Choosing the Right Clear Aligner Material for Safety and Durability

Choosing the Right Clear Aligner Material for Safety and Durability By Dr. Jon ( Junyi ) Ho | April 15, 2024

Among orthodontic treatments, clear aligners represent a significant advancement, offering an aesthetic and less invasive alternative to traditional braces. However, the effectiveness and comfort of these aligners heavily depend on the material they are made from. Different materials can greatly influence the safety, durability, and overall treatment experience, making the choice a critical consideration for patients. This has led to a growing need for comprehensive understanding and guidance on selecting the right material for clear aligners.

This blog aims to describe the various materials available for clear aligners, focusing on their safety and durability. By exploring the pros and cons of each material, we provide valuable insights to help you make a well-considered decision. Additionally, we offer guidance on how to discuss these options with your dentist to align your choice with your treatment goals and lifestyle. Together, we’ll navigate through the considerations essential for choosing the right clear aligner material, aiming for a successful and comfortable orthodontic journey.

Summary of the Content:

  • Clear aligners offer an aesthetic and less invasive alternative to traditional orthodontic treatments like braces, but they are heavily dependent on material choice.
  • Material choice significantly influences clear aligner safety, durability, and the overall treatment experience for patients.
  • Biocompatible materials provide comfort and good fit, reducing irritation and potential harm to oral tissues during treatment.
  • High-quality materials maintain their shape and effectiveness, resisting wear and tear throughout the treatment period.
  • Materials free from harmful chemicals help protect patient safety by preventing allergic reactions and other health risks.
  • The right material choice can accurately exert the necessary force to move teeth, potentially shortening the treatment time.
  • FDA approval, BPA-free, latex-free, biocompatibility, non-toxicity, phthalate-free, and regulatory compliance are critical safety aspects to consider.
  • Durability, cost, comfort, aesthetic appeal, and ease of maintenance are key criteria for comparing clear aligner materials.

Why Material Matters in Clear Aligners

Clear aligners are custom-made, transparent dental appliances designed for a gradual process of adjusting teeth alignment and addressing misaligned teeth. They offer an aesthetic alternative to traditional braces, being nearly invisible when worn. Aligners are made from durable, medical-grade plastic and can be removed for convenient eating and maintaining oral hygiene. The material used by the aligner manufacturer plays a pivotal role in treatment effectiveness and patient safety.

Understanding the significance of advances in aligner material choice reveals its impact on:

  • Comfort and fit:
    Biocompatible aligner materials help improve comfort and fit, reducing potential irritation and harm to oral tissues and promoting good patient compliance.
  • Durability:
    High-quality materials withstand wear and tear, maintaining aligner shape and effectiveness throughout the treatment period.
  • Safety:
    Materials free from harmful chemical properties protect patients from allergic reactions and other health risks.
  • Treatment efficiency:

    The right material can accurately exert the necessary force to move teeth, potentially shortening treatment time.

Recognising the importance of material selection in orthodontic aligners highlights the need to make decisions in dental care. This knowledge allows patients to discuss aligner options with their dentist, aiming for treatments that align with their health and cosmetic goals.

Safety First and What to Look For

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Choosing the right material is crucial for both aligner treatment success and patient safety. It’s not just about aesthetics; prioritising the safety of clear aligners is also essential. When selecting a material for clear aligners, here are the essential safety aspects to consider:

  • FDA approval:
    Seek materials approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This approval indicates that the material has undergone rigorous testing for efficacy and safety of clear aligners and adheres to high health standards.
  • BPA-free:
    Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in some plastics that can disrupt endocrine function. Materials that do not contain BPA can help lower the risk of possible health effects.
  • Latex-free:
    For individuals with latex allergies, exposure can lead to reactions ranging from skin irritation to anaphylaxis. Latex-free materials eliminate this risk.
  • Biocompatibility:
    Biocompatible aligner materials are designed to work with the body without causing adverse reactions. This means they won’t trigger immune responses or contribute to inflammation.
  • Non-toxic:
    Look for materials that do not release harmful substances, such as lead or cadmium, which can pose significant health risks when ingested or inhaled over time.
  • Phthalate-free:
    Phthalates are added to plastics to increase their flexibility but are linked to health issues like hormone disruption. Phthalate-free materials are safer for long-term use.
  • Regulatory compliance:

    The material for aligners should comply with all relevant health and safety regulations, not just locally but internationally. This compliance shows that the materials are safe for use in medical devices and have been subjected to thorough safety evaluations.

