When I was younger, my teeth were my best feature. People often complimented me on my smile, which was always ear-to-ear in photos. Although a few teeth in the front of my bottom row were crooked (a trait I shared with my father and oldest sister), they were often indetectable, thanks to cover from my bottom lip and a slight overbite. However, somewhere in my mid- to late-thirties, my teeth began shifting, a common occurrence as we age. In particular, one of my two front teeth began to turn counterclockwise and inward, ruining my once almost perfect chompers. They weren’t quite bad enough for braces, but plagued me in every picture since. After batting the idea around for the past year, I ultimately opted for SmileDirectClub®, an online “teledentistry” service which provides clear, custom-fit teeth aligners.
“The process is prescribed and monitored by your SmileDirectClub-affiliated licensed dentist or orthodontist who is assigned to your case,” explains SmileDirectClub’s Chief Clinical Officer, Jeffrey Sulitzer, DMD. “Our clear aligners come as a set of multiple aligners that fit snugly over your teeth, and are worn for one to two weeks at a time to gently shift your teeth into the desired position.” On average, the entire process takes six months, but varies person-to-person.
Typically, you can go to a SmileDirectClub location near you, at which a trained professional scans your teeth. But during these times of shelter-in-place, you have another option. The company can send you a mixable mold and tools to make impressions of your teeth. A few weeks after you’ve sent them back, a box of custom-made aligners arrives at your door, ready to use!
If you’re on the fence about trying an at-home teeth-straightening service, keep reading. Below are five lessons I learned during the process — from the exciting to the parts that required me to develop some creative new skills!
Lesson #1: Your mouth, lips, and tongue need a few days to adjust to the aligners.
I was so excited when my aligners arrived, I popped them in that very same day — and was immediately jarred by the experience. Don’t underestimate the initial impact of having foreign objects in your mouth! Your mouth, lips, and tongue need time to adjust and get in the habit of working with less room to maneuver. I made the mistake of starting the alignment treatment at the beginning of a work week, not realizing I’d sound like Daffy Duck for the first few days as my mouth adapted to the BPA-free plastic. I lisped, struggled with making “th” and “sh” sounds, and was tripped up mid-sentence quite a few times. Thankfully, it was only temporary. By the end of the week, my mouth, lips, tongue, and I finally had the hang of it.
Lesson #2: Eating can be a full-on production.
I was given the option of either an eight-month plan, where I’d only have to wear the aligners to bed, or the aforementioned four-month plan, which involves wearing them 22 hours a day. Basically, the only time I’m not wearing the aligners these days is when I’m eating. (No, you can’t snack with them in — you’ll damage the aligners!) When you want to eat in public — be it at the office or at a bar — you’ll have to do some things that, personally, give me the ickies. Namely, you have to take out and clean the aligners, eat, floss, brush, and pop them back in.
It may sound superfluous, but the cleansing step is essential. You run a high risk of trapping bacteria and food under the aligners if your teeth aren’t brushed — and, because you wear the aligners for such extended periods of time, things quickly get grody under there anyway. And surely, you don’t want any possibility of cavities manifesting on your newly-aligned teeth!
With the exception of the actual eating part, all of this pomp and circumstance is performed in a public restroom (unless I’m at home). Interestingly enough, I’ve felt super self-conscious doing these things in the wild — almost as embarrassed as if a stranger walked in on me scrub-a-dub-dubbing in the shower. Switching out my aligners for meals at home is still a production, but at least I don’t feel like it’s being televised. That said, seeing the gradual shift of my pearly whites has made all the inconvenience worth it.
Lesson #3: For me, it’s more comfortable with the aligners on than off.
I had heard people describe varying levels of discomfort in their own aligner journeys, so I had braced (pun intended!) for the worst. In my experience, there may be a mild ache here and there (especially when adjusting to a new pair every week or two, as the straightening progresses), but for the most part, my mouth is happier for the 22 “on” hours than it is for the two “off.”
That’s because I've found that the most discomfort I experience is when I remove the aligners. Sounds strange, but it’s due to the most basic fact about straightening your teeth — you’re moving them. When the aligners are on, they’re holding your teeth in their new, straighter place. When off, your teeth try to shift back to where they’re comfortable (a.k.a. to a crooked state), and that is actually uncomfortable. I’ve noticed that if I have them out for too long when eating, they get even achier, not unlike taking a walk or jogging without a bra on. That’s because they're a little loose from moving — a sensation I haven’t felt since grade school.
Lesson #4: Your bite will be off — but only for a while.
At first, it was unsettling that I could feel that my bite was “wrong” when I removed the aligners, mostly because I hardly noticed it when I had the aligners on. Thankfully, after a brief panic, I was assured it would realign itself at the end of the four-month process. “Our state-licensed affiliated dentists and orthodontists move your teeth with your goals in mind and a customized treatment plan that will better align your teeth, along with keeping your bite comfortable,” says Dr. Sulitzer. “Fixing crowding or spacing also changes your bite, but to keep the bite correct, it is more ideal to work with both arches. For example, if you’re realigning your bottom teeth, you have to widen the shape of the upper teeth to match, or the bite can be affected.”
For me, whenever I take the aligners off to eat, some of my teeth clang together that never did before (which, by the way, despite feeling funky, doesn’t mess with chewing). Same thing happens if I’m talking without them in. If anything, it’s effective motivation to keep wearing them at least 22 hours a day!
Lesson #5: Quarantine might be the best time to try at-home orthodontics.
As we’ve been sheltering in place since March (and for the foreseeable future in many areas of the country), now seems like an ideal time to try at-home orthodontia services. It certainly has been for me! Though I started the process a little bit before quarantine began — I’m 10 weeks into my four-month straightening plan — I’ve found there has been a bit of a learning curve with aligners, as you may have gathered. Frankly, I’m glad to have experienced that learning curve in isolation (sans the show in a public restroom!).
Plus, I’ve found that I’m more likely to stick to keeping the aligners on when sheltering in place. There are fewer tempting reasons to remove them — no spontaneous in-person happy hours! — and keeping to your aligners’ schedule is key to achieving results. Even though I’m only a little only halfway through my treatment plan, I’m absolutely loving the results so far.
Read more about teeth:
- Everything You Need to Know About Professional Teeth Whitening
- You Asked, We Answer: Can You Actually Whiten Veneers?
- If You’ve Had Braces & Need Them Again, Here’s Why
Complimentary treatment was provided to the author for the purpose of writing this article.