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If you’re considering braces to straighten your teeth, you’re not alone. More than 1.5 million adults get braces every year in the U.S. and Canada, according to the American Association of Orthodontists. The figure includes traditional metal braces to aligners, which continue to grow in popularity.

Clear aligners are fast becoming the choice for many people seeking a better smile, straighter teeth and improvement in their long-term oral health, with the added benefit of being nearly invisible. 

Aligners, made from a clear plastic or acrylic material, are custom-made mouthpieces that fit tightly over the teeth and are worn for at least 20 hours per day, only being removed to eat or brush and floss. With aligners, the teeth-straightening process can take a few months to a couple of years, depending on the patient’s teeth – and their commitment to wearing the aligners as much as possible.

In addition to a better smile and straighter teeth, aligners can also improve overall oral health. Well-aligned teeth are easier to clean, greatly reducing bacteria, plaque acids and food particles – and the risk for tooth decay and gum disease.

Some patients with aligners also say they snack less and lose weight, since they need to be removed when eating. And some nail-biters and smokers say aligners have helped them kick those bad habits.

But the dream of a brilliant smile can soon become a nightmare, especially if patients are undergoing treatment without direct oversight by a qualified orthodontist. Patients considering aligners should always consult with an orthodontist first to determine whether aligners are the best choice and, if so, to monitor their progress at regular visits.

Consumers have many choices when it comes to clear aligners, but an orthodontist should be part of every step of the process to ensure positive results. Otherwise, what may seem like the lowest-priced option can actually come at a hefty cost.

Unsupervised orthodontic treatment can be dangerous and can lead to a poorly aligned bite, loose or broken teeth and jaw-joint problems. Moving teeth too quickly can also cause damage to the bone that holds the teeth in place. That makes treatment by qualified orthodontists essential, since they have undergone two and a half to three years of specialized training beyond dental school and understand the intricacies of tooth movement.

Aligners aren’t for everyone. They’re best for teens and adults whose mouths have stopped developing and growing. And aligners are most effective for patients with mildly crowded teeth or minor spacing issues.

But before patients dream of a better smile, and maybe even losing a few pounds, they should ask their orthodontist if aligners are the best choice for them.

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