By understanding these safety aspects and what to look out for, you can make an informed decision when choosing clear aligners. This approach allows your treatment to be effective while prioritising your health and safety.

The Durability Factor

The durability of clear aligners is crucial for maintaining treatment effectiveness over time, highlighting the important association between aligner materials and orthodontic tooth movement. Durable materials resist wear and deformation, keeping consistent pressure on teeth for the desired control of tooth movement. They also withstand daily use, including removal and cleaning, without cracking or discolouring.

Here are several ideal aligner materials that are known for their durability:

  1. Polyurethane:
    Polyurethane is recognised for its flexibility and strength as it resists stress and doesn’t easily warp, maintaining its shape over extended periods.
  2. Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG):
    A sturdy material that offers good clarity and resistance to impact, allowing orthodontic aligners to remain nearly invisible and intact throughout treatment.
  3. Polycarbonate:
    This material is known for its toughness. It can endure considerable force without breaking, which makes it ideal for long-term orthodontic use.
  4. Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU):
    This combines elasticity with resistance to oil, grease, and abrasion, providing a durable yet comfortable fit.
  5. SmartTrack® material:
    Specifically designed for Invisalign, SmartTrack® is engineered for optimal tooth movement and increased comfort with the proven durability of clear aligners.

Choosing the right one among these clear aligner materials can significantly impact the success and comfort of orthodontic treatment. It allows patients to experience a seamless, efficient process towards achieving a straight smile, highlighting the significance of material selection in orthodontic care.

The Criteria for Comparison

Selecting the right material for clear aligners involves a detailed comparison across various criteria. These criteria help aligners meet both treatment goals and patient needs effectively. To compare different clear aligner materials, we consider several key factors:

  1. Safety:
    The foremost priority is assessing the safety of clear aligners’ material for long-term use. Checking for FDA approval signifies compliance with health standards. Clear aligner materials should be free from BPA, latex, and phthalates. These substances are known to pose potential health risks, such as hormonal disruptions or allergic reactions.
  2. Durability:
    A material’s ability to resist wear, tear, and deformation directly impacts the treatment’s effectiveness. Durable materials maintain their shape and functionality over time. They deliver a steady and constant force on the teeth to achieve the desired orthodontic tooth movement.
  3. Biocompatibility:
    This refers to the material’s compatibility with the human body. It should not trigger any immune response or cause inflammation. Nor should it contribute to tissue irritation. Biocompatible aligner materials are vital for preventing adverse reactions, making the aligners safe for continuous wear.
  4. Cost:
    The cost of the material is a significant consideration without compromising on quality. Materials that offer a good balance between affordability and performance can make treatments more accessible. This accessibility comes without sacrificing treatment outcomes.
  5. Comfort:
    The material’s texture and flexibility affect the wearer’s comfort. It should be smooth enough to prevent irritation to the gums and cheeks yet flexible enough to provide a snug fit. This minimises discomfort during wear and when removing or inserting the aligners.
  6. Aesthetic appeal:
    One of the main advantages of clear aligners is their translucency. Materials that maintain their clarity throughout the treatment are crucial. They help preserve the aesthetic appeal, making the treatment more attractive to patients concerned about visibility.
  7. Ease of maintenance:
    The ease with which aligners can be cleaned and maintained affects oral hygiene during treatment. Aligner materials that are resistant to bacterial growth and easy to clean without special products or procedures are preferred. They help patients maintain good oral health throughout their treatment journey.

By thoroughly assessing these criteria, patients and dental professionals can make decisions about a suitable material for clear aligners. This careful selection process allows the treatment to be effective and align with the patient’s lifestyle, health, and aesthetic preferences.

Polyurethane Resin as The Go-To Material

Polyurethane resin is a key material used in aligner production due to its distinctive mechanical properties. It combines flexibility with strength, making it ideal for dental appliances. This material’s adaptability allows for precise teeth movement, enhancing treatment effectiveness.

Benefits of polyurethane resin:

  • Enhanced comfort:
    Polyurethane resin’s flexibility offers a snug fit, reducing discomfort for users. This material adapts to individual dental structures, allowing minimal irritation during wear.
  • Superior durability:
    Unlike other materials, polyurethane resin withstands daily wear and tear, maintaining its shape and effectiveness over time. Its sturdiness allows the aligners to remain intact throughout the treatment period.
  • Improved clarity:
    The clear nature of polyurethane resin aligners remains consistent, avoiding discolouration. This aspect is crucial for users who value aesthetics alongside orthodontic adjustments.
  • Biocompatible:
    Polyurethane resin is less likely to cause reactions, making it safe for prolonged contact with oral tissues. Its biocompatibility allows users to experience minimal adverse reactions, promoting overall oral health.


