Choosing an orthodontic treatment for your teen can be tricky. From timelines to cost and more, the options may seem overwhelming, especially when you’re deciding between two of the most effective and long-standing treatments available.
This guide breaks down the similarities and differences between braces and clear aligners so you can decide which is best for your teen.
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Braces vs. Clear Aligners For Teens: What To Consider
Braces and clear aligners are the two most popular and reliable orthodontic treatment options for teens, and while they deliver similar outcomes, they use incredibly different materials and procedures to get there. Below, we’ll outline the 10 major factors you should be aware of before deciding which option is right for your teen.
1. Treatable Conditions
For some teens, braces are the better choice. If your teen has a complicated bite or has severely crooked teeth, their dentist may recommend braces because they can handle stronger forces and induce more significant tooth and jaw shifts.
Maturity also comes into play. If you think your teen might have a hard time remembering to put their trays in after eating, or you think the trays might get lost easily, braces might make sense.
All orthodontic treatments are expensive, especially ones that require regular office visits like braces and Invisalign. Metal braces typically cost between $3,000 and $7,000, depending on your teen’s specific condition and the projected treatment time.
Ceramic or plastic brackets will often add another $1,000 to the price. Specialty braces, like self-ligating Damon braces, are about the same as traditional ones, running between $3,500 and $8,000. Lingual braces, which are placed behind your teeth, are the most expensive of the traditional braces. They can cost around $10,000 or more.
There are several different clear aligner brands available. At-home brands don’t require any in-office check-ins, and usually cost between $1,395 and $3,500. Invisalign and ClearCorrect require in-office check-ups every 4-6 weeks and costs between $3,000-7,000.
3. Treatment Time
Traditional braces with metal, ceramic or plastic brackets take 12-36 months, with most cases taking about 24 months. Damon braces often take around six months less.
Treatment with clear aligners is usually faster, but that can be because they’re not designed to handle the most severe cases. At-home clear aligners can take four to six months if worn for 22 hours and 8-10 months on a nighttime-only plan. Invisalign takes a little longer, around 12-18 months.
Whether you have traditional braces or Invisalign, you need to see your doctor every 4-6 weeks. If you have braces, they’ll usually remove the small plastic o-rings that keep the wire in place, adjust the metal archwire, and look for any other issues.
If you have Invisalign, your doctor will check your bite, make sure treatment is progressing as expected, and confirm that you’re wearing your trays as often as you should.
At-home clear aligners don’t require any in-office checkups. Some companies will request that you submit photos of your teeth to make sure treatment is progressing. This can save time, but it also means your teen needs to be diligent with their routine dental cleanings and exams to ensure there are no other issues.
One of the nice things about braces is that you don’t have to keep track of them or remove them before eating. They are always there, doing their job. You also don’t have to change to a new set every couple weeks like clear aligners.
Clear aligners are also convenient in that you don’t have to worry about carrying around orthodontic wax if there’s a wire poking your cheek or a bracket irritating your lip.
Clear aligners are much easier to clean than braces. Simply remove the trays to eat or drink. Then brush, floss, and rinse your aligners before replacing them.
Braces require a more detailed homecare routine. You have to brush around each bracket to remove food and plaque or risk getting cavities. Flossing takes a little extra effort too, since you need to thread the floss under the archwire using a special tool called a floss threader.
If your teen has braces and doesn’t take care of their teeth between routine cleanings, their dentist may recommend an extra cleaning that some insurance plans may not cover.
Traditional metal braces are the most durable orthodontic treatment. They can withstand strong forces, and unless you eat something very crunchy or chewy, you shouldn’t have an issue. The brackets are stainless steel alloy and the archwires are a nickel-titanium alloy that was developed by NASA. These thin, flexible wires are heat-activated and use the warmth of your mouth to help shift your teeth.
Clear aligners are all made from a medical-grade, non-BPA thermoplastic. Each brand has its own proprietary formula that makes them highly durable. But while they are strong, most can’t withstand the force of chewing.
Except for a diligent home care routine, braces require little in terms of compliance. Your teen’s doctor makes all the adjustments, so there are no trays to change out, and since they are cemented to your teeth, your teen won’t have to worry about losing them or throwing them out during lunch.
Clear aligners, however, require much more commitment. Your teen will need to commit to wearing each set for 22 hours a day or 8-10 hours for the nighttime-only option. Skipping days or forgetting to put them in can cause a delay in treatment and may cost you time and money. If you worry your teen won’t wear them as much as necessary, clear aligners might not be the best option.
