How to Care for Your Teeth & Clear Aligners (Smile Direct Club, Invisalign)

Last Updated: September 2019

Congratulations on making the decision to straighten your smile!

If you have been self-conscious about it, I think you will be glad in the end that you made this decision.

It is not an easy nor inexpensive road and will add a few more (simple) tasks to your day, but it is worth it.

When I first got my clear aligners (and before signing up to get them), I did a lot of research on what was involved, how to care for them, and what I could expect.

I’ve learned a few things along the way and I have compiled them here so that you won’t have to spend hours researching and reading like I did.

My goal is for you to have a (generally) smooth journey through this process.

I went with Smile Direct Club (SDC) over Invisalign, but most of this information can also apply to Invisalign users as they are similar products. You can read about my overall journey here. You can see all my SDC posts here.

I have given you care instructions for both your teeth and your aligners at this time. Though I recommend reading both sections, if you want to just know about how to care for your aligner trays, feel free to scroll down to that section.

Also, this is not a comprehensive list of care instructions, but it will get you started and will hopefully keep you from making any big mistakes that will derail your progress.

Let me know if you have more suggestions to add to this list! But let’s get into it, shall we….

Legal blah blah: This post is not sponsored by Smile Direct Club and every opinion and piece of advice not otherwise linked is my own. This post does include affiliate links, you can read my disclosure policy at the bottom of this page.

Also with any large investment and medical advice, if you have questions or problem arise, you should always contact the company directly for aligner or payment questions and your dentist/orthodontist for teeth, jaw, and gum care.

These are general guidelines and cannot necessarily be applied to your situation without expert consultation of your case.

If you have not yet signed up for Smile Direct Club, you can do so here and get $100 discount! (You’ll need to input your email for the discount.)

Decide This NOW

First, you need to make the decision to be intentional about caring for both your teeth and your aligners while you are using them.

Neglect of either will be difficult and time-consuming to correct, so taking a few extra but quick steps now will save you lots of pain (and money) in the end.

Products I Use

First, since I promised you tips and tricks, I will say that a lot of your success will have to do with having the right products for all of the varying situations you will need them.

I did buy a few items to help make my journey go a little smoother, particularly for when I was out.

I have included links to some in the list so you can see what products I mean, and I detail how I use a lot of them throughout this post.

Those items include:

• Sonic Toothbrush – Probably what I would recommend overall, if you get nothing else, this will give you such better dental health overall. 

I have this basic one and it does fabulously, you don’t need the expensive ones!

• Small Pencil Bag (I got a small one to not take up a lot of space in my purse)

• Travel toothbrush

• Travel size of toothpaste

• Wisps – to sub for toothbrush&paste in a pinch, or for a quick, discreet brush

• Toothpick/flossers – for convenience

• Retainer Brite – for convenience & sterilization on the go

• Waterpik water flosser – because I didn’t want to floss every time

According to Philips Sonicare website1, their product “removes up to 7x more plaque than a manual toothbrush…. because it makes 31,000 brush strokes per minute, compared with a manual toothbrush’s 300 brush strokes per minute.”

My hygienist remarked how good my teeth looked after I started using this, and specifically asked me if that’s what I used, because they always clean teeth better.

You can (and should) continue to use your sonic toothbrush and Waterpik after your teeth are straightened to maintain your dental health. You paid a lot of money to get them straight, you want to keep them white and decay-free, too!

This is my teeth brushing bag that I carry in my purse, I got it as compact as I possibly could. (I cut down the toothbrush to fit the bag and the floss is from a sample my dentist gives me, but find what you can.)

travel bag with dental supplies

Side note: The wisps can act in place of your toothbrush. However, I will say that I didn’t buy a ton of them nor the toothpick/flossers as I only planned on using them sparingly, as I am not totally comfortable with all the plastic waste that and the toothpick flossers would create with daily use.

As with a lot of things in life, they will make our lives easier, and a little bit is probably okay, but I definitely don’t use these every time I need to brush or floss.

