In January of 2019, I decided to pull the trigger on using Invisalign trays to straighten my teeth. I know there’s a ton of interest online about the process, so now that I am on my last tray, I thought I’d share my experience. I am not including any before and after photos because honestly, the correction I needed was pretty slight and mostly involved the teeth in the back of my mouth on one side that had gotten so crowded I could barely floss. Plus, I kinda feel like sharing photos of the inside of my mouth is gross, so, sorrynotsorry.
The best way I know to share my experience is through categories rather than a long-ass winding reflection on the past six months, so let’s get to it.
I paid $5000 for my trays. I can’t recall the specific term Invisalign uses for people who only need the bare minimum of correction, but whatever the term is, minimum treatment is what I qualified for. The $5K covered 14 trays and all dentist visits throughout the process. It also covered replacement trays – I was doing some damage to my trays at first with the way I was removing them, and I had to get two replacement trays because they were tearing at a certain point. There was no charge to me for those replacements. I am ASSUMING that the retainers I get at the end of this process are also a part of the cost, but as I write this I realize that I’m not completely sure about that, so I will ask the dentist about it when I see her on Friday and update this part of the post.
The Process – Dealing with Dentist Appointments
Step One was to get my entire mouth scanned at the dentist’s office. This is exactly what it sounds like – I sat in a chair while the attendance stuck a scanner in my mouth and ran it over all my teeth, front side and back, while looking at the results on a screen to be certain everything (teeth and gums) was being scanned clearly. It didn’t take long, and there is no contact with the teeth while this is being done, so there’s no pain beyond having to stretch out your mouth to fit the scanner in, which is a little bulky.
Step Two was a second appointment once the computer had generated my 14 trays based on the scan. From the initial scan, trays are computer generated by determining the process of straightening my teeth at two week intervals. The program also determines where “attachments” needed be placed on my teeth to properly pull the teeth in the right directions. You can think of the attachments like little white ‘snaps’ on your teeth; the bumps on my teeth coordinated with indentations in the trays, so that they actually do snap on when you put them in.
This is an image I just stole from the internet – not my teeth! However, it’s a decent representation of how the software works. I believe those red triangles on some of the teeth represent where attachments are placed. Every individual will have a different number of them; I was told I had more than the usual number for some reason (doesn’t really matter or mean anything special, just that the software determined I needed that many on those specific teeth).
Step Three involved getting the attachments put on at the same office visit where I got the initial trays; this was not painful, just sitting there with my mouth open while they used some sort of powdery substance to create the attachments. Once that was done, the dentist showed me how to snap on the trays and we practiced how I should take them off (more on that later). Then, I was given my first two sets of trays and told to come back in a month to check the progress. Just keep in mind that yes, you will have a bunch of bumps on your teeth, and they are visible. The trays are certainly not as visible or distracting as traditional braces, but they are NOT invisible!
Step Four involved making regular check-in appointments with the dentist. I went in after the first month to see how I was settling in, and after that, wasn’t required to come in as often – just every 2-3 months to check progress. I insisted on getting re-scanned at every appointment to be sure everything was on track; it seemed like sometimes they were just going to look at my mouth and send me home, but I always wanted to get scanned again and see the progress; especially after my second visit where it turned out my teeth were not ‘tracking’ properly and I had to wear a certain tray for an extra week. That made me paranoid about how I would even know if my teeth were moving on schedule or not, because I certainly couldn’t tell on my own. It does happen, so if possible, I would insist on getting a scan each time to be sure things are moving along as they should – if at some point your teeth quit shifting according to the schedule the computer generated to make your trays, you will have to go BACK to the tray where the miscalculation started and re-do wearing every tray that comes after. So, I reiterate – always insist on a scan when you go for a check-in!
