“But I like your shark teeth.” That was my friend’s reaction when I told her about my decision to get Invisalign. Shark teeth? They must be even worse than I imagined, I thought to myself silently, flushed with embarrassment from her offhanded comment. Despite suffering through metal braces for nearly two years from the age of 12 – and the gashes in my cheeks that came with them – my bottom teeth had suddenly and quickly started to crowd during my early twenties.
This was not only painful. Aesthetically, it appeared as if two of my bottom teeth had almost turned completely backwards. Of course, this led to a strict no-teeth policy in photos and a tight-lipped smirk for joyous situations in real life. My shark-tooth smile had officially stolen my happiness.
My shark-tooth smile had officially stolen my happiness.
This problem weighed heavily on me for years, thanks not only to the pain but also to the embarrassment of not being able to make a positive impression in social situations. I couldn’t imagine myself returning to traditional braces, which would be visible in a job that required a lot of mingling. I had friends who had tried the lingual brace, which is worn behind the teeth, and shared horror stories of ulcers and lisps affecting their speech for almost two months. As a result, I eagerly went down a rabbit hole of research on the Invisalign treatment, which has reportedly been used by celebrities like Katherine Heigl and Justin Bieber.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, millions of people try to achieve straighter teeth each year, so there was no lack of information available during my quest to understand the Invisalign technology. I quickly learned that Invisalign was founded in 1997 by two Stanford University students – Zia Chishti and Kelsey Wirth – in San Jose, California. Their company was the first to use 3D digital treatment-planning software to predict and digitally mock-up the process in order to fix crooked teeth. It wasn’t long before the treatment grew in popularity, largely fueled by a $31-million TV campaign in 2000 launched by the company. In fact, New York Times dubbed it “the most aggressive consumer-advertising plan the dental profession has ever seen”.
As I read forums about the treatment, there were a few key factors that drew me to Invisalign. First, I loved the fact that the process was inconspicuous. I had enough insecurities, and adding “metal mouth” to the list wasn’t exactly desirable. Second, I was looking for a treatment that would affect my lifestyle as little as possible – with Invisalign, you can eat anything you want, as long as the aligners are removed beforehand. Third, I could keep up with my regular oral-hygiene habits since the aligners would be removed during brushing. And, lastly, it was widely acknowledged that Invisalign was more comfortable to wear than regular braces because of the lack of wires or brackets attacking the gums.
Dr. Joy was rumored to be the Invisalign guru – or should I say tooth fairy – of Dubai, with review after review praising his skills.
I was sold. My next step was to narrow my search to Invisalign providers in Dubai, which soon led me to Dr. Joy Dental Clinic. Dr. Joy was rumored to be the Invisalign guru – or should I say tooth fairy – of Dubai, with review after review praising his skills. His clinic has four branches in the city, and I found myself inside the Jumeirah location, which is housed in a villa off Al Wasl road. Here, I was met with a small gurgling fountain and two stories of treatment rooms. It was clean and cozy, the type of doctor’s office that strikes the perfect balance between sterile and homey.
The front desk was manned by several receptionists who were only too happy to help me. I was brought to Dr. Joy’s office for my initial consultation where, after looking at my crowded bottom teeth, he confirmed that I was a suitable candidate for the Invisalign treatment. He told me to have an impression made, which would be used to create a 3D video that would show the progress of my teeth moving during the treatment.
During my next appointment, Dr. Joy and I sat together to go over my video, which showed how the plastic aligners worn over two-week periods would slowly shift my teeth into a final, straightened position, and I was put on a nine-month plan. However, he explained, the total duration of each treatment really depends on the complexity of the case, with the typical treatment lasting anywhere from nine to 18 months.
“Invisalign has minimal impact on the patient’s life,” explained Dr. Joy, reaffirming my earlier research. “The clear aligners make it barely visible that the patient is straightening their teeth.” However, there were some ground rules when it came to the treatment. I was sternly told that I needed to wear my aligners 22 hours a day, with the only exceptions being during mealtimes and when I brushed or flossed my teeth. “Deal,” I thought to myself. And I left the office eager to get started.
Admittedly, it felt strange to wear my aligners when they first arrived from the Invisalign headquarters in the US. During my first weeks, I figured everyone must know that I had plastic teeth in. I also noticed that my lips became very dry from taking out and putting in the plastic trays. However, they became less noticeable and irritating with each passing day. There was never any severe pain, but it did feel like my teeth were slowly shifting – I experienced a dull pressure that would give me headaches sometimes. It was nothing a little paracetamol couldn’t fix.
There were also attachments involved, small tooth-colored applications that are placed on your teeth to help create more friction between the aligner and the tooth. They can feel slightly uncomfortable at first (I had mine placed on my canine teeth), and make the treatment feel slightly less invisible. Having said that, I’m pretty sure no one noticed the attachments on my teeth.
The most difficult thing to tackle was taking out the aligners during mealtimes. I often found myself in situations where I would try to distract my fellow diners while I quickly grabbed for them, hoping nobody would notice that I had just awkwardly removed what felt like a second set of teeth. I got used to it over the months, and the taboo faded as my teeth shifted into their picture-perfect position.
Throughout my treatment, Dr. Joy was patient with me as I wasn’t always as diligent about wearing my aligners as I should have been, taking them out on the weekends when social situations would get the best of me. I was amazed by how quickly my teeth would revert back to their old positions if I went even one night without wearing them, which I wouldn’t recommend to future Invisalign patients. Trust me.
When the big day – my final day of treatment – finally arrived, I had become a firm Invisalign advocate, running my tongue along a perfectly straight set of bottom teeth. Dare I say, I even missed no longer having to wear the tiny plastic aligners, which I had grown very fond of during our time together.