Now, if I had a desk job where everyone could see me brush & floss (no one wants to watch that) and I couldn’t get up a lot to brush my teeth every time I snacked, well, the wisps are a bit more discreet, as are the toothpick/flossers. So, do what you need to do. Side note over.

I also carry two tablets of Retainerbrite tray cleaner for sterilization, if I drop my aligners on the floor, or forget the Retainerbrite in my travel bag, which has happened.

Caring for Your Teeth

Taking good care of your teeth is your number one priority here.

Sure, they can be replaced, but that’s costly, time-consuming, and painful, plus, our goal here is to look better, not have whole teeth missing because we didn’t take care of them.

So here are some very important ways for you to start with taking care of your teeth.

See Your Dentist

First things first: Get a dental check up from your dentist, and get an evaluation for clear aligners. This is of utmost importance for success and fewer issues.

For example, when I had braces in my teen years, the orthodontist was concerned that my gums on my front bottom teeth would recede, so I had a gum graft done to prevent that. Not fun.

Gum health should always be a consideration when getting braces or any dental procedure.

I figured I was safe enough from gum recession to use clear aligners, but I did have an orthodontist evaluation before getting clear aligners.

Granted, it was for the purpose of discussing Invisalign and was a few years before I signed up with SDC, but the ortho didn’t have any concerns. I also have pretty good overall dental health, so I signed up with SDC.

girl in dentist chair

Do Dentists Recommend Smile Direct Club?

Just be aware that, with SDC, you may find that your dentist is not in favor of it.

Whether it’s because they’re truly concerned about your oral health because you’re not getting seen every 2 weeks for a checkup and then getting little wart-like dots put on your teeth to help movement like with their Invisalign… or … that you’re not contributing to their income by not using their product and they don’t appreciate that, probably varies by dentist.

You’re an adult and you can make your own decisions, just make sure you’re well informed (which I have tried to cover the bigger basics in my other posts.)

I did not tell my dentist when I had my first dental checkup after starting aligners, which happened to be about 3 months into the clear aligners process. However, she was very impressed with the health of my teeth, even said, “I wish everyone’s teeth looked like this.”

Which I doubt because then she’d have significantly less income and her job would be boring.

But I do feel that she would be supportive of me making a non-Invisalign choice because she’s just nice that way — but it’s also a large practice and they have separate orthodontists, so it probably wouldn’t really matter to her as long as it didn’t damage my bite.

(I started SDC with an overbite and my bite projection was also going to be an overbite, so I was fine with that.)

If you are going to have major shifting or significant gap closure, #teamgap, you’ll probably want to notify your dentist at some point so that when they compare your x-rays to your current status, they won’t be concerned.

Or just wait and see how it goes; I plan to tell mine at the end of my journey, or if it happens to come up…

Brush After Every Meal

You will need to get in the habit of brushing after every meal. And after every drink that is not water.

Yes, even if it’s just carbonated water, even with just a tad bit of flavoring in it. Yes, it can get in between your teeth and aligners and cause tooth decay.

So, resolve now that you will be very diligent in this.

Toothbrush on counter by sink edited

Some dentists say that brushing after every meal can wear away the enamel since teeth aren’t meant to be brushed this often.

If this is a concern for you, please consult your dentist. Some people only use a gentle stroke with the toothbrush and water to brush for lunch and snacks.

It is up to you, just keep monitoring your teeth and talking to your dental hygiene professional about what is best for your teeth.

I brush after every meal and use my water flosser after meals at home. But then again, I make my own toothpaste so I don’t know how to compare it to other toothpastes’ abrasiveness.

Can I Brush My Teeth with My Smile Direct Club or Invisalign Aligners In?

I have seen this question pop up more than I expected, so I will answer it here. The answer is Yes. But I’m not sure why you’d want to.

Though I occasionally do.

Here’s the deal. Brushing your “teeth” with your aligners in only brushes your aligners. Sometimes, I feel a little gunk on my aligners (you’ll know what I mean once you get used to wearing them.)

So, I’ll just brush them with my toothbrush.

SDC generally says that toothpaste may scrape your aligners, not making them clear, where people can tell that you have them in. A toothbrush and some cool water does fine for the aligners.

