Can you eat with your aligner in?

Aligners, especially the invisible variant (e.g. Invisalign), are extremely popular these days. The best invisible aligners allow teeth straightening without needing to fit unsightly brackets and wires on your teeth. However, they do have some eating restrictions associated with them. Basically, it is never a good idea to eat with your aligner in. While you can do so, it is highly recommended that you do not. There are numerous reasons why this may be the case, and we will explain all of them. We will also provide you with all the information about what happens if you do eat without removing your aligners and why smoking and alcohol may negatively impact your aligner experience.

Should you eat with your aligner in?

If the question is, can you eat with your aligner in, then the answer is simple: “Yes, you definitely can.” However, if the question becomes should you eat with your aligner in, then the answer turns 180 degrees to a solid “No.”

Invisible aligners are simply not designed for you to eat with them in, as that may hinder the straightening process and lead to many other difficulties down the proverbial road. Even if you have done all the things to do before getting braces, you still need to make sure that you follow the recommended procedure once you do get to wear them. And, in the case of invisible aligners, that includes removing them when you want to eat.

person holding an aligner to show that you should not eat with your aligner in
Eating with aligners is possible but not advisable.

What happens when you eat with your aligner in?

The first thing that might happen when you eat with your aligner in is that you may break or warp the aligner itself. As mentioned previously, these medical devices are not designed to withstand the pressure and tension that comes from chewing and may break due to these forces. Furthermore, eating with aligners may result in food getting trapped inside them. This may then lead to plaque buildup and tooth decay. Of course, trapped food also means that there is an increased risk of gum disease. While there are things you can do to prevent gum disease, it is always better to minimize the risk. And that means eating with your aligners out.

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There are no foods that are “aligner-friendly” either. Even soft foods, sugar-free gums, and similar products are not suitable for consumption while you have your aligners in. That being said, the main problem is not the food itself; it’s the forces involved.

One thing that you absolutely can do while wearing your aligners is to drink plenty of cool water. In fact, water is pretty much the only beverage that is safe to drink with your aligner in, provided that the water is within the normal temperature range. Extremely cold or hot temperatures can damage your aligners, regardless of the source. If you plan on drinking just about anything else, you will want to remove your aligner first.

What happens to the straightening process if you eat with your aligner in?

an aligner in gloved hands
You want your aligners to be pristine.

If you disregard all the professional advice about eating with aligners and decide to do it anyway, know that the straightening process may be affected significantly. First, your treatment time will be longer if you constantly eat with your aligners. This is because your aligners will inevitably warp due to the additional strain of eating with them. The main issue is not the warping itself; you can simply replace your aligners. The main problem is that you might not notice the warping until you visit your orthodontist. One of the qualities of a good orthodontist is that they can spot minuscule irregularities. And since you are most likely not a good orthodontist, you may be unable to.

It is not at all uncommon to double or even triple your treatment time if you choose to eat with your aligner in. However, some people are completely fine with this if that means that they can eat without hassle. And, if the only thing that was affected were treatment time, they would be perfectly fine doing it. However, eating with your aligners also increases plaque buildup and the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Lastly, replacing your aligners due to warping and breaking might not be free. Most companies that sell invisible aligners have a certain limit on replacements. Some low-cost companies only offer a single set. Since the replacement set of aligners costs anywhere from $50 to $100, replacing your aligners on a regular basis is not something you want to do.

Aligners and alcohol

To put it quite simply, you should never drink with your aligners in. The reason for that is that alcohol contains sugar, something that many people are unaware of. Mixed drinks are the worst, of course, but even beer and wine have considerable amounts of sugar in them. If you absolutely want to drink, it is always best to remove your aligners first. However, note that you still need to maintain the 20-22 hour wearing time throughout the day. This means that you might be able to “squeeze” in a drink or two, provided that you eat fast as well. In fact, meal planning with braces of any kind, especially invisible aligners, is crucial. But let’s say you disregard the advice and drink with your aligners in, regardless. What happens then?

First of all, there’s the fact that the sugar from alcohol will negatively impact your treatment. Second, alcoholic drinks (especially dark beers) may stain your aligners. While stained aligners are not a huge issue, medically speaking, as the stains will not impact their capability to straighten your teeth, what may happen is that your teeth will look dark or stained while wearing aligners. Considering that most people wear invisible aligners due to their visual appeal, this must be avoided at all costs.

Smoking and aligners

a person smoking
Smoking will negatively impact your treatment.