Step Five will be to get the attachments removed once I’ve used up all of my trays, and then get scanned for retainers that I will wear constantly for SIX MONTHS. I want to be sure you read this part, because it slipped past me when I started this process, AND Invisalign just recently upped the number of months patients have to wear the trays from three months to six. Yes, I just found out yesterday that I will be dealing with wearing trays for ANOTHER SIX MONTHS instead of another three; and it was a surprise to me that I would be wearing trays for an extra three months already! Bummer.
Step Six will be to wear retainers only at bedtime; I am not yet sure if this involves getting new trays or just transitioning the daily wear ones over to only bedtime. It’s freaking SIX MONTHS AWAY, so I will update this part much later.
OK, so that covers the dentist visits throughout the process, now let’s talk about the fun part:
The Daily Grind (pun intended)
OK, so. Let me kick this off by saying that wearing these trays has turned out not to be that big of a damn deal for me. But at first, it sure is intimidating and annoying. It becomes routine quickly though, so if you are struggling at first, just hang in there. By about tray 4 it will be old hat, and you will start to figure out how to make this process work for you.
The most important thing I can tell you is this: when you are told to wear the trays for 22 out of every 24 hour day, believe them. Your damn teeth will snap back into their old place faster than rubber bands if you leave them off too long. That said, I am 100% certain I did not wear them for 22 hours every single day – there are simply times where that is not possible due to having an actual life and wanting to go out to eat with friends, or have an extra cup of damn coffee. For me, the goal was to wear them as often as possible every single day, and hope that would make up for the times they were off more than usual.
The biggest question for me was, did I really have to take them off every single time I ate or drank anything? I used trial and error to determine my own personal answer for this. At first, I took them out every time I ate or drank anything, and it was very annoying, because you are supposed to floss and brush your teeth before you put the trays back in every single time. I don’t know about you, but flossing and brushing in a public bathroom after a lovely meal isn’t exactly my preferred method of capping off the evening; so having to brush and floss in public bathrooms several times a day (due to the amount of times I would eat out or get coffee while tutoring during the week) was just a majorly awkward chore. So at first, I tried leaving them in when I drank anything cold (I felt like hot drinks might damage the plastic, so leaving them in when drinking coffee was always a no-no) or ate something liquid like soup or ice cream. Which leads me to my first big lesson:
Any eating or drinking (other than water) that you do while the trays are in your mouth is going to stain them. However, because during the school year I have to eat a lot on the go, for the first four months I continued to eat liquids and drink things other than water with them in. And not be too gross about it, but by the end of each two week period, my trays would be pretty yellow. I did my best to keep them clean, but as often as I drank smoothies or got a coffee at a coffee shop while tutoring, I felt this was the better option than taking them off and dealing with the flossing and brushing in public places. My breaking point with that process came after my trip to Disney World, where I just abused the shit out of a set of trays – wearing them while eating, not brushing or flossing before putting them on, I mean, fuck it, I was on vacation – and they were so gross by the time I got home that I swore I’d do better with the next set. But – and this is a big but – yucking up the trays was better in the long run that not wearing them long enough, because although I had one nasty set of trays at the end of my vacation, by teeth were still on track. So, choices.
My after-Disney commitment: back to no wearing of the trays while eating or drinking ANYTHING but water, but reducing the amount of time I spend snacking between meals so that I’m not taking them out too often. This is how I am handling the situation now, and I can attest that my trays are almost as clear when I am done with them as they are when I put them in. So, I feel a lot less gross now at the end of a tray period. But what does that mean for eating out, since that is my main area of weakness with these things? I simply eat out less while tutoring now, or, when I go to a coffee shop to tutor (which I do two days a week) I just get a sparkling water and hold off on the coffee until my tutoring is done – then I can get a cup to go, take out my trays, drink my coffee on the drive home, and brush and floss before putting the trays back in after I get there. So see what I mean about adjusting – I eventually figured out a way to deal with my trays and keep them in long enough without being gross or miserable, and so will you.
