What Is the Difference Between Traditional Expanders and Clear Aligners?
Orthodontic treatment for children and adults with teeth and jaw issues has come a long way. It evolved from traditional metal expanders to a modern-day treatment using clear aligners. In order to distinguish between these two treatments and decide the most suitable one, patients often want to know what are the advantages/disadvantages of clear aligners and traditional expanders.
It is worthy to note that each of the two orthodontic treatments plays a unique role in correcting certain dental or orthodontic issues. So a choice between the two may simply be a matter of which one best satisfies your individual needs.
What Are Traditional Expanders?
Knowing what traditional expanders are and how they work is the first step to differentiating them from clear aligners. Traditional expanders are durable devices made of stainless steel or titanium metal and look like a piece of wire. They are often used for expanding the upper jaw (maxillary expansion) or the lower jaw (mandibular expansion) in children but can be effectively used in adults.
Expanders are fitted to the molars and locked with a screw. The wire functions to stretch cartilage and bone in the upper palate. Expanders help the upper and lower row of teeth fit together better and create more space in the mouth and between the teeth. The expansion process may be rapid or slow but typically takes several months to complete. Brackets and elastic bands or clips (metal braces) may be attached to the expanders during treatment or after. Some common reasons for expanders are:
- Underbites or overbites
- Correcting crowding or impacted teeth
- Teeth and jaw misalignment (malocclusions)
- Straightening crooked teeth
- Gaps in the teeth
- Twisted teeth needing to be rotated
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What Are Clear Aligners?
Clear aligners are braces that are clear and practically invisible when placed over the teeth. They are flexible plastic appliances made from polyurethane resin and are quite different in appearance and functionality from traditional expanders. This orthodontic treatment involves adjusting or repositioning the teeth by fitting a series of aligners, such as Invisalign™, over individual teeth.
They are custom made to match your teeth and are also removable due to the need to be swapped out every two weeks during the repositioning period. Children and adults may get clear aligners to:
- Straighten crooked
- Rotate twisted teeth
- Space out overcrowded teeth
- Improve gaps between teeth
- Correct mild overbite or underbite
What Are the Advantages/Disadvantages of Clear Aligners and Traditional Expanders?
Both aligners and expanders are effective in improving the appearance of the teeth, although different techniques are used to achieve the results. Furthermore, when done early, expansion can reduce the need for removal of permanent or baby teeth. Because of their unique nature expanders and aligners vary in terms of their benefits and shortcomings.
Barely there: Clear aligners are like individual tooth-shaped cases fitted over the teeth. They cannot be easily seen making them a preferred choice for those self-conscious about their appearance, whereas the metal wire, screws, clips, and brackets are highly noticeable in the mouth.
Removable: Unlike expanders, you can remove clear aligners when you need to eat, brush or floss your teeth, or clean the aligners. Patients with expanders find it challenging to eat certain foods and clean in between teeth where food particles are trapped. So additional care and maintenance are necessary for expanders and braces.
Comfort: The flexibility of clear aligners helps prevent irritation of soft tissue in the mouth compared to rigid metal expanders or brackets. Expanders can cause discomfort as it gradually pushes the dental bone and cartilage apart to create room for growing teeth.
Shorter treatment time: Aligners place pressure on individual teeth to achieve the desired adjustment. This helps make the duration of treatment about 12-18 months. On the other hand, expanders can take longer than 18 months depending on if braces are worn together with the appliance.
Versatile: Traditional expanders are versatile beyond aesthetics than clear aligners in that it can correct a wider range of issues with the teeth or jaw. Expanders correct severe orthodontic problems with the teeth and jaw which accounts for the longer treatment time. Due to their functional limitations, aligners are not effective for treating jaw misalignment or correcting serious bites problems.
Permanently fixed: Expanders and braces are more durable than aligners and are permanently affixed or bonded to the teeth. Despite expanders not being removable for cleaning or when eating, it also means you cannot lose them the way aligners can get misplaced. Having to replace lost or broken aligners can increase the overall cost of treatment.
Affordable: Expanders are usually a less costly and affordable treatment. However, when worn with a bracket system or braces it can cost more than clear aligners. Despite this, insurance companies may cover some of the cost for expanders and braces. When compared, the comfort, convenience, and barely-there feature of aligners make them costly. Needing at least 40-60 aligners custom made and switched out regularly can increase the cost of aligners over traditional expanders.
Appropriate for all ages: Expanders are suitable for patients of all ages. While aligners are loved for being invisible and removable, they are more suitable for teens and adults who can manage the responsibility of removing and replacing without losing or damaging them. This is one reason insurance providers do not usually cover these appliances.
Fewer follow-ups: You won’t need to make frequent trips to the orthodontist when wearing traditional expanders. You may need to see your doctor at least once a month to tighten the screws on the appliance that control the expansion process. Aligners, on the other hand, need to be switched out every 2 weeks.
Call Today to Schedule a Consultation
Each person has a set of unique teeth. Therefore, while traditional expanders may work for some patients, clear aligners may best suit others. Our board-certified orthodontist has years of experience fitting expanders or aligners in children and adults. Your teeth and jaw will be carefully examined to determine which treatment option best suits your orthodontic needs. Give us a call today to schedule a consultation and be on your way to improving your smile!
2002 Richard Jones Road
Suite A-200 Nashville
What Is the Difference between Traditional Expanders and Clear Aligners?
Dr. Joel Gluck has practiced orthodontics since 1983 when he opened his own office in Nashville. He earned his undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis, and his dental degree at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Gluck then completed an orthodontic specialty residency at the University of Michigan, one of the top five orthodontic training residencies in the country. He also wrote an original thesis and received a Master of Science degree.
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