Invisalign vs braces—the pros and cons of each and which is best for you when you're 40+

When it comes to Invisalign vs braces, here's what you need to know—because it’s never too late for a straighter, healthier smile.

women close up wearing invisalign vs braces
(Image credit: Future/Getty Images)

Orthodontic treatments aren’t just for awkward middle-schoolers. In fact, your 40s or 50s can be the best time to get crooked teeth and overbite problems under control. For one thing, you can get the work done on your own terms, on your own budget. But when deciding whether to choose Invisalign vs braces, there’s a lot to consider.

Braces sometimes get a bad rap, but clear aligners can be a little awkward, too. Say you’re at a barbecue... With braces, you're able to tuck into the spread straight away but will need a knife and fork to hand, as biting down on tougher foods can damage braces. But, with Invisalign, you’ll have to sneak away to slip off those trays and have a toothbrush and soap on hand to clean both your teeth and the aligners before fixing them in place again.

Neither situation is ideal, but in less than two years, you’ll have a new, radiant smile (especially if you're also using one of the best electric toothbrushes)—not to mention a lifetime to enjoy the aesthetic and health benefits. When it comes to Invisalign vs braces, both have pros and cons. We weigh up which is more suitable for your needs, with the help of dental experts. 

What Invisalign and braces have in common

Both Invisalign and braces offer a natural look

Products such as Invisalign and Spark aligners are made of clear, medical-grade plastic. While they’re hard at work straightening your teeth, there’s nothing obstructing the view of your pearly whites. “It’s almost impossible for someone to notice you’re straightening your teeth,” says Dr Bill Dischinger of Dischinger Orthodontics. You may just take a little bit of time to adjust your speech when wearing clear aligners, as they can cause a slight lisp for some wearers. 

While we can’t say the same for braces when it comes to being discreet, some types are much less noticeable than the silvery brackets and wires you might be familiar with. “There have been advances in ceramic braces with tooth-colored brackets that provide a more aesthetic look, such as Symetri Clear,” explains Dr Jeffery Summers of Summers Orthodontics. “There are also braces that go on the back of teeth, called lingual braces, that cannot be seen at all.” This means lingual braces may be the least visible option to other people since clear aligners can have a plasticky appearance up close. Either way, you don’t necessarily have to put up with a smile that makes you feel self-conscious while getting your teeth straightened.

Both usually deliver the same long-term results

Whether you opt for Invisalign or braces, you’ll likely end up with the same results in the long term, unless you have a difficult case. “Patients may notice a change not just in their teeth, but in their entire face. Changes can include a fuller, wider smile, improved facial balance, straighter, less crowded and crooked teeth, and an improved profile, which can help provide a more youthful look,” Dr Summers explains. Many Invisalign treatment plans also offer complimentary teeth whitening after the treatment, so enquire with your dentist whether this is an option for you. 

If you’re just starting orthodontic treatments in your 40s or 50s, prepare to look and feel younger than ever when you’re done! And if you've always been self-conscious about your teeth, it could also do a lot for your confidence.

Invisalign vs braces—quick comparisons

But if the results are often the same, how do you choose between the two treatment options? At a glance, even the specifications of both options look similar, so for many patients, the deciding factor is which treatment suits their lifestyle better.

  • Price—Invisalign tends to be slightly more expensive, but expect both treatments to set you back a few thousand dollars or pounds at least. 
  • Treatment time—typically, you can expect to wear both Invisalign and braces any time from nine months to three years depending on the severity of your misalignment, but braces are fixed so will straighten teeth more quickly than clear aligners.
  • The finished result—both offer a smile transformation, but fixed braces are more suitable for more severe cases. 

Benefits of clear aligners like Invisalign 

Clear aligners are a great choice for those who want to straighten their teeth without the commitment of a full-time brace. The aligners can be taken in and out as needed, but dentists recommend you wear them for at least 22 hours a day and throughout the night. Like braces, the molds can be a little tight and uncomfortable at first, but your teeth soon adapt to the pressure and they come with a number of benefits in relation to fixed braces. Prices range from $3,000-$8,000 (and £1,500-£6,000 in the UK).

1. Keeping on top of dental hygiene is easier

A packet of dental floss

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Perhaps the biggest advantage to Invisalign and similar options is that it’s incredibly easy to keep your teeth and the aligners clean. “Since the trays are removable, it's easier to brush and floss the teeth as normal, compared to having to clean around wires and brackets,” notes Dr Paul Springs of Timeless Dentistry. With clear aligners, you can keep using your usual electric toothbrush twice a day, without changing your routine. It's a little more time-consuming to have to keep removing aligners, but it will soon become a natural part of your day, like your daily skincare routine

It’s a different story for braces, at least until you’ve mastered how to floss your teeth behind the wires. “A con for braces is that food tends to get stuck and cause bad breath in the short term, or tooth decay over the long term,” says Dr Dischinger. This can pose a higher risk for more mature teeth. “The 40s is such an important time to take care of your mouth. You don’t want tooth decay to start then,” he continues.

