No one likes pain and soreness. Unfortunately, though, discomfort is an unavoidable part of orthodontic treatment. There are lots of different kinds of orthodontic treatments, and since all of them shift your teeth, all of them cause some amount of discomfort.
Of all the different types of orthodontic treatments, clear aligners are one of the most comfortable, home teeth aligners included. However, there’s still some discomfort. Thankfully, that discomfort is usually pretty minor. Even better—it’s usually temporary.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the discomfort of at-home clear aligners like Smile Direct Club. By the end, you’ll know exactly what to expect.
Looking For The Best Teeth Aligner? Make sure you’re getting the best price, customer support, and overall value. Many readers prefer comparing Byte (our favorite home clear aligner) to the two most well-known providers, CandidCo and Smile Direct Club:
How Do Home Aligners Feel?
Discomfort is common with home aligner treatments. Don’t worry that you’ll be in constant discomfort for six months, though. Typically, the discomfort is the most severe when you first switch to a new set of aligners. It usually goes away after a day or two.
A lot of people describe their discomfort as a sensation of pressure or tightness, not outright pain. For some, it’s a lot like the sensation you have after a good workout: a mildly unpleasant soreness that you’d like to go away, but you can still tolerate it. And that makes sense; in a way, your teeth are going through a workout. Some soreness is to be expected as your teeth work to “shift” into new positions.
Honestly, some mild soreness is actually desirable—it’s a good sign that your aligners are working!
The Causes of Aligner Discomfort
Aligner discomfort isn’t random; in fact, there are several different causes of discomfort. Let’s talk about some of the most common causes of discomfort.
When your adult teeth emerge throughout childhood and adolescence, they anchor themselves into your jawbone. Teeth shift gradually as your bone structure adapts throughout your life, but for the most part, they stay put (and firmly, thanks to your bones). That said, when you undergo aligner treatment, that anchor breaks up. That means the tissues and nerves in and around your teeth will be stressed, causing inflammation and discomfort.
Aligner edges cutting into your gums
One of the ways aligners one-up braces is that they’re smoother than braces; brackets and wires cut into the cheeks and gums. Clear aligners are almost seamless, but the top edge of the aligner can still rub against your gum line. That, understandably, causes irritation. Thankfully, your gums will toughen up some, reducing your irritation—somewhat like a callous.
Not everyone will have the same amount of discomfort from aligner edges, though. The actual shape of your aligner has some impact on that irritation. Aligners are either straight-cut across your gums or scallop-cut to match your gums. Both can cause some discomfort, but the question is where on your gums the irritation occurs.
Think of how many times you chew each day. You don’t have to think about chewing because your jaw has muscle memory. But what isn’t quite as obvious is the fact that a lot of that muscle memory comes from the positions of your teeth. Your muscles have learned where your teeth strike together, so you don’t feel the effort of chewing day in and day out.
New teeth positions change that chewing pattern; where your teeth strike together won’t be the same anymore. That can put new, unfamiliar strain on your jaw. Your muscles will readjust over time, but a little soreness isn’t uncommon. This is especially true if your tooth misalignments are caused by a bite issue like overbite or underbite.
Ways to Alleviate Aligner Discomfort
Given time, your discomfort will go away on its own (though it may pop back up when you switch aligners). However, there are a few things you can do to reduce your soreness. A lot of these treatments use items that you probably have lying around the house already, too.
Applying an ice pack to a sore area is one of the simplest tricks in the book, but it really works. Cold therapy helps to calm inflamed areas, and inflammation levels are especially high at the beginning of treatment. Ice packs aren’t your only option, though. Even a cool popsicle, a slushie, or a cold drink can help alleviate your discomfort. If you eat or drink something cold, be sure to remove your aligners first and then brush your teeth before reinserting them.
Take pain relievers
Tylenol, Aleve, Advil—whatever pain reliever you have in your medicine cabinet is a good option for alleviating some discomfort and soreness. Over-the-counter methods should be more than enough to help. When you take them, be sure to follow the dosage recommendations carefully.
