Traveling with Invisalign

Traveling with Invisalign by Diana Southern

You probably haven’t noticed, but I have braces.

Braces? Really? At twenty-something? Yeah, and if you knew me back in middle school, you know I already had braces, in like, 7th grade. But I lost my retainer in college (actually, it was stolen), and by the time I got back to my orthodontist in St. Louis, my top teeth had gone right back to the way they were before. And now, 9 years later, I finally decided to fix it. Again. ::sigh::

Lucky me, the world now has Invisalign, so I don’t have to go through the standard braces charade a second time! And despite the short durations I spend in any one place these days, I found a way to fit straightening my teeth (metal free) in with my travels! Read on to find out what Invisalign is all about, and what the process is like when you’re constantly moving from place to place. 

Traveling with Invisalign: Fitting Braces Into My Nomadic Life by Diana Southern on North to South

Invisalign in Amsterdam — Yes, it’s in! Can you tell?

What is Invisalign and How Does it Work?

Invisalign is an “invisible” teeth-straightening method that uses a series of clear plastic retainers custom-manufactured for your teeth. The retainers are held snugly in place by the shape of your teeth and a number of “anchors” connected to your teeth. I wear each retainer for two weeks and then move on to a new one, with each retainer straightening my teeth one step further.

Those are my words. For the official description of what Invisalign is and how it works, visit their website.

Getting Fitted for Invisalign

My teeth were what my dentist called a “borderline case.” My dentist explained to me that there are two types of Invisalign: the “Express” version ($3,000), which straightens teeth in 10 retainers or less, and the standard version ($4,500), which requires 11 or more. I got a run-down of the procedure and asked about working Invisalign into my travel schedule. When my dentist assured me it’d be easy to accommodate my travels, I paid the non-refundable $250 (which went toward my total treatment cost) to have impressions made and sent to Invisalign to determine their proposed treatment plan.

A week later my dentist received the plan, and I found out I was an Express case (Woohoo!) which meant less time and money to get this done! I committed to the treatment, my dentist sent his approval of the treatment plan to Invisalign, and then we waited for Invisalign to ship my retainers (“trays” as they call them) to the dental office.  One week later I got a call that they were in, and I went in the next day to pick up my trays.

Traveling with Invisalign: Fitting Braces Into My Nomadic Life by Diana Southern on North to South

Week 5 of Invisalign in Salzburg

Adjusting My Treatment for Travel

Ian and I had already planned a two-month Europe trip scheduled to start a month later, and luckily the impression and tray shipments both moved more quickly than expected. I was all set a full two weeks before we left for Europe.

My dentist normally schedules an Invisalign check-up every 6 weeks, but I got to take 10 weeks’ worth of trays with me to accommodate my trip to Europe. I’ll check-in with my dentist when I return to the U.S. in late June, go traveling again for another six weeks (completing my 10 trays around the end of August), and have a more permanent retainer created prior to departing for New Zealand in the fall. At that point, I’ll be pretty much done with my Invisalign check-ups. I’ll be wearing my final retainer full-time for 3 months, after which I’ll switch to nighttime wear for two years.

Traveling with Invisalign – The Story So Far

I’ve been wearing an Invisalign retainer for the past 5 weeks non-stop, except for eating, and I’ll continue to do so for the next seven months or so. (That includes 3 months of wearing my final retainer at the end.) Here’s what’s notable in my experience so far:

Minor Pain for Short Periods

My first retainer was very tight for the first 3 days, and my teeth did hurt a small amount, but mostly my gums just had a sort of itchy sensation for those first days when my teeth were moving the most. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the pain that comes with standard metal braces.

My next retainer was even less painful, with just about 1 or 2 days of tightness and minor discomfort. I’ve just started my third, and it seems even better, though I did experience a minor headache which wore off after that first day. It seems like with each two-week tray period, my teeth are gradually moving for about the first 5-7 days and then they’re just staying in place for the remaining 7-9 days.

Traveling with Invisalign: Fitting Braces Into My Nomadic Life by Diana Southern on North to South

Invisalign comes out for Belgian waffles in Brussels!

Removing Invisalign to Eat and Drink

You’re only really “allowed” to keep your tray in while drinking cool water. Anything else, and it’s supposed to come out. And you’re supposed to brush after you eat (if you can) or at a minimum rinse your mouth with water before putting your tray back in. I keep a folding toothbrush and toothpaste in my purse for long travel days, but mostly I use the rinse method and then brush as soon as I return to my Airbnb/hotel.