But let’s say I am going out to eat with a friend, and I am not heading straight home after lunch because we’re going to go shopping or see a movie. In that case, I do something kinda gross, but since I don’t do it often it doesn’t do much in the way of staining or ruining the trays. I take the trays off before we eat, then when we are done, I go the bathroom and just swish swash some water around in my mouth, rinse off the trays, and put them back in. Then when I get home I make sure to clean out the trays extra-good to make up for the time they had possible coffee stains or food bits mashed into them. As long as this is not a super-regular occurrence, this has worked out fine.
People who regularly consume alcohol may have more of a problem. I know for me coffee is tricky, because of how leisurely I like to consume it, and I would think alcohol might work the same way. The best you can do is make up for the lost time somewhere, and be cognizant of how long you are keeping your trays off.
Now let’s talk about comfort. Your mileage is going to vary here. Personally, I never experienced pain when wearing the trays. My mouth was never sore from the teeth shifting – I would have pain in relation to the new trays rubbing against my gum or cheek the first few days sometimes, which would create canker sores I had to deal with, but after a few days with a new tray that would subside, and for the most part, the actual wearing of the trays has not been a problem for me. I don’t find that I speak funny, or drool excessively – which are both things I’ve heard others complain about. Aside from occasional mouth sores, the process has been pain and drool free for me. But I have known others who had different experiences. Keep in mind that once you’ve paid for the trays, you HAVE PAID FOR THE TRAYS; meaning, you won’t get your money back if you abandon the process due to pain. I am not someone who has sensitive teeth, or issues about going to the dentist and having someone rummaging about in my mouth, so I felt pretty certain I could handle the process. If you commit to it, you really have to commit – so don’t make the decision lightly, because you are stuck with the cost no matter what!
Other dental work may suffer. As with any process like this, unexpected obstacles have come up as I’ve meandered down this road. The first big one was that, as my teeth began to shift, an old crown I had on one my teeth finally popped off – I literally took out my trays one evening, and there it was, nestled into the groove of my lower tray. Wonderful. If you’ve ever had a crown put on a tooth, you know how freaking expensive it is, as well as spending that 2 hours in the chair having your enamel shaved off and the root exposed and then wearing a temporary crown while waiting for the new one to come in then having to go back and – UGH. I really hate getting crowns on my teeth. Root canal? No problem. But the fucking CROWNS, y’all. I. Hate. Them. Not all crowns make us queens, ladies. Boo!
I’ve actually read that this happens sometimes to other people as well – especially with an old crown like mine that probably needed to be replaced anyway. The teeth shift, and the crown can’t accommodate for it, so off it pops. Unfortunately, I ended up having to go in to the dentist and get that old crown glued back down, because my trays had been scanned and generated with the old one on, and the dentist didn’t want to risk the trays not fitting if she put in a new one. So, now that I am at the end of my trays, I have to go in for a new crown that will be put on before we make my retainers. YUK. And also, yikes – it’s gonna cost me at least $800, and that’s after my dental insurance.
And also, tray damage. I found getting the trays out of my mouth with my fingers to be incredibly difficult. Just using my bare fingers rarely worked, and when it did, it damaged my fingernails, so my first solution was to buy those little finger protectors you can get at a CVS:
Fanger condoms rule! Yay!
I think the most common use of these things is to insert medications/pills into the rectum, quite honestly – one time when I was checking out with these the woman behind the counter asked me what I was going to use them for, and my first thought was OMG WHAT IF I REALLY WAS USING THESE FOR THAT PURPOSE AND THIS WOMAN ASKED ME THAT LOLOL but since it wasn’t why I was using them, it was no big deal. Still, if you are rummaging around in someone’s med cabinet and come across these things, just don’t ask. You don’t wanna know and they probably don’t wanna tell you.
