When you go to your dentist, you’ll frequently be given an X-ray. That’s because X-rays are an important part of maintaining your dental health. After all, X-rays help detect dental issues before they become a real problem.
But if you’re considering orthodontic treatment with at-home aligners, X-rays take on an additional level of importance: X-rays help determine what teeth need to be moved, if you need your wisdom teeth taken out first, and more. To guarantee a successful treatment you’ll need to have X-rays done.
Technically speaking, you can get home aligner treatments without X-rays. But skipping X-rays can have serious consequences. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about X-rays and aligner treatments, including why X-rays are so important, and what can happen if you don’t have them done.
Why X-Rays Are Important
Orthodontic treatments don’t just magically correct your teeth. They use constant force to move your teeth from their starting positions into newer, straighter ones. However, to move the teeth effectively, your orthodontist needs a clear picture of where your teeth are to begin with. That’s where X-rays come in. By taking a series of X-rays of your teeth, your orthodontist will be able to get a complete picture of what’s happening with your teeth, right down to your roots.
X-rays also show your dentist how many wisdom teeth you have, plus where they are. Wisdom teeth can have a profound impact on orthodontic treatments. And if you have wisdom teeth that are already impacted (or you don’t really have space for them in your jaw), you’ll need to have them removed before aligner treatment.
That said, X-rays don’t just tell the story of where your teeth are right now. X-rays can also help your dentist detect potential issues very early on. For example, X-rays show the early signs of bone loss, resorbed teeth, and your overall root health. Other common dental issues like cysts or abscesses—potentially painful infections—first start underneath the surface of the gums; they can show up on X-rays as little pockets. At such an early stage, these issues are relatively easy to treat.
Last but not least, X-rays are frequently used to detect cavities. In some cases, cavities are only visible on an X-ray. Early detection and treatment keep those cavities from becoming so severe that they’re visible to the naked eye.
Hopefully, all your X-rays will show is a set of smiling, healthy teeth. But if your X-rays uncover a problem, you should get it corrected before beginning treatment with at-home aligners.
Home Aligner Consent Forms
Before you can get aligners from home aligner companies like Byte, Candid, or Smile Direct, you’ll need to complete the evaluation process. Typically, this includes completing an impression kit, taking photos of your teeth, and filling out a consent-to-treat form. The form includes several important questions regarding your dental history. One of those questions asks about your most recent X-rays.
Technically, at-home aligner companies have no way of checking that you’ve actually had X-rays, so you could “fake it” and still get treatment. But by signing off that you’ve had X-rays, you’re telling them that you don’t need any other dental work done. Long story short, the form absolves them of any responsibility for mid-treatment damage caused by your pre-existing dental conditions.
Risks of Proceeding Without an X-Ray
Proceeding with orthodontic treatment without an X-ray is risky. After all, your underlying dental issues don’t just go away or hit pause when you start aligner treatment. In fact, aligner treatment can actually make those issues worse.
For instance, let’s say you have a small cavity on one of your molars. During aligner treatment, you’ll put an aligner over top of it. Any bacteria that’s on your teeth will be trapped there, potentially making your cavity worse. The same idea applies to gum disease. Aligners tend to irritate your gums (especially at first). So if your gums are already inflamed, aligners will only make it worse.
Then, of course, there’s wisdom teeth to consider. If they need to have them removed, it’s best to have that done before aligner treatment. Most aligner companies prefer it that way, too. After all, leaving wisdom teeth in could have long-term consequences like damaged roots, infections, and more (both during and after aligner treatment).
All of these issues can really only be detected by x-rays, making x-rays an absolutely vital step to successful aligner treatment.
Does a Teeth Scan Count?
Before you get started with a home aligner company, you’ll need to get a teeth scan taken or make impressions of your teeth. This process gives aligner companies a model to work with when designing your aligners. Of the two, teeth scans are more robust (and they’re even easier on the customer, too).
Teeth scans—currently offered by Smile Direct and Candid—use a special 3D imaging device to create digital scans of your teeth. They’re pretty detailed images, too.
However, scans (and impression kits) really only create images of the crowns of your teeth (the visible part, your “pearly whites”). It cannot take images of your roots, bones, and jaw. So these scans really only give a half picture of your teeth. If there are problems beneath the surface, the impressions or scans will not spot them.
That being said, Candid takes their in-person scans a step further and offers a complimentary panoramic X-ray at nearly every one of their locations. If a Candid Studio is convenient to you, then you can get a tooth scan and a panoramic X-ray at the same free appointment.
So, no. Just a teeth scan on its own does not count. It’s up to you to get X-rays done and take care of any dental issues ahead of time.
Ready for Treatment?
Once you have gotten your X-rays completed and taken care of any necessary dental work, you’re ready to start treatment. Thankfully, getting started with home aligner treatment is pretty straightforward. Most people will have to use an impression kit. No matter what company you use, your impression kit will include pretty similar components: dental trays, impression putty, cheek spreaders, and instructions. You’ll use the kit to create 3D molds of your teeth. Some people find the process a bit tricky, but for most aligner companies, it’s the only way to get started.
However, Candid and Smile Direct also offer retail locations where you can get digital scans taken for free. If you visit one, you won’t have to wait on shipping times.
The start-up process is relatively easy. Honestly, what’s harder is picking which at-home aligner company you’ll use. There are a lot of good choices! We won’t tell you which one to use, but we do have a few 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
Candid has a lot to offer beyond just their free X-ray perk. Candid is able to move all of your teeth, including your molars. Competitors primarily focus on the front six upper and lower teeth (also known as “the social six”). Their ability to move all your teeth helps Candid treat more complex conditions than their at-home competitors. 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.