Invisalign Invisible Braces: Your Questions Answered (US and UK)
Invisible braces like Invisalign are becoming ever more popular, especially among adults. They are a great option for people who want to straighten their teeth while avoiding a ‘metal mouth’ smile.
But how much do invisible braces cost, and do they really work? In this guide we will answer these questions and more so you can make an informed decision about the right orthodontic treatment for you.
You can read about some of the most popular brands of clear aligner brace in the US and the UK, plus find out how much you can expect to pay for your treatment.
Table of contents
- 1 What are invisible braces?
- 2 How do aligner tray braces work?
- 3 Invisalign braces
- 4 Other brands of invisible aligner brace
- 5 How much do invisible braces cost?
- 6 Invisible braces vs. metal braces
What are invisible braces?
The term ‘invisible braces’ refers to a way of straightening teeth that uses a series of clear plastic aligners (also known as ‘trays’) to gradually move teeth into the desired position.
Although they aren’t completely invisible, they use advanced technology which makes them barely detectable. Most people can’t spot that someone is wearing braces that use clear aligners until they are told.
The best-known type of invisible brace in the UK is Invisalign, but other similar brands are also available. If you’re wondering how to choose between the different types of invisible brace, we’ll cover these later in more detail.
Teeth aligners can be used to treat a range of mild and moderate tooth alignment problems, including:
- Crooked teeth
- Gaps between teeth
They may also be a good choice for people whose teeth have started to move back to their original position following previous orthodontic treatment.
Other more severe cases may not be suitable for treatment with aligner braces.
Why are they so popular?
Although relatively new to the market, invisible aligner braces have become very popular very quickly as they offer an inconspicuous way to achieve a better smile.
Many adults decide to wear braces because they feel uncomfortable with the way they look. But did you know that having misaligned teeth can lead to dental problems later in life as it’s harder to keep them clean? Because of this, invisible braces can be considered an investment not just in your smile, but in your oral health as well.
Transparent braces are a popular choice with professionals who worry that more visible braces will cause them to be taken less seriously or even teased at work. After all, don’t we most commonly think of school children wearing braces?
Although this stigma is lessening, it’s understandable for people to feel self-conscious about wearing braces in adulthood.
Another reason why people may opt for these braces is if they have a big day coming up, like a wedding. Many brides would consider their wedding photos ruined by a metallic smile, so instead choose transparent braces.
How do aligner tray braces work?
Your orthodontist will begin your treatment by taking a mould of your teeth to create a digital scan. This scan is used to plan your treatment step by step with the help of a computer program. From this, your aligners are created.
It may be necessary for you to have your teeth filed as part of your treatment. This creates small gaps between teeth to give them space to move, and it can also even out cosmetic imperfections.
The computer program allows you to see ‘before and after’ views of your teeth before the treatment has even begun.
Each aligner is customised to fit your teeth and shaped to apply pressure in exactly the right places to slowly shift them into alignment.
You’ll need to switch to a new aligner every two weeks, but this doesn’t mean visiting the dentist that often. Your orthodontist will only need to check the progress of your treatment every four to six weeks before providing you with a new set of teeth aligners.
Treatment can take anywhere from nine months to 18 months or more, but typically lasts just over a year. Since longer treatment requires more trays to be made, the price of invisible braces increases considerably for longer treatment durations.
With Invisalign treatment it may be necessary to add “attachments” to certain teeth to help the aligner trays stay in place. In the video below you can see how this happens as part of the fitting process:
After treatment with clear aligners, you’ll need to wear a retainer at night to keep your teeth in place. Your dentist may recommend wearing it during the day at first, too.
Invisalign retainers, branded as Vivera retainers, are designed to be almost unnoticeable. Other types of retainer use metal wires to keep your teeth in place, but are still removable.
It’s possible you’ll need to wear a retainer for the rest of your life to stop your teeth moving out of alignment (known as relapse).
The brand Invisalign is almost synonymous with this kind of brace, so we’ll begin here.
Align Technology, the company behind Invisalign, was founded in 1997. The product hit the American market with full force in the year 2000, backed by an aggressive marketing campaign.