Anyway, I would put these just on my pointer fingers and they would grip the trays better, making them much easier to remove. There was just one problem – something about the angle at which I was pulling kept cracking the trays. I had two sets of trays with a break in the upper one at the exact same location (these were the two I got replaced without paying extra) which is a problem because a crack affects how well the tray can pull on your teeth, and you can end up off-schedule with your teeth movement. So number one is, if a tray cracks, go to your dentist and get a new one ASAP. Number two, find a way to remove your trays that doesn’t tear at them. I did some research and found a ‘pull tool’ on Amazon that not only fixed the cracking problem, but made taking out my trays easy to do quickly and effectively. I will link to the tool I used below.
Moving the teeth might create other problems. My main complaint right now is that as my teeth have moved, the two on the front bottom have created a gap between them as they moved apart, and it is pretty noticeable. However, to correct this would cost me well over $1000, so unfortunately right now I am stuck with the gap unless somehow I can get this cost down – I HAVE to get the new crown first, which is also gonna cost a buttload, so, choices. Just keep in mind that when moving your teeth around, new problems like this may happen, and you will have to decide what you are doing to do about them, because it won’t be included in the initial cost.
And lastly, poor teeth tracking. Your teeth are ‘tracking’ if at each transition point from one tray to another, the new trays fit perfectly against your teeth. I am gonna be honest here, my dentist has tried repeatedly to show me how to determine if my tray fits properly or not, and I just CANNOT see it – I end up just nodding my head and saying, oh yeah, uh-huh, I see what you are talking about – but in reality, I do not. So that is part of the reason why I insist on being scanned at every dentist visit. It’s pretty cool actually – they scan your teeth, and the software determines what tray you are currently on, and shows which teeth are ‘on track’ (ie, moving at a proper rate) and if any teeth are not where they should be (which is where the problem comes in, because that means you can’t yet move to the next tray, and may need to even revert back to a previous tray until your teeth catch up – this adds time onto how long you will be wearing the trays!).
I don’t recall what each color means, but trust me that they do mean something…let’s say for sake of argument that red means no movement, green means proper amount of movement, and purple means not tracking, or not moving properly. Well, on my second check-in, I had some teeth that were not tracking, and I had to extend the length of time I wore that tray. In my case, I’d tried to get creative with eating and drinking with trays on; I thought that when I was eating or drinking coffee I would simply take out my current tray and put on an older tray, and that would be good enough to hold everything in place while I chatted away for hours on end. It was not. Once I knew that little trick wasn’t going to work, I quit doing it, and I haven’t had an issue since. But, having teeth fall behind course for one reason or another is pretty common, so I feel like it should be something you prepare to have happen to you at some point in the process, at least once.
The first thing that made my life way easier was the PullTool. This lovely bit of plastic saved my bacon when it came to taking out my trays – it is super easy to use and doesn’t damage the trays or my fingers. I bought three of them; I keep one in my purse with my tray case, and two in my cabinets at home, so that anywhere I need it I have it – I really encountered so many situations where I wanted to take out my trays without having planned for it ahead of time, so just one tool wasn’t enough for me. It was super helpful to just keep one of them in my purse at all times! You just use the curved hook at the back of the trays, one little tug on each side either pulling down or up, as the case may be, and off they pop! Lovely.
Hydrogen Peroxide. I am assuming you don’t need a photo of this or a link – I just buy big-ass bottles of it at the grocery store to keep on-hand, because the only time I don’t soak my trays in something while they’re out of my mouth is if I am out and about. If I take my trays off at home, I soak them in a solution of some sort, and it has made a world of difference in the cleanliness of the trays! I use hydrogen peroxide most of the time – I have a little bowl that I fill with half of the peroxide and half water, and soak the trays in them while I eat. When I am ready to put them back in, I can floss, brush my teeth, and then just rinse the trays off before putting them in and I am good to go.
By the way – Nowhere does Invisalign require you to soak your trays in anything every time you take them off, this is just what I feel most comfortable/least gross doing, so keep that in mind. They simply recommend you clean off the trays before putting them back in, with a toothbrush and some water or some mild soap. I just like doing extra.
