Closeup image of woman smiling with text invisalign vs braces

Courtesy of Craig Sommer DDS at

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the Invisalign vs braces question, it’s such a common inquiry.

After a few more questions I’ll hear some of the pain.

“My relationship’s crashed.”

“I need a fresh start.”

“Now it’s my turn.”

“My partner is gone.”

“I don’t want to be alone the rest of my life.”

Some are just fed up. They want to get rid of any traces of what’s held them back before, destroying confidence and a disappointing smile is a big part of it.

Why Is Invisalign(TM) So Popular?

I understand why you want to have your teeth straightened. You ask about Invisalign braces because they do such an effective job of marketing. You see it in magazines and on TV. They talk about how it’s like invisible braces and tout the advantages. Its a great place to start the conversation.

Laurel’s Story

I had a nurse as a patient, I’ll call her Laurel, that really hated her teeth. She was fun, outgoing and attractive in spite of her smile. BUT IT DROVE HER NUTS that her teeth were “messed up.” Her words not mine. She had been through one of those crashed relationships too.

After talking back and forth about her concerns we settled on using the Invisalign(TM) braces system.

Molds of her teeth were made and through the miracles of modern 3D computer scanning, a series of plastic form fitting aligners were fabricated. Each aligner was designed to apply a little pressure to individual teeth. Each successive aligner continuing to apply pressure, moving teeth slowly into the desired final position.

For Laurel it was the perfect solution. She committed to wearing them 22 hours a day, except for eating and cleaning her teeth. She was very concerned about being able to keep her teeth clean and her breath fresh. Being able to remove the aligners was a key point for her.

Laurel asked if on special social occasions whether she could leave them out for several hours so she could eat and carry on conversation with no interference. I told her that it could only be very special occasions or the process would not work as planned.

Laurel, true to her word, was very diligent. It took just over a year to accomplish the desired result. She was ecstatic. She never smiled so big as when were took our final photographs. She was fitted with retainers and moved to take on a new job. My guess is that the confidence she exhibited, along with a beautiful smile, made her relationship prospects a sure thing.

Got Ugly Smile?

I’ve had other individuals tell me “I’ve got ugly teeth.” Another tried to make a joke as she said, “I’ve got ‘somer’ teeth.

I must have had a funny look on my face, so she continued.

“Some are pointing this way and some are pointing that way,” using her hands for emphasis.

Got it. I’m a little slow on the uptake on occasion.

Another came right out and said, “I’ve got a jacked up smile.” I had to agree, he did not have a terrific smile, but I think he was exaggerating a little.

What’s Your Story?

How about you. Why are you asking about straightening your teeth? Are you self conscious, feel vulnerable? Did someone said something hurtful that impacted you and you can’t let it go? Now you see your smile every day and it seems to be getting worse. You look in the mirror and it’s all you see. That emotional pain is more common than you think.

I see so many amazing people like you that want to fix the turned tooth up front or the “fang” as you describe it, on the side. They are smiles with character, and a little asymmetry, where the right and left sides are not identical. Not perfect, but definitely not “totally messed up” either. But, if you want to make some changes there are things you must think about.

I Don’t Want Metal Braces

With your “not-so-terrific-smile” image in your head, the last thing you want is having metal glued to all of your teeth, being topped off with a “big wire bow.” You have to think about what it will be like while your smile is undergoing a makeover for one to two years.

There are substitutes for the big metal pieces, called brackets, attached to the teeth, connected with wires, which is the  conventional orthodontic approach. The metal brackets are very often made of nickel containing stainless steel. If you are concerned about metals being used in your mouth, the wire and stainless steel bracket systems are not going to keep you happy.

Clear Brackets Help Reduce Visibility

Clear brackets are available, made of a sapphire mineral, that are temporarily glued to your teeth like the stainless steel brackets. Using these cuts down on the total amount of metal used as well as reducing the visibility of your braces. They hide fairly well, since they are clear, but the metal wires connecting them are still necessary to  straighten your teeth.

The biggest advantage of the wire and bracket technique is control. Your orthodontist can apply the pressure needed to move your teeth very predictably. It is the standard to which other systems are compared.

Invisalign(TM) Braces-Handles

Invisalign(TM) braces try to accomplish the same movement of teeth without brackets and wires. Usually, little tooth colored bumps or handles are glued to a number of your teeth to improve the aligner’s grip on them. Remember Laurel, the nurse? She had to have a number of them placed on both upper and lower teeth. It made it more difficult to place and remove the clear plastic aligners, but she wanted no brackets and wires.

There are some situations where Invisalign(TM) braces works about 90+% of the way and brackets and wires are used to finish the treatment. It’s not a perfect world and you have to accept that possibility.

Conventional Braces- Brackets And Wires

With the conventional visible brackets and wire system, your orthodontist  doesn’t need your cooperation wearing the hardware, since it is glued to your teeth. He has control which keeps him happy. And you don’t have to worry about losing or misplacing any aligners since there are no aligners to lose.

Considering the initial reason you considered braces was that you wanted improve your smile, the wires and brackets system is an unattractive way of going about the process. Its fine if all of your peers look the same way and it’s a status symbol to have braces. But everyone feels that way. Others just don’t care because they are doing something for themselves and peer pressure doesn’t exist in their minds.

I had conventional braces, as an adult in my thirties. I didn’t care if someone saw them because I would just explain the benefits. I also did it at the same time as one of my daughters was having her braces so she had company. She appreciated my ability to commiserate.

  Lingual Braces-Stick The Brackets On The Tongue Side

So the nerdy dental minded inventors went back into the laboratory and came up with brackets that can be placed on the tongue side of the teeth so they are not visible. Definitely a step in the right direction for visibility concerns.