Patients often report that clear aligners are more comfortable than traditional braces. Since they are a one-piece removable tray, clear aligners don’t have metal wires and brackets that can poke and cut your lips, cheeks, or tongue.
Additionally, in-office braces adjustments can cause more discomfort than switching to a new set of aligners. This may be because clear aligners don’t put quite as much force on the teeth, and they distribute the force more evenly.
Clear aligners are nearly invisible, making them appealing to most patients. Some companies also offer a nighttime-only version which is great for teens who don’t want classmates to see them removing their aligners, or worry about losing them at lunch.
Is One Option Safer Than The Other?
Like any dental treatment or procedure, there are some risks involved with braces and clear aligners that you and your teen should be aware of.
Tenderness and Discomfort
Braces can cause discomfort after each adjustment, but it usually only lasts a few days. They can also irritate the inside of your cheeks and lips. Placing orthodontic wax over the bracket or wire can provide some relief until your teen’s mouth adjusts.
While patients of clear aligner therapy often report less discomfort than those with traditional braces, your teen can still expect some tenderness when wearing each new set of trays for the first time.
Soft foods, ice packs, and over-the-counter pain relievers recommended by your teen’s doctor are great ways to alleviate the discomfort associated with both braces and clear aligner treatment.
Regardless of the orthodontic treatment method, whenever you move tooth roots, there’s a tiny chance that the force can damage nerves. When a nerve gets damaged, it may die, requiring a root canal. It’s rare, but it’s still possible.
Demineralization and Tooth Decay
Your teen will remove their aligners to brush and floss, which is much easier than brushing around each bracket and threading floss underneath an archwire. If you don’t keep your teeth clean, your teeth can decay around the brackets, which can also cause nerve damage.
Sometimes your tooth will start to demineralize, which means the enamel has deteriorated, but the decay hasn’t eaten through it yet. This can create white spots on your teeth that won’t go away on their own.
Sometimes, braces and clear aligners can trigger temporary pain or discomfort in the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. This is common and will improve as your teen’s treatment progresses. Symptoms include clicking, popping and trouble chewing, and while they generally aren’t a concern, you should still notify your teen’s orthodontist.
Increased Risk of Relapse
Research has shown that, for some patients, clear aligner treatment may be less stable than braces. That means your teen’s teeth are more likely to shift back after treatment with clear aligners than they are with braces.
Are Retainers Necessary After Either Treatment Option?
All patients who have orthodontic treatment need aftercare retainers. Your teen will need to wear them every night, typically for the rest of their life, or their teeth might shift back into their original positions.
Your teen might be able to use their last set of clear aligners as their retainers, but every case is different, so ask your teen’s doctor if they need retainers.
There’s a lot to consider when choosing an orthodontic treatment for your teen. Are they responsible enough to keep track of clear aligners? Or do they already struggle with homecare, and braces might make it impossible to keep their mouth clean? It all comes down to your teen as an individual.
But both braces and clear aligners are highly effective options, and once treatment is complete, your teen will have a beautiful, functional smile that will last a lifetime.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much do braces and clear aligners cost?
Depending on the style of braces, treatment can run between $3,000 and $10,000. Clear aligners usually cost between $1,395 and $7,000. Remember that prices can occasionally fall outside that range. It all depends on your teen’s specific condition.
How long does treatment take?
Braces often take around 24 months, but depending on your teen’s case, treatment can take as little as 12 months or as long as 36 months. Treatment with at-home aligners usually takes between 4-6 months for aligners worn for 22 hours per day and between 6-10 months for nighttime only versions. Invisalign takes a little longer on average, between 12-18 months.
Are there any risks?
Every dental procedure has risks. It’s extremely rare, but occasionally nerves will die from the force of dental roots moving in the bone. Jaw pain and discomfort are common and usually go away as treatment progresses. Braces have a higher risk of tooth decay and demineralization if you don’t brush and floss well. At-home aligners also have a higher risk of relapse.
Does insurance cover braces and clear aligners?
Many insurance plans will cover part of in-office treatments like braces and Invisalign, and some may provide coverage for at-home aligners as well. To be sure, check your plan’s specific coverage and contact your provider directly.
Will my teen need retainers?
Yes. Your teen will need to wear retainers every night to prevent their teeth from shifting back into their original positions.