Up to then, there had been very little innovation in the orthodontics market, except for lighter and whiter materials being developed over the years. All braces used essentially the same system of wires and brackets attached to teeth.
So when the ‘invisible brace’ concept first appeared, it offered a completely new way to subtly straighten teeth.
The original invisible brace has now made a worldwide name for itself. Align Technology started with just one product – now known as Invisalign Full – but has since then developed a range of other products to treat different cases.
The different types of Invisalign braces
This is the most common Invisalign treatment, used to correct more complicated problems with tooth alignment. Full treatment usually takes 12-18 months but will continue until the desired result is achieved.
Lite and i7 (UK)
For minor to moderate cases which don’t need Full treatment, there are two shorter treatment options. Invisalign i7 is used for minor dental corrections, often for purely cosmetic reasons. Using just seven sets of trays, treatment can be completed within as little as three months. Lite treatment takes a little longer – around seven months.
Over in the US the name is different but the concept is the same – a faster and cheaper option that offers mild correction. There are two lengths of Express treatment: one uses up to five aligners and takes three months, and the other uses up to ten aligners and takes around six months.
Because teeth are still developing during teenage years, it’s a great time to fix any alignment problems. However, some brands of invisible aligner braces are not designed to accommodate the growing jaw of a teenager.
With removable braces there is also the risk that the patient will be tempted to remove them for longer than the recommended time each day.
Invisalign Teen is specially designed to help teenagers straighten their teeth while they’re still shifting into place. These braces come with special features including:
- Up to six free replacement aligners to replace lost or damaged ones
- Tooth eruption tabs to allow space for growing teeth
- Compliance indicators which show parents and dentists whether the wearer is keeping their aligners in for the 22 hours a day required
These braces aren’t available on the NHS, but some parents may say it’s a small price to pay for their child to have a straighter smile without the risk of bullying and name-calling that often comes with wearing braces.
In this video, one mum explains why this was the right choice for her daughter:
To find out whether your teen’s teeth can be treated with clear aligners you’ll need to have a consultation with a dentist offering this treatment.
Invisalign: before and after
These before and after photos show how effective these invisible aligners can be at correcting the position of teeth.
|Before Invisalign||After invisalign|
If you want to know what other people think of using Invisalign, there are plenty of review sites where you can get an honest opinion of the process and view ‘before and after’ photos. If you’re short on time, check out our Invisalign reviews article which summarises honest reviews from real users.
Some people report mouth sores, ulcers and bleeding gums in the first few days while their mouths adjust to the trays. Others say they have difficulty removing them at first, but most people soon get used to them and have a positive experience.
“I have around 12 attachments and although tray change days are a bit uncomfortable for a couple of days, the process has been pretty easy! Anyone thinking about straightening their teeth, just do it! I wish I’d done this years ago!” said one user from North Lincolnshire.
“The pain this time around is a little more intense, mainly when trying to take the aligners out to eat, as my teeth are very tender and the aligners are hooked onto the attachments.” was the response of a reviewer in London who had just had attachments fitted to her teeth.
The inconvenience of having to remove the teeth aligners every time you eat or drink anything except water can be annoying, but on the other hand you don’t have the fiddly cleaning of metal braces to deal with.
Invisible aligner braces won’t be the right choice for everyone, so it’s a good idea to read some reviews for yourself before making a choice.
Other brands of invisible aligner brace
Despite Invisalign being the biggest name in the market, there are other brands which are popular among many dentists in the UK and the US. Because these don’t come with the famous brand name, they are often less expensive. However, newer companies may not have invested as much in their research and technology so the cheapest option is not always the best.
ClearCorrect, probably the next biggest name in aligner orthodontics, released its first product in 2006.
All ClearCorrect braces are manufactured in Texas and shipped out to dentists in the US, the UK, and Australia. A dentist uses impressions or a scanner to capture the current position of the patient’s teeth before creating a treatment plan.
Patients must wear their aligners for at least 22 hours every day. Treatment may take anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the complexity of the tooth straightening required.
Although there is little difference between ClearCorrect and Invisalign in terms of function and results, ClearCorrect braces tend to be more affordable.
