11 Things Your Orthodontist Won’t Tell You

If you think you can get away with skipping out on wearing your Invisalign without your doc noticing, think again.

woman beautiful smile holding a transparent mouth guard
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Protecting your pearly whites

Your smile is one of the first things somebody notices about you, and seeing an orthodontist practically ensures you’ll always have straight, pearly whites. At least, that’s the idea. But as with any other doctor, your orthodontist has some things they wish you knew, but probably won’t ever tell you. (By the way, you’ll definitely want to follow these 10 rules for white, healthy teeth.)

Young woman with brackets and braces on teeth.
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Someone else might have used your braces before you

Apparently, the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle,” applies to braces as well as plastic bags and soda bottles. Some orthodontists cut down on waste—and costs—by recycling dental appliances. Companies such as Ortho-Cycle clean, inspect, sort, and decontaminate previously used metal brackets so that they are safe to use again. 

Woman putting a transparent aligner like Invisalign in her mouth.

We know when you haven’t been wearing your Invisalign

Despite how persistent you are when you tell your orthodontist you’ve been actively wearing your Invisalign, they’ll know the truth right away. “We know if you haven’t been wearing your Invisalign because of a cool feature on the aligners,” says Matthew LoPresti, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in Stamford, Connecticut. “There are little blue marks towards the back of your aligners that should wear away as you wear the Invisalign. If the blue mark looks untouched, we know you haven’t been wearing the aligners.” Read about the 11 things your dentist needs you to start doing differently.

Dentist putting a mirror under a woman's mouth and teeth.
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Your treatment might take longer than what we initially tell you

Your orthodontist might tell you your treatment will only take a year and a half to two years, but that’s a rough estimate. A lot of treatments take much longer than expected. “Even though a computer simulation from Invisalign that’s used to create a treatment plan is pretty accurate, our bodies are not computers,” says Jennifer Jablow, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in New York City. “You have to understand that the timeline may need to be tweaked along the way.”
Three credit cards.

Our fees might be negotiable

Let’s be honest, a trip to the orthodontist is anything but cheap. But most doctors try to help patients manage the financial side of treatment. According to the American Association of Orthodontists, it’s common for doctors to offer payment plans for treatment. Usually, this consists of a down payment and then a 12- to 24-month, interest-free payment plan. If you’re able to pay the full cost upfront, ask if your provider will offer a discount for doing so. (You won’t believe these 10 diseases that dentists find first.)
Woman's teeth with retainer.
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You have to wear retainers after you complete your treatment—forever

If you think you’re done with orthodontics after you finish your treatment, think again. “A retainer holds your teeth in place. After you complete Invisalign or any orthodontics, it is necessary to hold those teeth in place,” says Dr. LoPresti. “There are different options which include a removable clear retainer that is worn at night or a permanent fixed retainer that gets bonded to the back of your teeth.”

Dentist holding two mouth retainers in each hand.

We know when you’re lying about wearing your retainer

Not only do you have to wear a retainer after you complete your treatment, but your orthodontist will definitely know if you’ve really been keeping up with it. “Patients that complete their advised treatment and achieve their desired result, but then fail to wear their retainers generally have teeth that drift apart,” says Timothy Chase, DMD, a co-founder of SmilesNY in New York City. “This can cause a relapse such as crowding, spacing or flaring of the teeth.” (Whatever you do, never ignore these 9 symptoms of a cavity.)

Healthy woman's teeth biting a raspberry.

We know when you eat or drink with your Invisalign in

It might seem harmless to eat or drink with your aligners in, but you won’t be fooling your orthodontist. “When patients who eat or drink liquids (other than water) come in to see me, their Invisalign trays are often slimy, dirty, and stained,” says Dr. Chase. “Not only does this result in a cosmetically undesirable appearance to the aligners, but it also damages them and can lead to decay.”

Ceramic and metallic braces on a woman's teeth.

Braces aren’t just a cosmetic treatment

It might seem like people go to the orthodontist just to straighten out their teeth, but there are tons of other reasons, too. While some people can go through life with crooked teeth and be just fine, others actually require fixtures in order to chew and speak properly. “While we do want everyone to have a perfect smile, the reality is not everyone requires orthodontics,” says Seth Newman, DDS, a board-certified orthodontic specialist in Roslyn Heights, New York. Give your smile a little more protection by avoiding the 15 foods dentists never eat.
A woman flossing her teeth with dental floss.

We know you don’t floss or brush as much as you say you do

Remember all those times you lied to your dentist or orthodontist when they asked if you’ve been flossing? Yeah… they knew you weren’t. “Those who do not brush and floss properly generally have a higher incidence of plaque calculus, gingivitis, and tooth decay,” says Dr. Chase. “A single day of forgetting to floss is damaging, but a week or a month of poor hygiene will result in swelling of the gums, bleeding and a foul odor.” (This is the easiest way to get rid of bad breath, according to a dentist.)

Smiling girl with a retainer her mouth.
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Even if you don’t think your child needs orthodontics, get them checked out anyway

Even if your children don’t show any signs of needing to see an orthodontist, you should really bring them in for a check-up no later than age seven. “If we see a patient early, and if a problem is detected, we can recommend treatment so that the permanent teeth have a good possibility of coming in properly,” according to Jackie Miller, DDS, an orthodontist in Washington, Missouri. “An early visit to the orthodontist can prevent and help detect future problems.” Check out the 11 dental etiquette rules everyone should follow.
Woman smoking a cigarette.
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If you smoke, your treatment might take longer

In case you needed more of a reason to not smoke, it might actually cause you to need to make more trips to your orthodontist’s office. “Smokers give away their habit because of the excessive plaque that builds up on their teeth,” according to Dr. Chase. “This can have a big impact on orthodontic appliances used to straighten teeth and result in a longer treatment period.” Next, learn 13 things your dentist wants you to know.

Medically reviewed by Susanne Jackson, DDS, on July 10, 2020

Brittany Gibson
Brittany was a digital editorial intern for Reader's Digest and now contributes to RD.com as a freelance writer. Her stories have been picked up by Yahoo, AOL, MSN, INSIDER, Business Insider, Best Health, and other websites. In addition to writing for RD.com, she has also written for Westchester Magazine and uloop.com.