2. They tend to be less uncomfortable

Every time you go in to get your braces tightened, you’ll end up with an aching mouth for a little while and in some cases, mouth ulcers. “The wire adjustments to the braces are often a bit more painful in the short term,” says Dr Springs. Though there is still some pressure when you wear a new set of aligners, it is usually less intense than the pain or discomfort felt with braces. 

With clear aligners, as Dr Dischinger explains, you may experience, “less discomfort since there are no brackets and wires to tighten and no brackets to rub against the inside of the mouth.” Clear aligners could be your best bet if you want the most painless, comfortable straightening experience.

3. You can eat any type of food

Caramel apples on a plate

(Image credit: Getty Images)

With braces, you have to be cautious about what you eat. “The downside is how careful you have to be to avoid knocking the brackets off your teeth, including avoiding certain foods,” says Dr Springs. That means no chewing gum and caramel apples, at least for a while.

But, since you’ll pop clear aligners off before every meal, you can enjoy whatever food you feel like, as long as your brush your teeth thoroughly after eating to ensure no food or stains are trapped within the aligners. 

For more information on Invisalign, read our Invisalign review

Benefits of fixed braces 

Fixed braces are the traditional choice when it comes to teeth straightening, and have come a long way since the days when a brace meant a mouth full of metal. While Invisalign has its own benefits, fixed braces can be more effective at moving the teeth quicker, so you'll have straighter pearly whites sooner.  Prices vary by style and specification but expect to pay in the region of $5,000 to $8,000 (and £3,000-£5,000 in the UK)

1. They're a better choice for tough cases

woman smiling wearing braces

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Despite the cleaning conundrum, braces are a more effective solution for complex cases. “They are usually able to fix bite issues that are too severe for Invisalign,” notes Dr Springs. “The biggest downside of Invisalign is that it can't predictably treat as many problems as braces can.” 

“Nobody is ever too old for a great smile and optimal health and wellness,” says Dr Summers. But as he explains, “Adults often have more complicated cases from prior gum disease or dental work, requiring the skill of a trained orthodontist.”

If there’s a lot of work to be done in solving your bite problems or misaligned teeth, you may find that clear aligners aren’t a viable option.

2. They're impossible to lose or get lazy about

If you’re forgetful or could see yourself skipping a few days of wearing your clear aligners, proceed with caution. Invisalign can be a little too easy to forget about. “You have to be careful not to lose the trays when you take them out to eat,” says Dr Springs. With Invisalign, you have to be strict about your morning and bedtime routine, making sure you thoroughly wash your aligners before placing them in for the night, while fixed braces are less high maintenance. 

If you want to cut out the temptation of abandoning your aligners or simply prefer a set-it-and-forget-it solution, braces may be for you. “Braces work faster, especially if you are forgetful about wearing the trays all day,” Dr Springs suggests. If you're sloppy with wearing Invisalign, the process could easily take double the time, whereas braces offer more reassurance that the effects will be likely to happen in the desired time frame. 

3. They tend to be slightly more affordable

woman with Invisalign

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to cost, your best bet is to get a quote from an orthodontist. “There can be a slight cost difference, but it all depends on what we are fixing and the term you are wearing either appliance,” explains Dr Bill Busch of NKC Dental. “On average, Invisalign is slightly more expensive, but in my opinion, worth it.” As a dentist for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dr Busch has done successful Invisalign treatments for many of the players.

Either way, prepare to spend a few thousand dollars (or pounds in the UK). “The cost of modern braces is comparable to traditional braces and clear aligners. This treatment typically ranges from $5,000 to $8,000,” estimates Dr Summers. He also notes that you may be able to get your treatment covered by some dental insurance plans. To avoid any surprises, he advises you to contact your health insurance provider to understand your coverage and out-of-pocket responsibility. 

Invisalign vs braces: the verdict

Ultimately, you should get an expert opinion before you decide which treatment is right for you. Most patients over the age of 40 who are considering having one of these procedures are more likely to be good candidates for braces. This is because older adults often have more complicated cases as a result of things like gum disease and receding gums, which are more common in older people. 

Make sure to visit an orthodontist or dentist to discuss which treatment will help you achieve your objective. Invisalign will not be suitable for all dental issues, but for some might be enough. As Dr Springs explains, “They will be able to see the bite issues that need to be fixed and can provide more details about cost and time to fix, and all the details that will really help with the decision.” 

woman&home thanks Dr Bill Dischinger of Dischinger Orthodontics, Dr Bill Busch of NKC Dental, Dr Jeffery Summers of Summers Orthodontics, and Dr Paul Springs of Timeless Dentistry for their time and expertise.

Ciara McGinley

Ciara McGinley is a meditation practitioner and health journalist. She qualified as a meditation teacher with the British School of Meditation in 2020 and is the founder of Finding Quiet, a series of classes, workshops and retreats that combine meditation practices and mindfulness techniques to make mindful living realistic in an always-switched-on modern world. She is all about bettering that mind-body connection but believes wellness looks different to everyone.

Ciara is also the former Health Channel Editor at woman&home and has covered all things health and wellbeing for years, from fitness to sleep to relationships.