Swish warm salt water
Not only is saltwater a good way to disinfect your teeth and gums, but it’s also a good way to ease your soreness. Here’s why: salt water helps to flush out any infection. If your gums are bleeding a bit due to the edges of your aligners, then swishing warm salt water will be a big help.
Use dental wax
Whenever orthodontists install braces, they give dental wax to their patients. After all, the brackets and wires can cut up the cheeks and gums a bit, especially at the beginning of treatment. Aligners don’t cut up your mouth nearly as much, but the top edges can irritate your cheeks and gums. Applying dental wax in those areas helps a lot. The wax acts like a barrier between your tissue and the irritants.
Stick to your wear schedule
When you’re dealing with aligner discomfort, it’s tempting to pull your aligners out to end the discomfort. But honestly, that’s the last thing you should do because, in the long term, that only prolongs your discomfort. Sticking it out actually makes the discomfort go away sooner. When you wear your aligners as prescribed, your teeth adjust to their new positions in a matter of days. Removing your aligners too often actually robs your teeth of the opportunity to adjust, which means your pain will just resume when you put them back in, not go away.
Pick a nighttime-only option
Soreness is annoying, especially when you’re trying to focus on daily tasks. And with most home aligner options, you have to wear your aligners for roughly 22 hours per day. So there’s really no avoiding discomfort…unless you can wear your aligners for less time per day. Some companies offer a nighttime-only treatment option that only requires you to wear the aligners for 10 hours per day. With nighttime aligners, you’ll sleep through a majority of the discomfort, allowing you to focus on your life when you’re awake.
Use high-frequency vibration therapy
High-frequency vibration therapy, known as HFV for short, uses gentle, rapid vibrations to help “shake” your teeth into new positions. A lot of orthodontists recommend an HFV device to help speed up treatment and ensure a better aligner fit. But HFV also cuts down your discomfort, too. Not many home aligner companies sell one on their own (Byte is the exception), but you can purchase a device from other sources, too. For example, Byte sells their HyperByte system separately.
Which Aligners Are The Most Comfortable?
Not everyone has the same amount of discomfort when getting aligner treatment. Much of the discomfort depends on the severity of your condition, and everyone has different pain tolerance levels, too.
Thankfully, all home aligners are more comfortable than traditional braces. So if you’re looking to avoid discomfort, home aligners are the best option. However, there are a few aligner companies that go the extra mile to help make your treatment as comfortable as possible.
Byte is our favorite home aligner company, and they do several things to reduce your discomfort. Like we mentioned earlier, Byte offers their HyperByte system, which gives you pain-reducing high-frequency vibration therapy. You only need to use it for five minutes a day, and the system is included for free in your treatment bundle.
Byte also offers Byte At-Night, a nighttime alternative. You can find all the details about why Byte earns our top pick.
Candid doesn’t do anything truly fancy like HFV therapy or nighttime treatments, but the quality of their aligners are top-notch. Candid manufactures their aligners themselves. They use premium materials, ensuring consistent teeth movements and minimally invasive edges. If you’d like to learn more about Candid, check out our full review here.
Smile Direct Club is the biggest name on the home aligner market, so it’s not surprising that they’ve learned a few tricks to alleviate discomfort. Their best method? Nighttime Clear Aligners. With Smile Direct, nighttime-only aligners require 10 hours of continuous wear; you’ll finish nighttime treatment in roughly 10 months total.
If you’re intrigued to learn what else Smile Direct has to offer, then check out our full review of Smile Direct.
As far as orthodontic treatments go, home aligners are about as comfortable as it gets. But you shouldn’t expect an entirely painless process; you will have a little discomfort. Don’t lose heart, though: discomfort with home aligners is temporary. Some people hardly even notice it.
And no matter how much soreness you have, it’ll all be worth it in the end. When you see your newly-perfected smile, the discomfort will be worth the trouble. So stick with it, and enjoy your million-dollar smile!