How Clear Aligners, Like Invisalign, Work to Get Your Smile Back

If you're thinking of getting clear aligners to straighten your teeth, here are all the basics on how Invisalign works.


Feb. 22 2024, Published 2:03 p.m. ET

Hands holding transparent aligners on blue background
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Invisalign helps people straighten their teeth without traditional braces. Unfortunately, it's common for teeth to shift with time — even if you've had braces in the past — and custom aligners such as Invisalign could reverse their subtle movement. Understanding the process of using dental aligners can be confusing, and we're here to help.

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Check out how Invisalign works to understand why it’s one of the leading at-home teeth alignment brands. Getting your smile back without visiting an orthodontist’s office could solve the last barrier keeping you from straighter teeth.

Smiling black girl holding invisible teeth aligner in dentist chair
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Thinking about getting Invisalign? Here’s how it works.

After taking the Invisalign Smile Quiz to learn if the program is right for you, the main website will direct you to locate a nearby Invisalign dentistry or orthodontic office with your zip code. You'll have to schedule an appointment, and if the dental professional agrees that you’re a good candidate for Invisalign, you’ll set up a followup appointment.

Your followup appointment includes getting X-rays, before taking impressions of your teeth with putty. The putty hardens before a computer scans it to 3D print your first aligners, as explained in a 2021 article published in Current and Future Trends in Orthodontic Materials.

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When your aligners are ready, you’ll pick them up at the same dentist or orthodontist’s office so they can check the fit before you go home. From there, you'll switch out your aligners about every two weeks to maintain their movement into a straight smile, per 209 NYC Dental.

You'll likely be able to either pick up each new set of aligners at your consultation office, or have them shipped to your home.

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How much does Invisalign cost?

The average Invisalign client pays between $3,000 and $5,000 for their treatment, per Forbes. However, the final cost depends on your teeth. Your smile may need more or less work, depending on how crooked your teeth are during your consultation. If you have insurance, you can discuss coverage and payment plan options with your preferred provider, since many insurance plans do cover part of the treatment.

The average custom treatment plan is effective when the client wears their aligners for at least 22 hours per day, according to a 2023 article published in Journal of Orthodontic Science. So before making the financial commitment to Invisalign, make sure you are willing to wear your aligners for 22 hours each day.

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Invisible aligners for dental correction in a box
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Here’s how the technology behind Invisalign works to straighten your teeth.

Clear aligners fit around your teeth at the start of your treatment based on your custom mold. They have minor additional shaping to help the aligners "apply gentle pressure" to start moving your teeth, as noted in the previously referenced article published in the Journal of Orthodontic Science.

The Invisalign System software program uses computer-aided manufacturing and design to print the aligners. Then, patients swap every two weeks to continue straightening their teeth with adjusted pressure points on different teeth, per the Journal of the World Federation of Orthodontists, which gradually moves their teeth into the desired position.

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