More DC-Area Kids and Teens Are Wearing Invisible Braces—and It’s Not Just About Aesthetics

Pediatric dentists and orthodontists say they’re treating more young people with clear aligners.

Traditional wire braces were once an adolescent rite of passage. (The colorful rubber bands! The poking wires! The ill-fated flirtations with popcorn, apples, and chewing gum!) These days, kids have another option: clear aligners, removable plastic “trays” fitted to the teeth and swapped out every one to two weeks to advance treatment. The “invisible” braces aren’t new, but area pediatric dentists and orthodontists say that in recent years they’re treating more young people with the trays versus mouthfuls of metal.

Some of the increased use can be attributed to improved choices and technology. A key shift began in October 2017, when 40 patents that had helped Invisalign dominate the market expired, paving the way for new brands offering treatment at lower prices. (Aligners can cost anywhere from $945 to upward of $7,000.)

More competition also begets better products—a key point for Maddy Goodman, an orthodontist at Harmony Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics in Bethesda. “The technology has gotten so much better, in terms of how effective aligners are, that it’s made us as dentists and orthodontists more comfortable treating with it,” she says Goodman. Currently, about 65 percent of her pediatric patients have opted for clear aligners over metal braces. In addition to improvements with the plastic trays, Goodman can use digital scans to customize the fit, making for a more accurate and comfortable process than in the past, when molds sometimes yielded errors. And because aligners don’t need tightening or emergency appointments to fix a broken wire, patients spend less time in the doctor’s office, skipping to the next tray if an aligner is damaged or lost. “I prefer [clear aligners] in a lot of cases because I think they can do some things that braces can’t, and can do them faster,” says Goodman.

Recent years have also brought products designed for younger patients, such as Invisalign First, aligners for six-to-ten-year-olds who still have baby teeth. Most often, clear aligners are used on permanent teeth in the second phase of a two-part treatment plan. Derek Blank, a dentist at DC Pediatric Smiles in Bethesda, says most of the kids in his chair with clear aligners are in that second phase. However, he has patients as young as eight wearing invisible braces.

Dentists do note that compliance among kids is a concern. The aligners are effective only if worn at least 22 hours a day. Invisalign Teen’s plastic trays are stamped with blue dots that fade with use, indicating to practitioners whether or not a patient is wearing the device the required amount of time. While traditional braces are constantly working, aligners force kids and teens to be responsible for their own progress—not an easy task for every child. “What we’re hoping is that [treatment] allows that patient to be excited seeing their teeth move position,” says Blank. “They’re motivated by each new aligner they get.”

Even though the technology is available, not every situation calls for the clear-aligner route. Jarrett Caldwell, a dentist and orthodontist at Ivy City Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics in DC, says the majority of young people requesting clear aligners are between 13 and 15, though most of his patients donning them are over 15. For specific misalignments that call for treatments such as growth modification, Caldwell typically opts for brackets and wires. “The technology with clear aligners is improving, and it is definitely a benefit for patients—it gives them another option,” he says. “But there’s always going to be a role for traditional braces.”

Top Pediatric Dentists

This list of dentists, voted best by their peers for treating children and teens, first appeared in our March 2023 issue as part of a list of top dentists in all specialties.

Melanie Acosta

Silver Spring; 301-989-8994.

Amy H. Adair

Burke; 703-440-9701.

Felix J. Aguto

Waldorf; 301-206-1993.

Angela L. Austin

Alexandria; 703-942-8404.

Girish Banaji

Falls Church; 703-849-1300.

LaToya M. Barham

Springfield; 703-455-1339.

Reza Beheshti

Silver Spring; 240-752-8822.

Karen Benitez

Chevy Chase; 301-272-1246.

Richee K. Berry

Bowie; 301-383-0959.

Derek Blank

Bethesda; 301-363-9026.

Sara E. Bunin

Burke; 703-978-0051.

Keith F. Camper

Laurel; 301-691-4620.

Robert D. Camps

Silver Spring; 301-989-8994.

Charlie O. Coulter

DC; 202-873-9742.

Liliana Cuervo

Montgomery Village; 301-869-5437.

Mina Dadkhah

Alexandria; 703-417-9722. Also Sterling.

Jeffrey P. Davis

McLean; 703-848-8444.

Jayne E. Delaney

Alexandria; 703-370-5437.

Shailja D. Ensor

Rockville; 301-881-6170.

Neda Etessam

McLean; 703-821-1633.

Jena Fields

Silver Spring; 301-989-8994.

Sarah Ganjavi

Vienna; 703-938-6600.

Tiffany Gavin-Walker

Silver Spring; 301-989-8994.

Roselyne N. Gichana

Falls Church; 703-533-5511.

Jessica Goodman

Silver Spring; 301-989-8994.

John Han

Fairfax; 703-348-4216.

Heidi A. Herbst

Sterling; 703-444-3710.

Avionne A. Hill

DC; 202-873-9696.

Andrew I. Horng

Rockville; 301-881-0220.

Gema Island

Tysons; 703-790-1320.

Rishita A. Jaju

Reston; 571-350-3663.

Debra L. Jeffries

DC; 202-584-3848.

Neda Kalantar

Reston; 703-435-1500.

Jonathon Konz

Ashburn; 703-687-1581.

Gary R. Kramer

Burke; 703-978-0051.

Alan K. Kuwabara

DC; 202-244-6111.

Naveen Kwatra

Gaithersburg; 301-977-2200.

Lauren Lewis

Rockville; 301-881-6170.

Sy Majidi

DC; 202-849-3292.

Peter Markov

Arlington; 703-962-7814.

Niloofar Mofakhami

Oakton; 703-255-3424.

Carlos H. Monsalve

Herndon; 703-481-1115.

Ricardo A. Perez

Chevy Chase; 301-718-1012.

Gina C. Pham

Woodbridge; 703-490-5050. Also Dale City.

Roya Pilcher

DC; 202-237-2833.

Christine M. Reardon

Arlington; 703-579-0367.

Jessica E. Rubin

DC; 202-545-7200.

Andrew Jason Shannon

Vienna; 703-319-8370.

Elizabeth Shin

Bethesda; 301-941-7374.

Heather Sholander

Bethesda; 301-664-4220.

Emmanuel Skordalakis

Sterling; 703-421-3000.

Rory N. Smith

Alexandria; 703-370-5437.

Carla Stephan

Sterling; 703-421-3000.

Adam H. Ta

Alexandria; 703-922-4000.

Ruksana Talaksi

Centreville; 703-266-9090.

Cris Ann Ternisky

McLean; 703-356-1875.

My Tran

Alexandria; 703-922-4000.

David M. Treff

Burke; 703-712-8077.

Jack Weil

Vienna; 703-255-2573.

Nahee Williams

Springfield; 703-455-1339.

Claudia N. Williams-Conerly

Silver Spring; 301-565-3536.

Valerie V. Woo

Ashburn; 703-729-7005.


This article appears in the June 2023 issue of Washingtonian.

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in Northeast DC.