These are called lingual braces. Lingual, that’s Latin for tongue or speech, except with those on your teeth the speech part won’t be easy.

Good idea? Sort of, but it has problems too. First, it will add a significant amount to the cost. The brackets themselves are more expensive, so that will have to be covered in the cost of treatment.

Lingual Braces Will Cost You More 

Another consideration is that gluing the brackets to your teeth is no party either. You will spend quite a bit more time having them put on the teeth at the beginning of the process.

In addition to the extra time involved in placing those brackets, there is a significant amount of time needed to connect the wires to all of your teeth each time the wires need to be adjusted or changed. Can’t ignore the darn wires as they are needed to guide your teeth into the right positions.

Getting the new wires lined up with the slots in the bracket on each tooth is also harder since your tongue is busy exploring what’s happening. Imagine your tongue breakdancing, from one spot to another, while the dental assistant is connecting the wires to each of your teeth. Think party.

Finally, all the brackets are glued in place, the wires are connected and now your tongue feels like it’s bedroom has  been cut in half. Not only that, there are now a hundred new things for it to play with. The normal swallowing, inspecting rubbing and feeling that a tongue does is now doubly difficult. Add a little food to eat and it’s overwhelming on occasion.

Got Lingual Braces-Now I Can’t Talk

Now, that you’ve accepted your tongue  being corralled by a “chain link fence,” it’s time to thank your dentist for putting all of that “thstuff” in your mouth. You can smile, but you cant talk.

I’m being a little hard on the lingual braces, but they are a challenge. If low visibility braces is “the” requirement you can probably fight through the one to two years of treatment. And you will adapt to the speech difficulties.

Do Braces Have To Be Ugly?

So just to review a little, you started with a concern about what your teeth looked like. So now you have to choose between gluing either metal or clear brackets on your teeth. And then tying all those brackets together with a big piece of wire using 28 smaller pieces of wire or colored rubber bands.

Its just getting better and better.  Maybe they’ll use a bunch of little colored rubber bands to connect the big wire to the brackets instead of 28 small wires. It’s a big improvement but you still can’t talk.

The Super Cool Incognito(TM) Lingual Braces

Incognit0 braces are designed to be an improvement to the scary discription I just mentioned.  Great for people who don’t want their braces to be seen at work and at other social occasions.

The Incognito method uses a similar high tech approach like Invisalign where your orthodontist uses computer modeling to plan your final result.

The old style of lingual braces still attaches brackets to teeth with glue. Since the brackets are not individually customized for each of your teeth, glue fills in the gaps. This gives you more little prongs and rough areas to keep your tongue busy break dancing.

So with Incognito braces, instead of trying to glue tongue side brackets to your teeth that don’t match the exact shape of each tooth, they customize them, promising an almost perfect fit of bracket to tooth. The customized brackets are cast from gold to allow a near perfect fit. Gold however, adds a significant cost bump to the whole treatment.

A Wire Run Over In Street Traffic

The brackets still must be connected to a wire that guides the teeth into the proper final desired position. This Incognito(TM) wire is computer designed, bent and twisted so it will fit into the custom gold brackets.

The first wire looks a lot like it was run over in street traffic, but it adapts nicely to the early stages of tooth positions. The wire applies a little bit of pressure to each tooth, beginning to move teeth closer to the final desired result. Then, after a few weeks, another wire to replace the previous one, is fitted to the brackets but it is slightly straighter. Each new wire moves the teeth a little closer to the final position until eventually the last straight wire signals everything is finished. The teeth at this stage just need to be kept in the final position until the bone around the roots solidifies. Thats what a retainer is used for regardless of the system used.

I can certainly see significant advantages to the Incognito braces method for someone who doesn’t want to show any visible braces. They will address that aspect of concern during treatment very well. They would be much smoother to the tongue than the standard lingual braces with non-customized brackets, which is a major plus. You will still have prongs, knobs, and lumps and bumps for your tongue to play with, however. And, your tongue will have less elbow room making for more difficult speech

Summary- Benefits And Shortcomings Of Teeth Straightening Systems

Benefits of Conventional Braces

  • 1.)  Maximum control
  • 2.)  Lowest cost
  • 3.)  Always working

Shortcomings of Conventional Braces

  • 1.)  Looks like braces
  • 2.)  Wires and brackets irritate lips and cheeks
  • 3.)  Contain metals like nickel
  • 4.)  Difficult to clean teeth

Benefits of Lingual Braces

  • 1.)  Excellent control
  • 2.)  No visibility
  • 3.)  Always working

Shortcomings of Lingual Braces

  • 1.)  Difficulty with speech
  • 2.)  Wires and brackets irritate the tongue
  • 3.)  Contain metals like nickel, gold alloys
  • 4.)  Difficult to clean teeth

Benefits of Incognito(TM) Braces

  • 1.)  Excellent control
  • 2.)  No visibility
  • 3.)  Always working
  • 4.)  Custom brackets, reduced decay

Shortcomings of Incognito(TM) Braces

  • 1.)  Difficulty with speech
  • 2.)  Wires and brackets irritate/crowd the tongue
  • 3.)  Contain metals gold alloys
  • 4.)  Difficult to clean teeth

Benefits of Invisalign Braces

  • 1.)  Good control
  • 2.)  Low visibility
  • 3.)  Low tongue and cheek irritation
  • 4.)  Excellent hygiene potential

Shortcomings of Invisalign(TM) Braces

  • 1.)  May require wire/brackets to complete
  • 2.)  Reduced aligner wearing slows/stops progress
  • 3.)  Aligners can be lost, misplaced, eaten by pets

It’s always a trade-off in life, nothing is perfect. Even improving your smile has many things to consider. If you have questions about braces and which system would be best for you, contact a holistic or biological dentist. They would be pleased to help you make a decision.