Everything You Really Need to Know About Invisalign

One editor shares her personal experience (you have to see the before and after photos!)

Photo: Brent Murray

If I could go back and change any of the major decisions I’ve made in my life, the first thing I would do is wear my retainer every single night. That, and go abroad junior year of college instead of staying at school to be with my boyfriend who ended up cheating on me. But really, I’d prioritize my dental gear. Because after suffering through a palate expander (a device that’s as brutal as it sounds) for a year, followed by two years of braces on the top and bottom, my teeth were finally straight. However, I didn’t get the memo that in order to keep the particularly problematic bottom ones in line, I’d have to wear a retainer until the end of time. As a result, my lower teeth shifted the front center tooth ended up kind of smushed behind its neighbors.

My wonky tooth didn’t bother me that much, until I went for my annual cleaning and my dentist asked me if I ever thought about getting Invisalign to fix it. I said no, that while it wasn’t my cutest feature, it wasn’t as distressing to me as say my left eyebrow which refuses to arch like my right one. But then she explained that in addition to being a cosmetic issue, it was also a dental health one, since my teeth would most likely continue to move until they overlapped so much that I might need major reconstructive work to correct my bite. I was scared straight (terrible pun intended). I immediately booked an appointment with Dr. Joseph Hung, one of the leading experts in Invisalign.

After a very lengthy consultation (I’d be shocked if “thorough” wasn’t actually Dr. Hung’s middle name), I was confident I could handle #InvisalignLife. I was wrong. At least for the first few weeks when I was so miserable, I just wanted to chuck the tray (the plastic aligner that moves your teeth) in the garbage and roll the dice on my dental future. But I stuck with it and it was worth it. That said, here’s what I wish I knew before I signed up. I should note that Dr. Hung told me all of this at my first appointment, so it’s actually what I wish I paid careful attention to before getting Invisalign.

1. You will be in pain.

As I mentioned, the first few weeks were pretty awful. My mouth rejected the plastic tray in the form of the worst canker sores I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t eat anything that required me to chew until they went away. If you’re lucky enough to avoid this torture, the only discomfort you’ll feel is some tightness when you switch aligners (which happens approximately every two weeks). I had 14 trays in total and every time I changed to a new one, I got a headache. Unpleasant but not the end of the world.

2. You will have a lisp.

It took awhile for my tongue to adjust to having the tray in my mouth and as a result, I developed a (temporary) speech impediment a la Dustin in Stranger Things, only way less endearing.

3. You have to wear them.

Dr. Hung told me in no uncertain terms that Invisalign would only work if I wore my tray 22 hours a day. Which leads me to…

4. You will live by the clock.

Two hours sounds like a decent chunk of time until you have to divvy up those 120 minutes to do the following: drink your morning coffee, eat breakfast, eat lunch, enjoy a cupcake at your coworker’s birthday celebration, drink a glass of wine at happy hour, eat dinner, drink another glass of wine (don’t judge) etc. Every meal becomes a power meal and you’ll find yourself passing on delicious baked goods because you simply don’t have the time to spare. Here’s a tip: If you’re a red wine drinker, switch to white. Or better yet, vodka, since any liquid that’s not truly clear is considered off-limits.

5. You will carry a toothbrush everywhere.

Every time you eat something, you have to brush your teeth before you put the tray back in your mouth. I keep a travel toothbrush and toothpaste in my desk drawer and another set in my handbag. An unexpected bonus of brushing your teeth in a public bathroom is that you will meet other people who are also doing Invisalign and you can commiserate about how annoying it is.

6. You will also carry a retainer case.

The second rule of #InvisalignLife (after “wear them 22 hours a day”) is to never take out your tray and wrap it in a napkin or tissue. It will get lost or thrown away, no question. And if that happens, you will either have to go back to your old tray (this is why your dentist will tell you to save them and see number seven below to understand why this is not ideal) or skip to the next tray early which can be extremely uncomfortable. Like no-amount-of-Tylenol-will-help uncomfortable. My best tip is to ask your dentist for two cases: one for your bag and one for your desk (which is where I eat the majority of my meals sadly).

7. You will get grossed out.

Even if you’re really good about brushing your teeth in between meals, the trays will inevitably get discolored and sometimes a little smelly by the end of their cycle. To prevent this, I give mine a five-minute bath in denture cleaner every morning. Some people use dish soap, baking soda, vinegar etc. All of those things help, but things still get a little icky.

8. You will get lazy.

After a few months, you’ll start to slack on how many hours you’re wearing your tray. I dropped down to 18 hours on my worst day. Luckily, it didn’t stall my progress, but I’ve heard stories of people who went a few days sans tray and their teeth reverted back (it happens fast) which extended their overall treatment time.

Courtesy Andrea Lavinthal

9. You will need a retainer anyway.

The only way to maintain your new smile is to — you guessed it — wear a retainer. This part is tricky. In some cases you can get away with wearing your last tray for 12 or so hours a day, then eventually just at night. This is my current plan, but I need another option because number seven. Most likely, I’ll move onto a Vivera retainer which is a longer-term option.

If after reading this you’re thinking that Invisalign sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. But it’s hard to find a person who isn’t thrilled with their results (I know I am!) and wouldn’t agree that it’s worth it in the end. It’s also way better than traditional braces and in my case, a thousand times more appealing than the possibility of major dental work down the road. Just remember: Wear your retainer.

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