This has all been pretty okay, despite the minor embarrassment associated with removing a retainer before you eat, which I’m pretty much over anyway. Street food is a little more problematic than sit-down dining since I’m juggling my open purse with my open retainer case and pulling my retainer out (which requires both hands), but in my two weeks of traveling Europe and eating street food almost every day, I’ve gotten used to this, too. Having Invisalign does make me re-think whether or not I really want to eat something, and sometimes I do decide eating is more trouble than it’s worth. (I’m talking about extraneous eating here, not meals.)

One last point about eating/drinking with Invisalign is that I do have to be EXTREMELY careful to not lose my retainer. If I do, I’ll have to step back to my previous retainer and leave that in for the rest of my trip, until I can return to the U.S. and have a replacement one made. To avoid a situation like that, I always make sure I have the case for my tray in my purse and make no exceptions to my procedure of putting it in that case and zipping up my purse before I begin eating or drinking.

Traveling with Invisalign: Fitting Braces Into My Nomadic Life by Diana Southern on North to South

Drinking beer with Invisalign in: not recommended. But I made an exception for Amsterdam’s King’s Day.

Carrying $1,000 Worth of Invisalign in my Backpack

I doubt anyone would intentionally steal someone’s Invisalign (much like I doubt the thief who stole my retainer in college really wanted it), but my next 8 weeks of retainers are packed up in my backpack, and that means if my whole backpack is lost or stolen, I’ll have to pay to have those remade. (I think the number is something like $150 per tray for remakes, so it’d be considerably costly if that were to happen.) We travel with a travel safe for our electronics, so I just throw my Invisalign trays in there along with my laptop when we go out for the day. All in all, it’s not a huge deal, but I make sure I have my trays like a make sure I have my laptop whenever we’re leaving for a new destination.

They don’t take up a ton of room in my bag, either. I’m traveling with only one backpack on my current trip, so even though packing space was scarce, it wasn’t hard to make room for my Invisalign.

Traveling with Invisalign: Fitting Braces Into My Nomadic Life by Diana Southern on North to South

Invisalign on top of the Eiffel Tower!

Do I Recommend Traveling with Invisalign?

Yes — as long as you’re the type of person that’s careful with your stuff when you travel! And most people won’t be traveling for as long of periods as I do while having Invisalign done, so traveling with Invisalign should be an even smaller concern for you.

I think if you’re into the swing of things with Invisalign before you start your trip, and you practice good habits to ensure you don’t lose your tray(s), traveling with Invisalign isn’t really that different from wearing your tray at home!

Have you ever traveled with Invisalign or a retainer? How about traditional braces? Share your experience with us in the comments!

About the Author

Diana Southern
In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.

2 Responses

  1. Nomad October 11, 2016 / 10:23 am

    My concern is with countries where tap water is not clean; or when going hiking outdoors. My profession revolves around such trips, so it’s not really possible for me to avoid them. I spend weeks in such countries at a time, and there’s no clean tap water even in hotels. Bottled water only. Did you find any good routines in how to manage in those situations? How do you brush the retainers using only bottled water? How did you manage outdoors/camping? I’m confident that maintaining my oral hygiene is going to be a chore in these countries, and I almost regret for not having taken normal braces.

    • Diana Southern October 11, 2016 / 6:40 pm

      I’ve definitely brushed with bottled water before, and no, it’s not fun. For me it’s while camping, most recently during a 3-week campervan trip when the water pump in our van was having some issues. It’s certainly a pain to brush a retainer with bottled water — the whole pouring thing is awkward and definitely trickier than running water from a sink — but you get used to it. You brush the outside of the retainer while it’s still in your mouth, do a little rinse and then take the retainer out and pour a little water inside it to help get a foam going when you brush the inside. Hold your toothbrush in your mouth whenever your hands are occupied with holding the retainer and pouring the water… You’ll find a system that works for you. 🙂

      I had regular braces when I was younger, and I had to go in for check-ups much more frequently than I did with Invisalign, so Invisalign has worked really well for me with traveling. The dental office receives all the retainers (“trays”) at the beginning, so they were able to give me as many as I needed to get me through my travels. They also ship internationally, so if you lose or break a retainer, it’s not like all hope is lost.

      Having any type of braces, with or without adding travel, is tricky and not so much fun. But I’m currently in Australia (with straight teeth — yay!) in the home stretch of wearing my final retainer daily now, and I’m so happy I didn’t put it off longer just because I was traveling! Braces require discipline, especially if your profession takes you places where you’ll be brushing with a bottle of water, but I think the tradeoff of dealing with a few periods of annoying brushing situations for a lifetime of straight teeth makes it all worth it in the end.

      Best of luck traveling with Invisalign! And don’t forget to keep your case with you at all times. 😉

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