To actually brush your teeth, though, you need to take your aligners out. And I wouldn’t use toothpaste with my aligners in my mouth, lest it not get rinsed well and get trapped and start some decay.

Get Flossy

Consider flossing much more than ever before. I carry a small box of floss with me that I got at my Smile Scan, and I put this all in a pencil bag with my toothbrush, a little jar of toothpaste, wisps, and toothpick flossers.

• Anything with seeds, nuts, or anything that may have small chunks, be sure to floss.

• Similarly, if you eat anything green, floss. I didn’t realize it before using these aligners, but pretty much anything vegetable and green really managed to stick between my teeth like they were moving back into mom’s basement.

That goes for all greens (collards, spinach, kale, lettuce, salads), green beans, broccoli, celery, avocado. If it’s green, you will probably find it lurking in your teeth after you eat it, so do yourself a favor and floss.

And, here in particular, I don’t mean just use the Waterpik. While that this is amazing, it won’t get those little fibers of things that are hard to get out. Only floss will.

If you have or choose to get a Waterpik, (which I love and totally recommend) use both, because often, something else will fall out when using the waterflosser, even after I’ve use the string floss, and vice versa.

Bottom Line: You don’t want to give decay a chance!

Wear Your Aligners For 22 Hours a Day, Every Day

This is another rule that SDC has. And it’s easy to leave them out for more than two hours per day.

People say that they have learned to drink their coffee, tea, sodas faster, or just given them up. And many people have lost weight because they don’t snack as much.

I started out a tad lazy at times about getting mine back in on time. But as I went through the process, I got more used to it and it came naturally, and I did fine in my progress.

There is no particular guidance as to what to do if you go more than 2 hours with the aligners out, except maybe call SDC and ask them what to do.

(Unofficial) Facebook group suggestions are to add a day or two on to that week’s aligners.

I did this with probably most of my weeks, just for good measure and I knew there was usually at least one day that I went a tad too long without realizing it.

You can also adjust your treatment in your online SDC dashboard, they will send you emails and/or texts when it is time to change them.

You can also get the TrayMinder app, which I found useful as I could set & adjust my treatment length days for each tray, and it was more reliable than SDC’s notification system.

Trayminder app screenshot

I address (further down) how long to wear your aligners after your plan is completed.

Aligners That Scrape Your Gums or Tongue

You can use dental wax, found in most convenience stores in the dental aisle to help soothe any edges that may be cutting into your cheeks, tongue, or gums. You will just need a little bit, and keep working with it until you get it where you need it.

I have seen some SDC customers say that they will file down (with a nail file or Dremel tool) the edges of their aligners. Some will cut a portion off with nail scissors.

You have to be really careful about filing and cutting into your aligners, you may break them or damage them enough to impede your progress.

You should always contact your orthodontist/dentist (Invisalign) or the company (Smile Direct Club members) before making alterations to your aligners. They cover part of your gums for a reason. Buyer & user beware.

Get Into a Routine

Know at what point in the day you are going to clean your aligners, floss your teeth, and where you will put your aligners while you are eating (which I will discuss a little later.)

My daily routine looked like this. (If I was not at home, the only difference was I didn’t use the Waterpik):

1. Morning/First Meal:

• Before eating: Rinse aligners and soak with 50/50 water and hydrogen peroxide (or Retainer Brite) and let them soak 30-ish minutes (15 minutes with Retainer Brite) in a secured cup

• After eating:
1. Teeth: brush as normal, and
2. Use Waterpik
3. Aligners: Rinse and lightly brush with toothbrush (no toothpaste)

2. Lunch, Snacks:

• Before eating: Remove and rinse aligners, put them in protective cup.

• After eating:
1. Teeth: brush as normal,
2. Use Waterpik,
3. Aligners: Rinse and replace in mouth.

3. Dinner/Last meal or snack of the Day

• Before eating: Remove and rinse aligners, put them in protective cup.

• After eating:
1. Teeth: floss with string floss
2. brush as normal,
3. Use Waterpik,
4. Aligners: Rinse, brush if needed, and replace in mouth.