Bleach. Once a day I soak my trays in a solution of half water and half bleach. I was super worried about getting the measurements right initially, but honestly now I just slop it into the bowl, drop the trays in, and go eat. Is this necessary? No, but I feel better doing it and I do think it contributes to keeping the trays clear for the two weeks I have to wear them.
Hand soap. Definitely when I use the bleach, and sometimes when I use the peroxide, I do an extra cleaning with some hand soap and toothbrush, gently scrubbing the inside of the trays in particular. It also helps to get most of the bleach taste out of them; but honestly, I’ve gotten used to both a slight taste of bleach AND hand soap at this point, so there you go.
Chewies. OK, this was another one of those things that no one told me about until I needed them, and it felt like it should have been mentioned to me sooner. When I went to the dentist and discovered my teeth were not tracking, she gave me some ‘chewies’ and told me I needed to chew on them for about 10 minutes after putting in a new set of trays, at least for a day or two until it was definite that the trays were settling onto my teeth properly. The fact that it was casually dropped on me that I in fact needed to be gnawing on little mini pool noodles for days on end seemed like something I should have been alerted to earlier, but you know, live and learn, I guess. The dentist gave me a few, but I found that they lost their sponginess quickly, so I now buy them at Amazon when I feel like I need them. For no real reason, I pretty much hate doing this. I don’t know why; but of every unexpected thing I’ve encountered while wearing these trays THIS is the one that irritates me to no end – there’s just something so I can’t believe I have to gnaw on this stupid thing for twenty damn minutes every day if they had told me I’d have to do this I never would have gone through this stupid process about it. I guess everyone has that ONE THING they hate about Invisalign, and this is mine.
Tray Minder App. If you find you are forgetful about remembering to put your trays back in after you take them out, or you have a hard time keeping track of when it’s time to switch to a new aligner, this app can really help. I am pretty good with remembering to put my trays back in, but I constantly lose track of when I should switch trays, so this thing has been a godsend to me as it reminds me when I need to do that. You can also click on the app when you take your trays out, and it will remind you in an hour (or whatever time you set) to put them back in – you can also take ‘teeth selfies’ to monitor your process. It’s a handy little app, and it’s free, so it’s worth having on hand.
OK, so. I think that’s all I have to share at this point; I typed this up quickly and suspect there are a TON of typos in it that I’ll have to correct later. But if anyone wants my overall summation of whether or not this process is worth it, I’d say: meh, it’s fine. There are things I am happy about, and things I’m not so pleased with, so for now I am leaning towards being pleased, but just slightly. I am happy that my teeth are no longer crowded and that this one tooth that was really jutting out at an odd angle no longer does so. So yeah, I am pleased with the effectiveness of the process. What I am NOT pleased about is having to spend another two to three grand of my money for problems the Invisalign caused – the crown replacement, and the gap between my two bottom teeth. That just sucks. And I just found out yesterday that I have to wear retainer trays constantly for another six months, which doesn’t thrill me either. So, I do wonder if, knowing these things, I would have gone through with it. I probably would just because it hasn’t been that bad, and probably did need to be done due to the crowding issues I had; but ending up with a gap between two of my teeth that I don’t like is a real bummer. Especially since I will have to spend so much money to fix it when it’s really a purely ‘cosmetic’ procedure – I mean, I don’t have to do it, but after spending a year wearing trays and already spending $5,000 on the process, why would I settle for having that gap? Grr. That is really annoying me right now, and influencing my opinion.
I will say this, though – I have had a lot of people tell me they want their kids to have Invisalign instead of regular braces, and I do not recommend this. I don’t see kids being able to keep up with the maintenance of taking them out, brushing and flossing after each meal, and remembering to put them right back in after eating. I also see a LOT of lost, expensive trays in your child’s future. These things have their advantages, but they are a big responsibility, so keep that in mind when it comes to the kiddos.