Do Teeth Aligners Hurt?

Medically Reviewed by a
Byte Licensed DDS

Table of Contents

  1. Causes Pain
  2. Aligners vs. Braces Pain
  3. Pain Pay Off
  4. References

Bundles of nerves are tucked into each tooth within your mouth. Aligners apply pressure to nudge your teeth into their proper positions. But each push can irritate your nerves and cause pain.

Your treatment will hurt somewhat, especially when you're swapping out an older aligner for a new one. But mild, over-the-counter medications like aspirin are usually enough to soothe the pain.

At Byte, we also use therapies to ease pain, so our customers have an even better chance of getting the smiles they want without the discomfort they don't.

Why Do Aligners Cause Pain?

While we're brushing and flossing, we're only interacting with a tiny part of our teeth. We may not feel the flick of the bristles or the slide of the floss. But our teeth are wired to send alarm signals when they experience a perceived threat.

A pulp chamber tucked within each tooth holds blood vessels and nerves. Hollow sections in tooth roots allow signals to pass from each tooth to your brain. Aligners can cause those signals to fly.

Wear aligners, and you will:

  • Slip clear trays over your teeth. Each tray looks slightly different than your natural smile.
  • Receive constant pressure. Each moment you wear your aligners means pushing your teeth into the positions found on the trays.
  • Repeat the process. Every week or so, you'll start this process again.

Teeth can and do move in response to pressure. But your body isn't accustomed to a shifting smile. The gentle tugs might seem unusual or wrong to your body, and pain signals tell your brain something is happening.

Pain signals move along the nerves from your teeth to your brain. You might feel something like a dull ache, and it might get stronger when you do things like bite down or bring your teeth together while you talk.

Discomfort is strongest during the early stages of treatment when your teeth are almost constantly moving. In later stages, when only tiny shifts are required, your pain should lessen.

Aligners shouldn't hurt so much that you can't talk, eat, or handle everyday activities. If they do, you should speak with your team and dig into the cause. But some level of mild pain or discomfort is expected.

Ask people about their pain after treatment, and they'll tell you the discomfort was both mild and worthwhile.

Do Aligners Hurt More Than Braces?

Plenty of tools can straighten teeth. Each method works a little differently, but they all cause discomfort. Aligners, however, do cause less pain than braces. Study after study has proven this fact.

Aligners are less painful than braces due to:

Construction
Brackets and wires lie on the surface of your teeth when you're wearing braces, and all of that hardware can scrape and rip up your cheeks and gums. Aligners have a smooth surface that protects the inside of your mouth.
Hygiene
Braces are glued to your teeth. A dentist must help you to remove them. Brushing around the wire isn't always easy, and dirty teeth can lead to bacterial growth and inflammation. You can slip out your aligners for cleaning, so this issue is less likely.
Positioning
Aligners wrap around your teeth and push from several angles. Braces pull from one central spot at the front of your teeth. Indirect pressure like this can lead to enhanced pain signals.
If your teeth are far from optimal position, you may need more help than aligners can provide. Significant dental corrections are best handled with braces. But if you need only mild or moderate help and you're extremely worried about pain, aligners might be a better choice for you.

Will Your Pain Pay Off?

Aligners work quickly, but most people need to wear them for several months. Some of those days will be at least a little bit uncomfortable. At the end of the process, you'll have an improved smile. Most people are happy with the tradeoff.

Studies of patient satisfaction make this clear. Less than a quarter of people who wear aligners have pain, and the wide majority of them report that they look better when the process is complete.

If you do experience discomfort with aligners, a few self-care steps can help. Try:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers. Aspirin and other simple remedies can help to ease soreness when you're switching to new aligners.
  • Cool drinks. Swish water between your teeth after you eat and let the numbing temperature take the pain away.
  • Rest. Choose soft foods while your teeth are sore, and avoid very long conversations. Give your jaws and teeth a break until the pain passes.

On days when the pain feels strong, remind yourself that you're caring for your health. Poorly fitting or crooked teeth can lead to oral health issues, including tooth decay, gum disease, or tooth loss. The work you're doing now could keep you healthy later in life.

References

Tooth. American Dental Association.

Managing Pain and Discomfort in Orthodontics. (2011). Journal of Dentofacial Anomalies and Orthodontics.

Orthodontic Pain: From Causes to Management. (April 2007). European Journal of Orthodontics.

Patient Satisfaction and Quality of Life Changes After Invisalign Treatment. (June 2018). American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics.

Braces. American Dental Association.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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