Once upon a time, the only way to get straight teeth was with clunky (and sometimes painful) metal braces. Times have changed, and there are now options that are less noticeable but just as effective. This is good news for adults who want straight teeth but worry about how the look of traditional braces will impact their personal and professional life. Two popular alternatives are Invisalign and lingual braces.
Once a patient has decided to start the alignment process, the method they choose will depend on lifestyle, budget, personal preferences. Sorting out the differences between these two products will help patients decide the debate of Invisalign vs. lingual braces.
What are Lingual Braces?
Traditional braces are commonplace, but what exactly are lingual braces? They work the same way, using brackets wires, and sometimes elastic bands, to move the teeth. The big difference is that they are placed on the inside of the teeth instead of the outside. (In dentistry, “lingual” means “toward the tongue”.)
Because the brackets are attached to the inside, they don’t show unless a person opens their mouth wide. This provides a discreet way for patients to get their teeth straightened.
What is Invisalign?
Invisalign is a series of clear plastic “trays” that fit over the teeth to gently move them into alignment. Each set of trays is worn for a few weeks before the patient moves on to the next set.
Invisalign is clear but will be more noticeable up close than lingual braces. They can be removed, which many users see as a plus. In order for them to work, however, it is recommended that they stay in the mouth for 20 to 22 hours each day.
Both Invisalign and lingual braces are more discreet than ordinary braces. Even clear braces, which are made from transparent materials, are more noticeable.
Lingual braces are typically harder to spot than Invisalign. Many patients can smile, talk, and eat without anyone ever seeing them. They are completely contained on the tongue side of the teeth with no wires showing on the outside.
Up close, Invisalign is usually detectable. The patient can pop them out for things like photos, interviews, or any other interaction where they’d rather not have them show. In some cases, though, patients might need tooth-colored buttons to help the Invisalign trays snap into place. These are small attachments that are affixed to the surface of a few of the teeth. They may be visible even when the alignment tray is removed.
Comfort and Convenience
In comparing Invisalign vs. lingual braces, Invisalign is usually the winner when it comes to comfort. The trays do exert some pressure on teeth to make them move, so there can be some soreness. But with any type of braces, wires and sharp edges are added on top of the discomfort felt from alignment itself.
A big complaint from patients with braces has always been the pain of brackets and wires poking into the lips and gums. With lingual braces, the tongue is subject to that friction and poking. Talking and eating can become uncomfortable. Some people even find that the placement of lingual braces restricts the movement of the tongue, making it hard to swallow. Many report that they developed a lisp with lingual braces, but this can happen with Invisalign too.
Brushing and flossing are easier with Invisalign. The patient removes the trays and can clean the teeth normally. Braces make it a little trickier to get teeth truly clean. Food can easily get stuck in between wires and around brackets. Oral hygiene needs special attention when someone has traditional or lingual braces.
And speaking of food, people with lingual braces need to avoid certain foods. Anything sticky like caramel is harder to clean off. And hard foods like toffee or apples can bend or break wires and brackets. Invisalign users, on the other hand, simply remove their trays and eat anything they wish.
Results and Speed
For cases of minor misalignment of the teeth, the results that people can get from Invisalign vs. lingual braces are about the same. Both methods work effectively to coax teeth into straighter formation.
In some cases, though, braces are a better choice than Invisalign. Braces do a better job of straightening teeth that are very crooked or crowded. Overbites and underbites also respond better to braces.
But lingual braces have their limits too. When teeth are severely crooked or overcrowded to the point of overlapping, most orthodontists will suggest traditional braces rather than lingual. The same goes for complex bite issues. Also, if teeth are unusually small or oddly shaped, it may be difficult to fit brackets on the lingual side.
When Invisalign is a good option, patients often see a noticeable difference faster than with lingual braces. Changes could be visible in a matter of weeks, as opposed to months for braces. Most Invisalign programs take 12 to 18 months to work. Braces are typically in place for one to three years. Granted, this is often because the teeth they are working on are harder to fix.
Every mouth and every situation is different. When choosing the best straightening method, a dentist or orthodontist will be the best one to judge what will work best and give the fastest results.
Lingual braces are a commitment in that brackets are attached directly to the teeth. They are there to stay for the duration of treatment. Because it may be harder to keep teeth clean while lingual braces are in place, patients need to be vigilant about their oral hygiene and dental visits. Without good overall dental health, their newly straightened teeth could end up riddled with cavities.
Invisalign requires a different kind of commitment. Since they can be removed, it takes some personal dedication to keep them in for the recommended time each day. Human nature being what it is, this will be more difficult for some people to stick to than others. Individuals must gauge how good they think they’ll be at keeping up with the program.
This is one reason why Invisalign is not normally recommended for children under the age of 12. Patients need some maturity and self-discipline to ensure the product is used to its full potential.
Cost and Availability
Invisalign trays and traditional braces usually cost about the same: roughly $3,500 to $8,000. Keep in mind though, that traditional braces will work for just about any issue, where Invisalign’s performance is somewhat limited.
Lingual braces are more expensive than both Invisalign and ordinary braces costing as much as $6,000 to $13,000. It is harder for an orthodontist to fit them onto the inside of the teeth than to the outside. And because the lingual side of most teeth is smaller than the front side, the brackets must be custom-made to fit. The entire process is more time-intensive, and therefore more expensive.
Because lingual braces are a specialized product, not every orthodontist offers them. Their lack of availability contributes to their higher cost too.
Finding Invisalign or Lingual Braces Near You
Patients need to see an orthodontist for braces. Many dentists, on the other hand, can fit patients with Invisalign trays. Either way, the first step when thinking about Invisalign vs. lingual braces is to visit a dentist. We have an online tool that can help locate one in your area.
The dentist can assess exactly what alignment problems need to be fixed. They can recommend the method that will get the best result, whether that’s Invisalign, lingual braces, or traditional braces. They may be able to provide Invisalign themselves. If not, they can find another dentist who can. They can also assist in finding an orthodontist who works with lingual braces.
No matter which method wins between Invisalign vs. lingual braces, a straighter smile lies ahead.