Invisalign is a transparent plastic dental aligner that is used as an alternative to braces for orthodontic treatments to straighten teeth. In recent years, the popularity of Invisalign has grown significantly because, compared to conventional metallic or ceramic braces, the clear Invisalign trays are more comfortable and less intrusive. Because the invisible liners can be removed, they are allow users to eat anything they want — unlike with traditional braces.
The official Invisalign website claims that more than 10 million patients have used Invisalign so far, and it has become a widely accepted orthodontic treatment among dentists as well. Invisalign has turned out to be a very useful invention for those who want to straighten their teeth but don't want to compromise on either their smiles or their lifestyle.
When was Invisalign invented?
Zia Christi was an MBA student at Stanford University when he came up with the idea for Invisalign. He was undergoing orthodontic treatment, but found conventional retainers (used to prevent the teeth moving once the braces are removed) very uncomfortable and struggled to wear them as often as necessary. He realized this was a common problem and envisioned an alternative treatment that used clear aligners instead of braces.
Chisti worked on a solution in his dorm room, together with help from his friends including Kelsey Wirth, Apostolos Lerios, Brian Freyburger, and Andrew Beers.
The technology for the Invisalign manufacturing system, using computer imaging and 3D printing to create a new type of orthodontic retainer was developed by Lerios, Freyburger, and Beers under the guidance of Stanford's computer science and electrical engineering Professor Marc Levoy. The research work from Beers and Prof. Levoy on the 3D painting technique led to the development of algorithms that were used to create 3D models of Invisalign.
After graduating from Stanford in 1997, Chisti and his fellow students founded Align Technologies, LTD. The following year, the Invisalign device was approved by the FDA, and had attracted more than $140 million in venture capital.
The company went public and was listed on the NASDAQ in 2001, with a valuation of around $1 billion. Invisalign turned out to be a highly successful invention. Apart from the practical usability, some credit for its success may also go to a $31 million ad campaign launched by Align, to help it overcome resistance to the new product from orthodontists, who were sceptical that a plastic aligner could replace the treatment standard of braces. The company also conducted trainings for orthodontists — in 2000 alone, 75% of orthodontists in the US received Invisalign training.
Zia Christi sold his company shares in 2003 but Invisalign continued to grow. Meanwhile, other similar dental solutions were also launched by brands such as uLab and Spark, although these could match the success of Invisalign.
The number of Invisalign users more than doubled in two years, from 80,000 in 2002 to 175,000 by the end of 2004. By this time, the product had found widespread acceptance among orthodontists. By 2020, more than 2 million people has undergone Invisalign treatment.
What is Invisalign made of?
The Invisalign clear aligner is a transparent dental device designed using computer software that uses 3D technology to develop a special material known as the SmartTrack. This multilayered polyurethane plastic is engineered specifically for aligner treatment. It is designed to fit efficiently on the teeth and apply continuous, gentle pressure.
SmartTrack also enables the Invisalign to be almost invisible and durable, the material is also free from gluten, latex, bisphenol-A, and other harmful substances. Due to its highly elastic nature, SmartTrack always returns to the ideal teeth shape even when under pressure — so if you accidentally stepped on the Invisalign tray, it would not break or deform.
As compared to the conventional braces, which are attached to the teeth and can only be removed by the orthodontist, the Invisalign trays are designed to be worn over the teeth, which allows better control of tooth movements, and faster treatment times.
What Dental Issues Invisalign Solve?
A 2017 research suggests that Invisalign is effective at correcting dental issues such as overbite, open bite, and underbite. It is also helpful against other crowding and spacing-related problems that can lead to gaps between teeth or cause them to get misaligned.
However, Invisalign has been modified several times by Align since its first launch, and there has not been a great deal of clinical research done to demonstrate its effectiveness against specific orthodontic issues as compared with more conventional treatments. Although, some studies have shown Invisalign to be more effective than other aligners, and its 2010 version was a good improvement that turned out pretty decent at managing teeth movement.
Dentists recommend patients wear Invisalign clear aligners for 22 hours a day. They can be taken out for eating and dental hygiene but should be worn at all other times. In the case of conventional braces, users are not allowed to eat many food items, as these can become stuck in the braces. There are no such restrictions with Invisalign because users are able to remove Invisalign aligners when they eat or drink. As with braces, however, Invisalign may increase the likelihood of dental cavities if users do not brush regularly after every meal. This is because the liners can interfere with the ability of saliva to "rinse away" food particles after eating.
Users are also warned to not use hot water for cleaning their Invisalign, as it may damage the plastic body of the aligners.
Limitations of Invisalign Treatment
Despite the comfort, ease, and oral hygiene standard that the removable Invisalign aligners offer, there are several factors that indicate that this may still not be the best option to deal with complex orthodontic malocclusion.
- Invisalign treatment may not be as effective if a patient has applied dental bridges or crowns to their teeth in the past.
- Invisalign treatment is able to fill dental gaps of less than 6 mm only, for larger gaps the treatment is ineffective.
- In complex cases, where patients’ teeth are either twisted by more than 45 degrees or their shape is too disoriented to fit in the aligner, Invisalign treatment will not be appropriate.
- Invisalign treatment is more effective at moving front teeth than the molars, therefore, as compared to traditional braces, Invisalign may not be a better option if you wish to see all your teeth at the same height.
- Ceramic braces are able to treat severe bite problems, but Invisalign clear aligners are only effective against normal or moderate bite issues.
- The cost of Invisalign treatment varies greatly, but may offer some cost advantages over braces, especially for those who only need a small amount of correction.
Future of the Invisible Invisalign Braces
The 3D technology that is used to design Invisalign not only delivers great fitting but also gives patients an opportunity to see the pre and post-treatment impression of their aligners. Moreover, the invisible appearance has played a great role in making Invisalign a favorite choice among teenagers, as the futuristic design attracts them and relieves them from the stress of their changed look with braces.
The first Invisalign device was sold in the year 1999, and since then it has undergone various developments and changes to fit patients’ dental needs worldwide. The growing demand for Invisalign can be understood by the fact that in 2020, the market cap of Align Technology crossed the mark of $2.47 billion; out of this, 85% of revenue came from the sale of clear aligners.
Millions of young individual across the globe have adopted Invisalign treatment, and their numbers are growing fast because most of the dental problems at an early age do not require complex treatment, so as compared to braces Invisalign is a more discreet and convenient dental solution option and its effect on the busy lifestyle of adults is minimal.