Are you finally ready to say “YES!” to having your crooked teeth fixed and getting your dream clear aligners? Congratulations! Making this commitment is an experience you’ll treasure for a lifetime. So, to ease your anxieties about the journey, know what to expect by acquainting yourself with the different stages of the orthodontic treatment.
Though every case is unique, most patients undergo a similar step-by-step process. You start by planning the therapy with your treating doctor. Then, you move to the active phase of wearing your chosen appliance for a prescribed period. Lastly, you transition to the retention phase to keep your smile as bright as possible for many years. Ready to explore each stage?
The Planning Phase
A “dental treatment should be preceded by in-person examination, diagnosis, and treatment planning,” emphasises the Australian Dental Association (ADA). Orthodontics is much like any medical procedure. Once you get to the clinic, you’ll likely answer a questionnaire and inform the doctor about your chief complaint.
Since different healthcare professionals have different solutions for different conditions, you must also communicate your needs and preferences. Try to answer the following:
- What don’t you like about your teeth right now?
- What are the types of orthodontic treatment that appeal to you?
- What results do you expect to see after the treatment?
Be straightforward. If you’ve set your eyes on invisible aligners instead of traditional braces, tell your treating doctor directly. This way, they can offer appropriate recommendations and guide you towards the right decisions.
Evaluating your dental health.
Before your doctor can finalise your treatment plan, you’ll undergo various assessments to determine your dental, oral, and overall physical health. You’ll need to schedule an appointment (that can sometimes involve separate visits) to go through the following required steps:
- Extraoral examination – The doctor will analyse your face and profile and take photos for documentation.
- Intraoral examination – Your doctor will check the different parts of your mouth, including the soft tissues (tongue and gums).
- General dental checkup – Your dentist will then examine the health of your teeth, check your bite, and identify issues like decay, plaque, and malocclusion.
- Panoramic dental X-ray – This two-dimensional view of your jaws will reveal the position of your teeth.
- Intraoral scans – This innovative imaging tool will allow your treating doctor to take a closer look at each tooth.
Previously, planning also included the impression stage, which involves creating a plaster replica of your teeth. However, these models are rarely accurate, and many patients find the process uncomfortable. These days, treating doctors rely on intraoral scans to get a 3D view of a patient’s teeth. They use this digital tool to magnify details, take measurements, and analyse the bite force of your teeth.
Creating a personalised treatment plan.
After all these assessments, your doctor will craft a treatment plan for your case. They will go through all your results and decide if your desired orthodontic solution suits your condition. Then, they will inform you of your treatment duration, some protocols, and other necessary information for your dental health.
If you’ve decided on ClearCorrect aligners for your therapy, your orthodontist can prepare all these with ClearPilot. This digital platform offers intuitive control and flexibility in treatment planning. With it, you and your treating doctor can visualise your progress and determine if your teeth are moving into their proper positions.
The Active Phase
Now, it’s time to put the plan into action! “This is where your teeth start to move as a result of the gentle pressure,” explains the Australian Society of Orthodontists (ASO). “You might feel a bit of pain, tenderness, or discomfort during this stage – but it will pass.”
Depending on your desired result, you will go through a number of aligner sets during your treatment. Your doctor will determine the intervals between each and how often you must schedule checkups. For example, you might need to wear your initial aligners for two weeks before transitioning to the second set. Then, after two months, you can move to set number three.
Don’t be surprised if your plan requires numerous aligner sets to fix your misalignment. Thankfully, checkups for aligner patients are quicker; five to 10 minutes might be all you need. Plus, you’ll have the option to use remote monitoring technology to minimise face-to-face appointments.
Your doctor can also recommend elastics, chewies, and engagers to move your teeth and improve your bite. The ASO explains: These “ensure the upper and lower dental arches are aligned and that your teeth bite together harmoniously.” Towards the end of your therapy, your doctor will decide if you need to extend your aligner use or graduate to the next phase.
The Retention Phase
Hooray! You’ve made it to the final stage. But there’s still work to do. “A key part of looking after your teeth post-treatment is to wear retainers to help keep your teeth in their corrected positions,” explains the ASO.
These orthodontic appliances help avoid teeth relapse and ensure your investment won’t go to waste. Your treating doctor will prescribe the type of retainer you need and how long you have to wear them. But in some cases, you have to keep them forever. Additionally, you still need to schedule periodic checkups after aligner or retainer use to keep your teeth in their ideal shape and alignment.
How long does orthodontic treatment take? The timeframe depends on each person – your condition, compliance with protocols, and cooperation with your doctor. For some, the entire process ends in eight months. For others, it can last for years.
Perfecting your smile is a life-long commitment. After these three orthodontic treatment phases, your next task is maintaining excellent oral hygiene. Persistence is key! Brush properly, floss regularly, and always seek advice from your dentist. It won’t be a walk in the park, but everything will be worth it.
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Qabool, H., Sukhia, R. H., & Fida, M. (2020). Assessment of cooperation and compliance in adult patients at three stages of orthodontic treatment at a tertiary care hospital: A cross-sectional study. International Orthodontics, 18(4), 794–800.