted from a bike accident that left me with a cracked tooth that could not be saved. For the unindoctrinated, an implant is a fake tooth with a metal post that is screwed into your jawbone. It sounds bad because it is bad. That procedure alone involved a minimum of four visits to the dentist, including the extraction of the tooth and a bone graph, placement of the implant screw, then placement of the crown, with each step requiring three months in between while the gum healed between steps. Not to mention, implants are very expensive. Each one costs approximately $6,000.
So once I accepted that I would be semi-toothless for nine months, the process began. I got my first trays, and the doctor added buttons, or attachments, which are small protuberances on several of the teeth to anchor the Invisalign and promote movement in the desired direction.
These attachments were a huge inconvenience. I had to go back three times because they kept falling off. I would be chewing food and come upon a hard pebble, which was the broken attachment. After insisting the dentist himself put them on versus his technicians, who had failed three times, the attachments finally took, but I questioned my doctor because he seemed to score my tooth first to rough it up so the attachment would adhere. He said this would not damage my tooth, but I still worry about what’s going to be underneath when the attachments are off.
When I got my Invisalign trays, they came in a nice black drawstring bag with some sample crystals to soak the retainers in to keep them clear because after a week or so where they often start to get yellow. It also came with a little clam-style container, like a makeup compact, to keep the retainers in when you take them out for meals. I ended up buying a couple more of these on Amazon because I found I needed one in my purse, one on my kitchen counter, and one in my bathroom.
I learned that with Invisalign you brush your teeth a lot. I mean a lot a lot. You have to brush them after every meal, and then you have to brush the retainers to keep them fresh. I usually brushed the retainers in my mouth to clean the exteriors, and then took them out to get the insides clean. Sometimes I would brush my teeth about 10 times a day if I took the retainers out to snack, have a drink other than water, etc.
That was inconvenient, as was the tricky part about removing the retainers in public. I often excused myself to the ladies room, because sometimes I had to wrestle with the retainers to get them out, hooking my fingernail under the side of them and yanking down, sometimes quite forcefully, to get them out of my mouth. It was not a pretty sight. Plus, sometimes, there would be strings of saliva on them when I took them out. it was definitely something I didn’t want others to witness. I learned it was best to immediately excuse myself to the restroom upon arriving at a restaurant to cause the least disruption of a normal social situation.
The main problem for me was that I began to chew on the retainers habitually. It was a 22/7 unconscious activity that I tried hard to stop, but it only got worse the longer I wore the Invisalign. I say 22, not 24 hours a day, because you are required to wear the retainers 22 hours a day, except two hours for eating, brushing, etc.
It was like constantly having chewing gum in my mouth. This caused constant production of saliva, which caused constant swallowing, which caused constant stomach upset. Even without chewing, I found myself frequently sucking and drawing the extra saliva from around the retainers and swallowing. My whole life I have not been able to chew gum for more than 20 minutes or so because I got an upset stomach. So essentially having the same effect of chewing gum for 22 hours a day.
To counteract the constant growling in my stomach, I snacked frequently. In a few months, I had gained more than 10 pounds! I had heard that some people lose weight with Invisalign, probably because it becomes so inconvenient to take them out, and have to brush your teeth and the retainers that you skip snacks, but in my case, I had to snack a little all day to stave off an upset stomach.
I thought about carrying around a spit container like someone who chews chaw — or like the wrestler I knew in high school who used to spit in a cup all day to dehydrate himself in order to lose a half pound and make weight for matches — instead of swallowing. Still, I figured that would not only be gross, but I’d end up with a disgusting habit that I wouldn’t be able to break.
The churning stomach was probably the worst part of having Invisalign, though there are many negatives. Other issues are the pain when you put on your new retainers for the first couple of days. I often got a bad headache from the pressure and had to take Advil for the pain. Then there was the inadvertent whistling, while trying to talk, because of the way, the retainers changed speech patterns.
While the feeling went away after a couple of months, there is always the feeling of something in your mouth. At first, I felt like a boxer with a mouthguard. I felt like everybody could tell I was wearing them. I could see in the mirror that my face looked different, because I couldn’t close my mouth properly while wearing them. Friends told me they could barely notice, but I was very self-conscious of this.
All these negatives might sound like I didn’t think Invisalign was worth it, but even though I am only 75% through my treatment, already, I’m excited to see the changes. Of course, I’d like it to all have been faster, but my dentist told me, “that’s how you lose teeth.“ The movement must be done slowly over time so that the teeth do not loosen and fall out.
I think the temptation to rush through the process is why my dentist only would give me three trays at a time. I had to come into the office in person at these intervals for a quick exam and pick up the next three sets of retainers.
The Invisalign app has a gallery where you can take pictures of your teeth and compare them through the different phases. The photo gallery is pretty wonky, you can’t zoom in on the photos or edit them, so you might be just as well take photos with your regular smartphone camera app, but at least they are in one place using the Invisalign app. The best part of the app is the CliniCheck 3D animated treatment plan, which shows a step-by-step video of before, and after Invisalign, I found myself hitting the stop-start button and looking at my results over and over again. I could zoom in, and look at a 3-D model of my teeth from every angle. Whenever I felt inconvenienced by having plastic trays in my mouth all day and all night, I would look at the video and try to remember to keep my eyes on the prize. Of course, there was a disclaimer on the app that the video was a simulation, and my results may vary.
The second hardest part of having Invisalign is just the wait. It’s obvious my teeth have become more aligned, but I want the change to be faster, and I want the whole process to be over quicker. I think that’s just human nature, that we want instant gratification. So having to be patient has been challenging for me. I have one other concern, which is, I won’t be completely satisfied with the results. My dentist already informed me that sometimes the teeth don’t move exactly how we anticipate. So the results may not look like the perfect set of choppers in the animated treatment plan.
Despite the hassle, I would do it again. My biggest regret is that I did not accept the offer by Invisalign years ago, because in reality, my review would be just the same had they paid for my treatment, my teeth would be straight by now, and I would still have $4,500 in my pocket.