Drawbacks of polyurethane resin:

  • Cost implications:
    The advanced mechanical properties of polyurethane resin can be reflected in the cost of clear aligners. This factor may influence the accessibility of treatments for some individuals.
  • Aligner maintenance requirements:
    While durable, these aligners require regular aligner maintenance to prevent bacterial buildup. Proper care is essential to maximise their effectiveness and lifespan.
  • Temperature sensitivity:
    Polyurethane resin may be sensitive to extreme temperatures, potentially affecting the fit and comfort of the aligners temporarily.
  • Adjustment limitations:
    Once manufactured, polyurethane resin aligners offer limited adjustability. Significant dental changes may require new aligners, which will increase the treatment’s cost.


Polyurethane resin stands out as a material that combines functionality with patient comfort in clear aligner technology. Its selection reflects a commitment to providing an effective, comfortable, and safe orthodontic treatment for achieving a beautiful smile.

Other Material Options

Aside from polyurethane resin, the aligner market features a variety of other viable material options. Each of these alternatives brings its own set of properties to the table, influencing the overall effectiveness and user experience of orthodontic treatments. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons of aligner material options:

Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG)

  • Pros:
  • Ease of aligner creation:
    PETG’s adaptability in manufacturing allows for precise tailoring to dental structures, providing a better fit.
  • Cost-effective:
    Its lower production costs make clear aligners made from PETG more affordable, broadening access to orthodontic care.
  • Recyclable:
    The eco-friendly nature of PETG aligns with sustainable practices, appealing to environmentally conscious consumers.


Cons:

  • Less durable:
    PETG is more susceptible to wear and damage over time, potentially leading to more frequent replacements.
  • Potential for discolouration:
    Exposure to certain dark-coloured foods and drinks can stain PETG aligners, compromising their invisibility.
  • Limited flexibility:
    Its rigidity, compared to other materials, might not accommodate significant teeth movement as effectively.


Polycarbonate

Pros:

  • High impact resistance:
    Polycarbonate’s toughness protects against breakage, making it suitable for active lifestyles.
  • Optimal clarity:
    This material maintains its transparency longer to keep the aligners unnoticeable.
  • Lightweight:
    Its lightness contributes to overall wearer comfort, making it feel almost like nothing is there.


Cons:

  • Prone to scratches:
    Regular use can lead to surface marks, diminishing the aligners’ appearance.
  • Can release BPA:
    Common issues over BPA leaching have led some to question the long-term safety of polycarbonate aligners.
  • Higher cost:
    The durability and clarity of polycarbonate come at a higher price, reflecting its quality.


Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)

Pros:

  • Exceptional flexibility:
    TPU’s elasticity provides a snug fit, adapting seamlessly to teeth movement for optimal comfort.
  • Highly durable:
    Its resistance to tears and punctures means aligners last longer, even under stress.
  • Biocompatible:
    TPU minimises the risk of irritation or allergic reactions, supporting healthier oral environments.


Cons:

  • Higher production cost:
    The sophisticated manufacturing process of TPU aligners results in higher costs for consumers.
  • Care requirements:
    To prevent bacteria buildup and maintain clarity, they require a diligent routine to clean aligners.
  • Sensitive to temperature:
    High temperatures can deform TPU, affecting the fit and necessitating careful handling.


SmartTrack® material

Pros:

  • Precision in teeth movement:
    SmartTrack® is engineered for consistent force application, enhancing the predictability of treatment outcomes.
  • Increased comfort:
    Its aligner manufacturing process results in devices that fit more comfortably, reducing irritation.
  • Highly effective:
    Clinical studies show SmartTrack® material effectively manages complex orthodontic cases, offering reliable results.


Cons:

  • Exclusive to Invisalign®:
    This material is exclusively used for the Invisalign® aligner system, which may impact options for individuals considering alternative aligner therapy.
  • Higher pricing:
    The advanced technology and effectiveness of SmartTrack® aligners are reflected in their cost.
  • Requires specialised care:
    Maintaining the unique beneficial properties of SmartTrack® aligners demands specific cleaning routines and care.