How To Care For your Clear Aligners

Here are some tips I used and have seen recommended to care for your aligners:

Do Not Eat or Drink with Your Aligners In

You could break them with food, and this can also lead to tooth decay. Only cool water is allowed.

I will admit I have taken communion with mine in and had really soft snacks occasionally, and I’m careful on how I do it, but do not generally recommend eating or drinking anything with your aligners in.

What To Do If Your Aligners Cut Into Your Gums

You can file or cut down VERY CAREFULLY your aligners. I have more details in this post. But whatever you do, just be careful and take your time! Aligners are currently $99 to replace, so a few extra minutes will benefit you greatly!

How to Clean Your Aligners

Smile Direct Club has a whole video here on how to clean your aligners, and you can choose whatever works best for you.

Clean your aligners every day. This will keep them from getting too smelly, gunky, and will keep your teeth healthy.

When at home, my preference is to clean mine first thing in the morning (hello morning breath!) with a 50/50 mix of cool water and hydrogen peroxide and let them soak while I eat breakfast.

Hydrogen peroxide is very cheap and you will want to buy several big bottles at a time, you will go through them faster than you would think. Even a big bottle is less than $1 each, so it’s very affordable.

When I am traveling, I use Retainer Brite, as it is much easier to pack the individually wrapped tablets (similar to alka seltzer tablets) than it is to transport a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

Always use cool water to soak/rinse your aligners.

NEVER use hot water, as this can warp the aligners out of shape and you will lose your progress, while losing time and money waiting on requesting replacements. Get used to testing the water with your hands before you rinse your aligners.

Rinse your aligners after cleaning and whenever you remove them from your mouth. Rinsing gets off any prior saliva. I usually also rinse right before putting them back in.

You can brush the aligners with just your toothbrush but do not use toothpaste as this is too abrasive for the aligners and can make scrape marks on them that may appear when you have them in your mouth.

Protect your aligners. Be very intentional on this!

Dogs and cats think they’re fun new toys, and children will often pull them to pieces or hide them.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen incidents in the Facebook group about people’s dogs, cats, and children stealing their aligners from their lap, running off with them, and completely destroying them.

In case you don’t believe me or just want some entertainment, please enjoy this selection of screenshots:

Facebook post screenshot 2
Facebook post screenshot
Facebook post screenshot

This seems pretty easily avoidable to me, but it takes preparation.

My advice: Use a cup/container with a secured lid to put your aligners in while soaking them or eating. I use these cups with lids to soak my trays whenever I am traveling, especially to a house with dogs or small children. I always use the lid If I’m not at home (I don’t have kids or pets). I also use them for other purposes.

I loooove these storage cups to keep in my purse as it is a little more compact than the typical aligner case, is very secure, and will not allow my aligners to get broken or smashed as they would if I just threw them in a napkin in my purse. (I also use them for travel, they’re great for jewelry!)

Eating Out and Travel

Have a plan for eating out. Put a package in your car, bag, purse or pocket for when you are going out to eat but not returning home.

You’ve seen my bag for my purse. I goes everywhere with me while I am using these trays.

Have a Travel Plan

Have a packing list for your necessities when you travel, or have them pre-packed in one bag, ready to go.

Here is my list:
Retainer Brite (preferable for travel)
Travel (soaking) cups
o Lid for travel cup {Yes, I want to list this separately so I don’t forget it!}
o Floss
o Wax (if needed)
o Q-tips (see this post for info on why I recommend the q-tips)
o Last week’s aligners in case current ones break (put in separate case)
o Chewies, if switching aligners while gone
o Next set of aligners, if changing during trip (or just keep that tray to cut down on packing)
Compact nail kit (with nail scissors and nail file if you have irritation, check flight security regulations if carrying on airplane or put in checked baggage)
o Dental wax
o Water bottle for purse or car
o Spit cup (optional, for if you brush your teeth in a moving car & can’t spit)

How to Brush On The Go

On the track of traveling, whenever you go out, I advise to take a water bottle, or have one in your car (depending on the current weather, not advisable in extra hot nor cold temps, lest it freeze and burst, or melt.)

