Straightening your teeth with clear aligners is a journey, and the duration of treatment varies based on your individual needs. So when patients ask me “How long does Invisalign take to work,” my answer is always that it depends.
There are a few dependencies that impact how long Invisalign treatment can take, and as an Orthodontist specializing in clear aligner treatment, I’ve seen almost every case imaginable. So in this post, I’ll be reviewing the factors that impact treatment duration and share some tips for how you can straighten your teeth as efficiently as possible. Here are the questions we will cover in this blog:
- How Long Does Invisalign Take from Start to Finish?
- Why Does Invisalign Treatment Length Vary So Much?
- What Factors Influence How Long Invisalign Takes?
- How Long Do You Need to Wear Invisalign Each Day?
- What Can You Do to Make Invisalign Work Faster?
How Long Does Invisalign Take from Start to Finish?
A typical Invisalign case can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months, and some can take two years or longer. It really depends on the difficulty of your case, and your expectations for what reflects your ideal smile. I’ve treated young adults with minor teeth shifting after neglecting to wear their retainer in as few as 6 months because their major issues had already been corrected in prior treatment.
I’ve also had patients with significant teeth irregularities who needed a full two years to achieve their desired results. Some patients have unrealistic expectations about their desired results, and spend longer in treatment than I would’ve recommended by requesting several rounds of Invisalign refinements.
While I have no way to predict your Invisalign treatment length, you can plan for a mild to moderate correction to last around 12 months or less, and difficult corrections (such as those requiring teeth extractions) to last beyond a year. When you talk to your provider about how Invisalign will work for you, they can give you a good sense of the duration of your treatment.
Why Does Invisalign Treatment Length Vary So Much?
As discussed above, Invisalign treatment varies based on your own unique needs. In my experience, “bad bites” are always the trickiest to correct. By a “bad bite” we mean over and under bites, which in severe cases can require specific interventions before we can even begin to realign your teeth. In mild cases of malocclusion (the technical term for when your upper and lower teeth don’t fit together), we can sometimes use Invisalign attachments to exert the orthodontic force necessary to realign your top and bottom teeth. If you have an unbalanced facial profile, your treatment length can be much longer than average.
Closing gaps in teeth is another factor that impacts treatment length. Invisalign is effective at closing gaps up to 6 millimeters, which can take approximately two years to correct. Smaller gaps and spaces can be resolved faster. On the other end of the spectrum, cases that involve minor crowding tend to be the easiest and most efficient to treat, and can take as little as six months to finish.
What Factors Influence How Long Invisalign Takes?
Beyond the complexity of your case, there are several factors that predict how long Invisalign takes to work. The most important factor is your own personal compliance with your treatment plan. If you do not follow your provider’s instructions, you can count on spending more time in treatment. This is due to how Invisalign works: gradually, and through each new set of trays as we move your teeth slowly into their new positions.
When you go in for your first scan, your provider creates a personal treatment plan from start to finish. This plan is sent to the makers of the plastic trays (Align Technology in the case of Invisalign, but other companies like 3M and ClearCorrect also make clear aligners for dentists and orthodontists), and then each set of aligners are created based on the plan. This means that you’ll get all of the trays you will need for treatment, along with instructions on when to change to each new set.
If you fail to wear your trays according to plan, or skip ahead to a new set without guidance from your provider, then you risk a domino effect that can throw off your progress and increase time in treatment. Human beings are also unique and unpredictable, and not everyone responds to medical treatment the same way. Some of my patients have had “stubborn teeth” that didn’t cooperate with our expectations, and required additional time in treatment. There are also cases where people get sick and are unable to wear their aligners for a long period of time, causing us to effectively restart their treatment.
Generally speaking, if you comply with your provider’s instructions and adhere to the daily recommended wear time (more on that to come), you can expect the length of your Invisalign treatment to be consistent with your doctor’s expectations.
How Long Do You Need to Wear Invisalign Each Day?
Most providers recommend you wear your aligners for a minimum of 22 hours each day. This is a goal, not a hard and fast rule, but here’s the bottom line: aligners only move your teeth when you wear them, so you should strive to wear them for as long as possible, every day.
Does that mean leaving them out for 4 or more hours one day is going to knock you off schedule? Certainly not. But if you make it a habit, you’re not giving your aligners the best opportunity to move your teeth, and you could be looking at longer time spent in treatment.
Many people in our Clear Aligner Survival Guide Facebook group ask what they should do if they hit a stretch where they don’t wear their aligners as often as they should. The best advice is to try and play catchup by diligently wearing your aligners for as long as you can. It’s not practical to wear your trays 24/7, but 22+ hours in a day should be achievable. If you really hit a bad stretch, say from an illness or you forgot to bring your aligners along on vacation, talk to your provider about wearing your trays for a few extra days in that cycle. Sometimes this is all you’ll need to get back on schedule!
What Can You Do to Make Invisalign Work Faster?
Invisalign gradually moves your teeth into their ideal positions. Gradually is the keyword here, so you shouldn’t expect to find any hacks that can take weeks off your treatment. But if you want to make your journey as efficient and effective as possible, there are some things we recommend.
The first is to perform chewing exercises for 3-4 minutes, several times a day. Chewing exercises will help your aligners fit better on your teeth, and aligners that fit better move teeth move effectively. The goal is to help your aligners “track” with your teeth, which requires proper seating. Invisalign tracking is crucial to optimal results, and chewing exercises are unfortunately overlooked in our field.
I attribute this to the preponderance of Invisalign chewies, those styrofoam tubes you can use to conduct chewing exercises. While they work great for seating your trays, they aren’t the most convenient things to use when you're out and on the go. That’s why I created an alternative to Invisalign chewies called Movemints Clear Aligner Mints. They have a patented groove that fits conveniently between your trays, and are hard enough to withstand the gentle chewing that can help your aligners track properly. Use them to discreetly conduct chewing exercises and you’ll experience better results during treatment.
Compliance With Your Treatment Plan
Compliance with your provider’s instructions is another important way to make Invisalign work faster. Whether your provider recommends wearing trays for one week or two, it’s important to adhere to their guidelines. They are your expert for a reason, and the plans they develop need your attention. Wear your trays for as long as you're told, strive to meet the daily recommended wear time of 22 hours, and don’t skip ahead to the next tray unless specifically instructed by your provider.
Practice Good Oral Hygiene
Keeping up with your hygiene will help with compliance as well. A big part of this is learning how to clean Invisalign the right way. If your aligners aren’t clean, they’re going to smell bad, and nobody is motivated to put stinky plastic back in their mouths. There are several products you can use to clean your trays, from soaking solutions like RetainerBrite to Smilesaver Spray, a convenient on-the-go solution that works in 60 seconds to kill 99% of bacteria from your oral devices. Check it out in our Fresh & Clean bundle.
Keep Your Mouth Hydrated
Invisalign dry mouth is another issue that afflicts clear aligner patients, and can discourage you from wearing your aligners. Drink plenty of water and brush your teeth after eating to keep your mouth fresh. I’ll also point out that our Movemints are sugar-free and sweetened with a therapeutic dose of xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar substitute that fights dry mouth and offers other hygiene benefits. Use them to seat your trays, freshen breath and treat dry mouth!
Straightening your teeth with clear aligners is a great way to get that smile you’ve always wanted, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Now that you know how long Invisalign takes to work, and things you can do to make your treatment as efficient as possible, you’re going to be in the best possible position to get a smile you’ll love. For more Invisalign Tips and Tricks, check out our Movemints blog to answer every question you have about straightening your teeth with Invisalign!