Speaking of staining, the absolute best way to stain your aligners is to smoke while wearing them. The nicotine and tar present in all tobacco products will inevitably discolor your aligners. And it is not only aligners that are in danger, either. By smoking with your aligners in, you are allowing the tobacco, nicotine, and tar to get caught within them. And that can cause both your teeth and gums to be exposed to these substances for a prolonged period of time. This increases the risk of gum disease, tooth decay, enamel erosion, and discoloration.

To put it in simple terms, you should quit smoking before you start your treatment with aligners. There are many different types of braces to take into consideration if you absolutely need to smoke while wearing them, but invisible aligners are not one of them. That being said, there is nothing that actually prevents you from smoking even with your aligners in, provided you are brave enough to take on all the associated risks.

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Particularly problematic foods

Since aligners are not designed for eating, you can say that all foods are problematic. Basically, anything that you choose to eat while wearing the aligners will have a negative impact. However, some foods are worse than others. For example, any starch-rich foods (pasta, bread, potato chips, etc.) are particularly problematic. These foods are a lot easier to get trapped between the teeth and the aligner. And as we already have mentioned, trapped food usually leads to cavities and tooth decay and makes it harder to maintain your oral health. While it is not impossible to avoid this situation by carefully brushing and flossing, it is a time-consuming process. And, given that you need to wear your aligners for 20-22 hours a day, time may be something that you do not have.

Another particularly problematic food group is “hard foods”, such as apples and nuts. Aside from getting trapped, these foods can also cause aligner warping. Not by themselves, obviously, but due to the extra force that is needed when chewing them. Other hard foods include hard candies, some cough drops, and even throat lozenges.

As for beverages, water is the only safe choice. You want to avoid anything that has sugar in it, such as sweet coffee, tea, sodas, etc. And make sure you avoid energy drinks and certain sparkling water beverages, as they are highly acidic. If in doubt, consider whether your beverage of choice contains any acids or sugar. If it does, then it is not safe to drink while wearing your aligners.

person holding a glass of water
Water is the only safe beverage when wearing aligners.

Eating “rules” of wearing aligners

Now that you know the risks and dangers of eating with your aligner in, it is time to see what is the right approach to take. For that reason, we’ve prepared four simple rules to follow:

  1. Always remove your aligners before you eat
  2. Drink only water while wearing aligners
  3. Do not succumb to temptation
  4. Brush and floss regularly

How to remove aligners properly

First, you will want to wash your hands before even touching the aligner. This will prevent the spreading of germs to your aligner. Then remove the aligner carefully, rinse it with clean water, clean it with orthodontist-recommended cleaner and a soft-bristled toothbrush, and store it in its case. Place the case somewhere out of reach, as accidental falls may damage the aligner.

Water is the elixir of life (and completely safe for aligners)

The best thing you can do is to adjust to drinking water only while wearing your aligners. Water will not discolor them, nor will it introduce any potentially dangerous substances. Of course, you can still enjoy your favorite drinks, but you will want to remove your aligners first. Just make sure that you still wear the aligners for the necessary period of time each day.

Do not be tempted to eat with your aligner in

a strawberry on a fork, symbolizing the danger when you eat with your aligner in
Do not fall for temptations.

Most people who wear aligners will have “just a bite” while wearing them, thinking that no big harm can be done. After all, needing to remove your aligners every time you want to have a nibble can be quite annoying. But the problem with “only just a bite” is that it never ends in just that. What usually happens is that you form a habit of eating with your aligners in, and as time passes, you do it more and more. And by doing that, you are minimizing any long-term health benefits of braces you get from wearing your aligners. However, if you are adamant about not eating while wearing your aligners, you may find weight loss a pleasant side effect.

Brush and floss regularly

Every time you finish eating, you will want to brush and floss your teeth before snapping the aligners into place. This is particularly important, as any food or bacteria left on your teeth will essentially be trapped between them and your aligners. This will increase the chance of tooth decay and will damage tooth enamel over time. If you can adopt one habit only, this is the one to go for. After all, brushing and flossing only takes a couple of minutes, and your teeth and oral health will be extremely grateful for it.

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All this said, invisible aligners are perfect for people who do not wish to make any compromises where their food is involved. The great thing about aligners is the fact that they are removable. That means you get to eat whatever you want if you remove the aligners beforehand. While you mustn’t eat with your aligner in as it is a big “no-no,” nothing is stopping you from eating anything with them out.

For more information on aligners, invisible braces, and anything else you might want to know about oral health, consult the rest of the Consumer Opinion Guide. Our knowledge database is there to provide you with accurate, up-to-date information that will make it easy to make the best choices!

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