British Croydon-based company ClearSmile offers a variety of adult braces, including ClearSmile Brace and ClearSmile Aligner. The ClearSmile Aligner focuses on straightening the front 8-10 teeth.
Treatment with ClearSmile aligners begins by taking impressions of the teeth. These are then analysed using Archwize software which produces a diagnostic report. This report allows patients to see ‘before and after’ views of their teeth on 3D animated models before treatment commences.
The ClearSmile production method combines 3D printing and moulding to ensure a close and comfortable fit for the patient.
Further impressions may be taken every six aligners to ensure that the teeth are moving into place as intended.
Inman Aligner braces
This treatment is already popular in the US and has recently been introduced to the UK market.
The Inman Aligner offers a slightly different take on the clear aligner brace. Using patented technology, the spring-loaded system applies pressure to the front and back of the teeth simultaneously to bring them into line.
This treatment works well on mild to moderate cases of crowding, protrusion, rotation and crossbite for the front teeth only. Patients are often people who wore braces when they were younger but now have crooked teeth again because they stopped wearing a retainer. Treatment usually takes 6-18 weeks to complete.
Inman aligners only have to be worn for 16-20 hours a day – considerably less than other styles of aligner brace. This makes the system a good choice for people who need the added flexibility of being able to remove their braces for longer periods. It’s also a more affordable choice, especially for simple cases.
On the downside, Inman aligner braces aren’t as invisible as clear aligners. Although the ‘bow’ which spans the front teeth is made from clear plastic, it usually has a wire running through it. The metal springs and clasps which attach to the rear teeth are also quite visible when you smile.
Other invisible brace brands
Other brands of clear aligner such as ClearPath and Eon are also available. Each manufacturer has its own unique selling points. ClearPath, for example, does not use any attachments, while Eon claims to use a stronger, more stain-resistant material than many of its competitors.
You could say that choosing between all these brands is like choosing a car. Certain elements will improve the performance of different vehicles, but it’s still the driver who is responsible for getting it safely from A to B. In the same way, the success of your treatment depends on the expertise of your orthodontist as much as the technology that’s backing him up.
Some orthodontists offer more than one brand of invisible brace, so you can ask which one they recommend for your treatment, and why.
How much do invisible braces cost?
It’s fair to say that there is a price to pay for having your teeth straightened discreetly. In most cases, invisible braces cost more than the traditional metal ‘train track’ alternative.
The price that orthodontists charge for each type of brace is up to them, so you’ll find that charges differ from one location to another. The cost of Invisalign and other transparent braces will also depend on the complexity of your treatment and the expected duration.
Because a new aligner is needed every two weeks or so, transparent braces cost more if a longer treatment is required. There is also the cost of consultations with your orthodontist to factor in.
Due to there being so many factors involved, it’s difficult to put an exact figure on how much Invisalign braces cost. The only way to get an accurate quotation for your treatment is to visit an orthodontist. You can still get an idea of prices by researching what other people have paid for similar treatment.
Generally speaking, Invisalign is the most expensive brand. However, some Invisalign reviews suggest it’s worth paying the extra since users experience greater comfort from the material and the way it fits around their gums.
The cost of Invisalign and other aligner braces in the US
|Type of invisible brace||Lower cost estimate||Upper cost estimate||Length of typical treatment|
|Invisalign Full||$3,000||$8,000||9-18 months|
|Invisalign Express||$1,800||$4,500||3-6 months|
|Invisalign Teen||$3,000||$6,500||9-18 months|
|Inman Aligner||$1,200||$3,000||6-18 months|
Invisalign gives certain dentists a coveted ‘Top 1% Provider’ status. This ranks a practitioner’s experience with Invisalign compared to all others around the world.
As a consumer it should give you peace of mind that the dentist is competent with the treatment, but there may be an added cost benefit too. Top 1% Providers receive preferential Invisalign prices which they often pass on to customers. So this is something you should look out for when selecting a clinic for your treatment.
Your health or dental insurance may well provide partial coverage for orthodontic work for under-18s. Adults are less likely to be covered, although more providers are starting to expand their dental insurance offering.
Check your policy for details, and take note of the percentage covered and the lifetime maximum per person insured. Be wary of switching providers half way through orthodontic treatment, as the new policy may not cover work that has already begun.