This way, if you don’t want to brush your teeth in a grimy fast food restaurant bathroom (blek), you can do it from your car. I’ve done this.

I will brush as normal and then either spit into the drink cup that once contained my drink (especially if we went through drive through and are on a long trip), or I will open the door and spit out onto the pavement and rinse with the water from the water bottle.

And I’ll do the courteous things and rinse the pavement with the leftover water. Sorry if that’s tmi, but, gotta do what you gotta do, and goodness knows what else that pavement has been exposed to.

I can’t believe I’m writing about my spitting habits, but I guess if it helps you, it’s all good…

Other Advice For Clear Aligners

If you like to be a part of a community of other users (and this is how I learned a some of these tips and tricks), find a Facebook or Reddit group that pertains to whatever brand of aligners you’re using.

Just put the brand name into the search box and a few groups that you can request to join should pop up.

Please be aware that the advice given there is not official advice, and you should always contact your aligner provider for official guidance.

But it is nice to see what other people have done, and to know if maybe lots of pain in one tooth is normal. (It can be, but I never had a huge problem.)

Take Pictures to Document Your Journey

Now this one is just for fun and/or if you plan to ever share your progress via pictures (or want to reminisce).

I wish I had taken better before pictures. Most of mine ended up being selfies I had already taken months ago, it just didn’t occur to me.

I do have the one that I took at the Smile Shop using the smile stretcher, but frankly, I find those to be terrifying… that’s just a little too much intimate detail into someone’s mouth that I don’t need to see.

There are a few ‘pic per day’ types of apps, but I liked the Time Shutter app, as you can set up a reference picture so when you make a video at the end, your face will be in the same general position.

Plus, you can make time-lapse videos of your snapshots and also have multiple albums for multiple angles, top teeth, bottom teeth, etc.

Here is one of my time-lapse videos from that app, though please excuse my rough-looking self and the fact I had trouble adequately capturing my teeth.

And of course, let’s not forget the SnapChat and now Instagram filters that expand the size of the mouth so you get a much more up-close-and-personal look at the teeth status. Those are always fun.

At The End of Your Plan

Now, this section is not official Smile Direct Club advice, but is merely a point for you to consider as you get closer to the end of your treatment plan.

SDC’s official advice is that, once your plan is done and you’ve completed your last day, you will need to wear your aligners full-time for two weeks, then you can begin to wear your aligners for only 12 hours a day. (Most people choose to wear them at night.)

However, my fellow Facebook groupies disagree. They suggest that, since our teeth moved so quickly, there is no way to sustain such quick movement in only 12 hours per day.

I tend to think they’re probably right, though it probably varies by person.

My guess is that SDC says this so that they can say the plans only last an average of 6 months — they’re probably right, the treatment plans where you get new aligners every week or two probably do average 6 months.

But I’d suggest that if you want sustained improvement and less digression, you might want to consider drawing out the time you wear your retainers.

Once I got my retainers at the end of my plan, I did wear them 22 hours a day for a few weeks. And then I kind of slacked off.

I didn’t find too much problem, except that my problem tooth did feel a bit of pressure when I put my retainers back on, which means it was trying to go back and hide, when I want it pushed forward. (Note: I have needed refinements based on that tooth, and will be updating my progress.)

However, after a few weeks of wearing my aligners practically all day and then only doing about 15-18 hours per day, I felt comfortable that my teeth would be fine with that schedule for a while.

Okay, well, that is all I can think to share with your with now. I will continue to update my progress as I go along. You can find that post here.

So, what did you think? Were these tips helpful? Do you have any other products you use regularly that you would recommend?

Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear from you!

To read more about my Smile Direct Club Journey and Tips, you can go HERE

***And don’t forget, to check out more info from Smile Direct Club themselves and get a $100 discount (sometimes more) when you sign up, go to this link. (Input your email so they can email you your discount code.)***


1:, 2019

23 thoughts on “How to Care for Your Teeth & Clear Aligners (Smile Direct Club, Invisalign)”

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