Selecting the right material for clear aligners is a critical decision that impacts the effectiveness of orthodontic treatment. Each material presents a unique combination of strengths and limitations. Consulting with a dentist can provide personalised advice so the chosen material aligns with individual treatment goals and lifestyle needs.

Treatment Time and Material Choice

Several factors can significantly affect and vary the length of orthodontic treatment with clear aligners. Among these, the choice of material plays a crucial role in determining how long the treatment will last. The impact of material choice on the duration of the aligner journey is profound, affecting the efficiency and progression of teeth alignment. Here’s how it works:

  • Material durability:
    More durable materials like polycarbonate and SmartTrack® can withstand the forces of teeth movement without deforming. This allows for uninterrupted treatment and potentially reduced overall duration.
  • Flexibility and fit:
    Materials such as thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) offer superior flexibility, providing a snug fit and more precise control over tooth movement. This can lead to more efficient treatment, shortening the time needed for adjustment.
  • Resistance to staining:
    Clear aligners made from materials resistant to staining, like PETG, maintain their invisibility throughout the treatment. This reduces the need for replacements due to aesthetic concerns, which can delay progress.
  • Biocompatibility:

    Highly biocompatible orthodontic materials reduce the risk of dental issues during treatment. This allows the treatment to progress without interruptions due to adverse reactions, potentially shortening treatment time.

The relationship between the choice of material and the duration of the aligner treatment journey underscores the importance of a well-considered decision. Selecting the right material not only aligns with the patient’s needs but also optimises the path to achieving a brighter, healthier smile.

How to Consult with Your Dentist

Choosing the right material for your clear aligners is a crucial step towards achieving a straighter, brighter smile. Consulting with a qualified dentist helps you receive personalised advice tailored to your specific needs and dental health. Here’s how to effectively discuss material options with your dentist to make a well-considered decision.

  1. Research beforehand:
    Before your appointment, gather basic information about the different materials used in clear aligners. This will help you understand the options available and formulate specific questions.
  2. Discuss your lifestyle:
    Share details about your lifestyle, including any sports you play or foods you frequently consume. These are factors that might influence the choice of material for the comfort and durability of clear aligners.
  3. Inquire about material properties:
    Ask your dentist to explain the properties of each material, such as durability, flexibility, and biocompatibility, and how they relate to your treatment plan.
  4. Consider your treatment goals:
    Discuss your orthodontic treatment goals and ask how different materials might affect the timeline and outcome of your treatment.
  5. Ask about maintenance:
    Understand the maintenance requirements for each material option, including cleaning routines and how to prevent damage or discolouration.
  6. Request examples:
    If possible, ask to see examples of aligners made from different materials to assess their look and feel.
  7. Evaluate cost implications:
    Discuss the cost differences between the materials and how they fit into your budget or financing plan.
  8. Consider comfort and aesthetics:
    Share any concerns about comfort and the appearance of the aligners, so you know the material chosen aligns with your preferences.
  9. Ask for professional recommendations:
    Ask your dentist for his or her professional opinion on which material they believe would be suitable for your specific case based on their experience.
  10. Discuss potential risks:
    Inquire about any potential risks or side effects associated with each material so you’re fully informed before making a decision.

After discussing these aspects with your dentist, you’ll be better equipped to choose a material that aligns with your treatment needs, lifestyle, and preferences. Remember, the right material can significantly impact the effectiveness and comfort of your orthodontic treatment, making this an essential part of the entire process.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right material for clear aligners goes beyond aesthetics, touching on comfort, health, and how each aligns with your lifestyle. This decision impacts not just the visual outcome but also the overall journey towards achieving your dental goals. It’s essential to consider all aspects, from material safety to how it fits into your daily life, for a smooth and effective treatment process.

At Darch Dental Centre, we prioritise your needs and preferences when selecting the ideal material for your clear aligners. Our experienced team is here to guide you through this important choice so it aligns with your specific requirements and expectations. Reach out to us for a consultation, and let’s take the first step towards a confident and beautiful smile together.

Dr. Jon ( Junyi ) Ho

Dr. Jon is a Perth-based dentist who graduated with a Bachelor of Dental Science in 2005 from the University of Western Australia. He has worked at a range of dental practices, including being a partner and principal dentist for a group of five dental surgeries in Sydney. Dr. Jon has been practising for over a decade in the northern suburbs of Perth. He provides treatment for patients in Darch, Madeley, Landsdale, Kingsway, Kingsley, Marangaroo, Alexander Heights, Wangara, Ellenbrook, and others.

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