Enamel is the strongest substance in your entire body (it’s even stronger than your bones). But, it can still get damaged. And in some cases, damaged enamel can result in a chipped tooth.
Chipped teeth happen more often than you’d think. Causes of chipped teeth can be as simple as chomping down on a piece of ice or hard candy. Then there are more forceful impacts, such as a car accident or a sports injury. And of course, if you have a cavity or simple worn enamel, you could suffer a chip doing just about anything.
If you’re hoping to get your smile straightened, then a tooth chip can be extra frustrating—especially if you’re hoping to use at-home clear aligners. But don’t despair: aligner treatment is still possible with a chipped tooth. Sure, the evaluation process is a bit trickier, and you may have to fix a few problems at first (more on this in a second). But it’s usually possible.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything there is to know about aligners and chipped teeth, including how chipped teeth affect aligner treatment, whether you should fix the tooth before or after treatment, and of course, what at-home aligners are the best for chipped teeth.
How Chipped or Broken Teeth Can Affect Aligner Treatment
Just because you have a chipped tooth doesn’t mean you can’t use at-home clear aligners. For most people, it’s a totally minor concern. But just like everyone’s malocclusion (tooth misalignment) is different, chipped or broken teeth can vary in severity, too.
To understand why chipped teeth can affect aligner treatment, we should first talk about how clear aligners work. It’s not magic; the clear plastic exerts constant force on your teeth to pull them into new positions. To do that, the aligner needs enough surface area to grab onto. When a tooth chip is small, the aligners still have enough to grab. But when the chip is bigger, the aligners can’t get enough traction, so they’d exert uneven force.
Small chips typically don’t cause any discomfort (except for a little self-consciousness), but large chips often cause a lot of pain. That’s because large chips can expose the nerve beneath the surface. Chips of that severity need to be treated before aligner treatment (and for general dental health).
Sometimes, a chipped tooth can be so severe that it’s classified as a cracked or broken tooth instead. The difference is pretty subtle, though. A chipped tooth normally occurs at the edges of the tooth crown (the chewing surface). However, a cracked or broken tooth often originates near the gumline, or it extends throughout the whole tooth.
Of the two, cracked or broken teeth are much more problematic. These injuries often expose the dentin and pulp beneath the enamel, causing pain. Bad breaks could even be classified as a dental emergency.
Most dentists will recommend that you fix a chipped or broken tooth as soon as possible after it happens. Minor chips can typically be left untreated, though. But painful breaks or chips that expose nerves (or chips over a spot where you had a filling) should be treated right away. Not only does treatment help alleviate your pain, but it also protects you from infections later on.
Fixing Chipped Teeth Before Aligner Treatment
Depending on the severity of your chipped tooth, there could be some benefits to treating your chip before getting at-home clear aligners.
For example, let’s say that you chipped your tooth close to a spot where you already had a filling, crown, or cavity. That area is already a bit weakened. Any further force on that tooth could damage it. But when your dentist goes to repair your chipped tooth, he or she will add in a crown, bonding agents, and so on to protect that weakened area. Instead of pulling on a weakened tooth, then, your aligners will pull on a strong, repaired one.
Some people are more prone to grinding their teeth with a chipped tooth. And grinding can damage your aligners. Correcting the tooth chip will alleviate that risk.
Beyond that, fixing a chipped tooth creates an even tooth surface. An even tooth surface means an even distribution of force within your mouth while you’re wearing your aligners. And when it comes to orthodontic treatment, even force is good.
Fixing Chipped Teeth After Aligner Treatment
But what happens if you wait to correct your chipped tooth until after you’ve gotten your teeth straightened? There are benefits to that approach, too. For one thing, we should note that a lot of people say that clear aligners actually help hide a tooth chip. That’s because the gleam and shape of the plastic tend to distract the eye.
And let’s say you get your chipped tooth corrected and immediately jump into aligner treatment. But the bonding agents used in chip correction don’t harden instantly. Since aligners exert a lot of force on your teeth, they could pull on the “glue” used to correct your chip and undo the repair completely. Waiting to correct your chip prevents that.
Last but not least, clear aligners don’t always fit well over fillings and bonding agents. Those “extras” actually make your teeth a little thicker than normal. You probably won’t feel the difference, but aligners use a very exact fit.
Fixing Chipped Teeth During Aligner Treatment
If fixing your chipped tooth is a top priority, then go for it. But whether it’s better to do it before or after clear aligner treatment ultimately depends on your individual case. That said, it’s best to pick either before or after. Treating a chipped (or broken) tooth in the middle of aligner treatment can be an incredible hassle.
That’s because at-home clear aligners use molds of your teeth pre-treatment, and then they create aligners to match those molds. The typical chipped tooth treatment involves either filing down your tooth or adding to it. Either way, the shape of your tooth changes, which means your aligners probably won’t fit. You’d need to make new impressions, order new trays, wait for them to ship…you get the idea. It’s a pain.
Unfortunately, dental accidents happen, and you might find yourself with a chipped tooth mid-treatment. If that happens, you should get in contact with your dentist (immediately if it’s an emergency). Then, you should also talk to customer support from your chosen aligner company to learn what your options are. Unless your chip is severe, they’ll probably advise you to wait to get it fixed until after your aligner treatment is complete.
Which Home Aligners Can Work With Chipped Teeth?
Most home aligner companies can work around a chipped tooth. But ultimately, it depends entirely on the severity of the chip. Each aligner company determines whether or not you’re a candidate for treatment on a case-by-case basis using an impression kit. Essentially, you create 3D molds of your teeth. The company will review those molds and determine whether or not you’re a good candidate.
If the home aligner company you’ve chosen is comfortable with treating your smile, then they will send you the aligners you need to straighten your teeth. However, we recommend that you consult with your dentist or orthodontist before beginning any aligner treatment with a chipped tooth—repaired or otherwise. For example, if your dentist has already repaired your chip, he or she will know if your repair will hold up against aligner treatment. Plus, your dentist can give you a pretty clear picture of what treatment will look like with your chip.
Our Top Home Aligner Picks
Ultimately, the at-home aligner company you choose will largely depend on your priorities. Some people might prefer an aligner company that’s fast, some prefer an affordable one, and so on. And to be honest, there are a lot of good choices out there.
While we’d encourage you to pick the company that best fits your needs, we do have a couple favorites of our own:
#1 | Byte
Byte is our all-around favorite service, and they perform well in every category. But what really stands out is their treatment speed; byte treatment typically lasts just 3 months. They also offer both daytime and nighttime treatment options.
Last but not least, byte offers a byte-for-Life guarantee. If your teeth ever shift post-treatment (and you’ve worn your retainers as prescribed), then byte will send you new aligners to get your smile back to perfection. To get all the details on our top-ranked home aligner, read our full byte review.
#2 | Candid
One thing we love about Candid is their ability to move all your teeth, even the molars. Other competitors primarily focus on the front six upper and lower teeth (also known as “the social six”). Candid’s ability to move all your teeth allows them to treat more complicated conditions than their competitors.
As an added bonus, with Candid, treatment is designed by orthodontists exclusively. If you live near one of their Candid Studios, you can get a teeth scan and panoramic X-ray to begin your treatment, all for free. Intrigued? Check out our full Candid review.
#3 | AlignerCo
If you’re looking for an affordable treatment option, then look no further than AlignerCo. Their treatment kit costs far less than other home aligners and even less than braces: $1,145. They also have regular treatment check-ins to help keep you on track.
For more information about AlignerCo, check out our full review.