When I decided to commit to straightening my teeth using clear aligner trays instead of braces, there was a lot I didn’t anticipate. That the aligners would hurt so much, for one, or that I’d be brushing my teeth nonstop, or that I would wear these things for two and a half years — and longer, as I’ve passed that mark and it looks like I have many more months ahead of me. I’m headed into overtime because I don’t change my trays as frequently as I should. It’s recommended twice monthly, but I change them once every six weeks (or more), because, well, it hurts. Every time I force my teeth to conform to a new aligner tray’s shape, it feels like a bunch of little muscle cramps in my mouth.
But my extended wear hasn’t all been for naught. Taking more time to move from tray to tray has allowed me to hone several hacks for improving the overall experience, after a lot of research and just as much trial and error (I’m a beauty writer by trade, so I tend to be very particular about the products I keep in my bathroom cabinet). The following six products have helped me with everything from massaging my sore teeth, to deodorizing my trays, to actually making the aligners a little better … aligned. Worth noting: I happen to use ClearCorrect, but these products would also work with Invisalign, Smile Direct, or any other kind of clear aligners you might wear. But the fun toothpaste I discovered is definitely fun for anyone — aligners (or braces) or not.
For getting aligner trays to snap in place
Invisalign and other aligner users like me know that when you put in a new tray (again, typically every two weeks), it can be a struggle to position it properly. You’re supposed to press down in a chomping motion to get them to snap in, but sometimes that doesn’t really work, which adds frustration to the pain and discomfort. In an attempt to combat all of this, I asked one of my friends who also wore aligners for years what she did to get stubborn trays to snap in, and she suggested “chewies”— soft plastic tubes you’re meant to chew on for a few minutes after inserting a new tray, which really help work it onto your teeth. They come in multiple flavors, but I’ve only ever tried the mint, and to me the taste is secondary to the product’s effectiveness (and low cost). For about six bucks, I got three — or actually six, because I cut each in half as they fit better in my mouth at that size — which have lasted me six months and counting (I don’t use them each time I switch trays, only when one proves especially difficult to lock in).
For cleaning aligner trays
To keep my aligner trays clean, I turn to this plant-based dish soap. There are all types of foams and tablets specifically designed to clean clear aligner trays, but they just seem like an unnecessary expense. The fact is, this dish soap works, and when I asked New York–based orthodontist Dr. Frank Celenza (who isn’t treating me) about it, he said that if I find it effective, it would be okay to use. Plus, I just need a teeny drop for each cleaning, so it’s going to last me forever — or at least through my extended stint of braces-wearing. I clean whatever tray I’m wearing three times a day using this, a habit that keeps them fresh and never yellow-looking (even when I wear them longer than recommended). Just be sure to rinse your tray thoroughly to avoid any lingering dish-soap taste.
For storing aligner trays
When I’m out at dinner and remove an aligner tray before eating, I’ll store it in one of these pouches instead of the plastic storage container that came with my trays. I like the mesh because it gives the tray some air; I’ve found they don’t really dry when stored in a sealed plastic container, and that they can get stinky (like anything that’s wet and stored in an enclosed space). Celenza told me storage shouldn’t matter much because your trays should never be out of your mouth for more than 30 minutes at a time (even when you eat). Sadly, I’ve always had a hard time complying with that time limit (and suspect many others do too), which is why I sought out a better storage system.
For brushing five times a day (without killing the planet)
Keeping your teeth as clean as possible is of utmost importance while wearing aligners or braces. “You must control inflammation of the gums, so that the tissues remodel properly,” explains Celenza. “When you move teeth through the bone, if there’s inflammation — because the hygiene is bad — that remodeling doesn’t occur as well.” It’s for this reason that I brush up to five times a day. I can’t say if these bamboo toothbrushes function any better than similar disposable versions, but when you’re burning through a toothbrush every couple weeks like I am, you might prefer to use ones like these that are more environmentally friendly. They’re also cute to look at, which is a small but not unimportant thing for something you use five times a day. And although my dentist might say it’s a bad habit, I happen to like to gnaw on the bamboo handles while wearing my aligners. It just feels so good, like scratching an itch.