How much are invisible braces in the UK?
|Type of invisible brace||Lower cost estimate||Upper cost estimate||Length of typical treatment|
|Invisalign Full||£2,500||£5,500||9-18 months|
|Invisalign Lite||£1,800||£3,500||6-8 months|
|Invisalign i7||£1,200||£3,000||3 months+|
|Invisalign Teen||£2,500||£5,000||9-18 months|
|Inman Aligner||£1,000||£2,400||6-18 months|
If you’re putting off treatment because of the cost of invisible braces, your dentist may be able to help you spread the payments out. Many offer dental payment plans that will allow you to pay a deposit up-front and then pay off the remaining amount during your treatment.
If you’re considering using finance for dental treatment, it’s worth shopping around for a dental practice that offers 0% finance. This can make a big difference to the total cost of your invisible aligners.
What’s the cost of clear retainers after teeth straightening treatment?
When your orthodontic treatment has finished you’ll need to keep your teeth in place with retainers. Invisalign retainers are available under the brand name Vivera. These can last anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on how well you look after them.
The cost of Vivera clear retainers will vary from one dentist to another, but can be around £250 for a set of three for one arch (jaw) and £450 for a full set of three in the UK. In the US, expect to pay between $300 and $750 annually (for one set every three months).
A similar style of retainer, called an Essix retainer, is available from most dentists at a more affordable price. Hawley retainers, which use acrylic and wires, are another option.
Whichever type of retainer you choose, you’ll need to factor in the lifetime cost of using one when budgeting for your orthodontic treatment. If you stop using a retainer, your Invisalign results will recede.
Invisible braces vs. metal braces
Clear aligner braces offer many benefits over alternative forms of fixed braces. These include:
- Aligners are virtually invisible so the wearer feels less self-conscious
- They can be removed for up to four hours a day for eating, cleaning, and any special occasions or events where the wearer wants to be brace-free
- There are no restrictions on what the user can eat during treatment (as long as aligners are removed first)
- They are a more hygienic option as food can’t get stuck in them
- Trays are easy to clean, and teeth can be cleaned as normal
- Visits to the orthodontist may not be needed as often
Naturally, there are some downsides, too:
- Treatment can take longer than with fixed braces
- Teeth aligners can be lost and are expensive to replace
- They are not suitable for severe cases that require more complicated treatment, for example rotating teeth or moving them vertically
- Aligners must be removed before eating or drinking anything except water
- The wearer must brush their teeth before replacing aligners after eating
- Self-discipline is needed for the wearer to keep aligners in for at least 20-22 hours a day
That final point is very important; people who may be tempted to skip a day or keep their aligners out for more than four hours a day might be better off wearing fixed braces that can’t be removed at all. Failing to follow these guidelines means treatment will be less effective or will take longer (thereby costing more money).
Which is most effective?
Although the Invisalign vs braces debate rages on, there’s no denying the fact that over the past 20 years, more than 4 million patients have now used Invisalign braces for better smiles in 90+ countries. Celebrities who have corrected their smiles inconspicuously include Oprah Winfrey, Keira Knightley, Kate Middleton, Tom Cruise and Justin Bieber.
However, because the technology is relatively new, there is not yet any data to measure the long-term effectiveness of transparent brace aligner systems.
Other types of clear braces
If you like the idea of less noticeable braces but are put off by the cost of Invisalign or some other factor, there are other options you may want to consider.
Ceramic braces and clear braces, such as Damon braces and the ClearSmile Brace, use the same system of brackets and wires as metal braces. The key difference is that the brackets (and sometimes the wires) are made from a material that is tooth-coloured or white. This helps make the braces less obvious, particularly from a distance.
Clear braces can be a good alternative for people who are not eligible for aligner brace treatment but still want a straighter smile the subtle way. Another option to consider is lingual braces, which are hardly noticeable as they are fixed behind the teeth.
If you’re considering dental braces for yourself or your teen, it’s best to visit a dentist or orthodontist who is experienced with using several different types of braces. They will be able to give you a professional opinion on the best type of orthodontic treatment for you.