As an adolescent I was reasonably lucky as I didn’t need braces but over the past 10 years one of my lower front teeth decided to go wandering and resulted in me developing a bit of a crooked smile. Initially I just ignored this change but late year I decided the situation was only getting worse and it was time to act.
As an adolescent my only option would have been the old fashioned silver grey ‘tram tracks’ and while that causes no end of angst in teenagers, it’s probably worse as an adult. While there are many modern day alternatives, I opted for the Invisalign process having seen it work very well first hand with a work colleague. As the name suggests its about as invisible as it gets, and in theory is the easiest to manage.
I chose this teeth correction option for three key reasons however there are other benefits. First, the almost invisible appearance although as somewhere who wears these aligners, I can now spot them very easily on others. Second, less face to face visits to the dentist. And most importantly, I can eat what I like.
This article may appear to be an advert for Invisalign however like any teeth correction option there are some important impacts on hiking experience. As such, I wished I had learned some key lessons earlier rather than having to go through a process of trail and error to best manage these aligners on-trail.
First I need to talk about my day-to-day experience in the ‘real world’. The recommendation from my dentist was to wear these aligners for 22 hours a day to get the best result and as a big eater who was used to constantly snacking through the day, this was the first habit I needed to change. After a bit of trial and error I realised I couldn’t survive, at least in my case, on eating just three meals a day with no snacking particularly given I usually eat breakfast at 5:30am and lunch at 11:00am. I was just running out of energy throughout the day when doing this. I eventually settled on three main meals and two snacks a day in addition to having something to eat just before dinner. In reality, by the time I had eaten my meals and snacks I was probably wearing the aligners for about 21.5 hours a day which was close to the dentist’s recommendation.
One other thing to note here is that you learn very quickly that removing your aligners is best done in private as it involves sticking your fingers in your mouth – not the sort of thing you want to be doing at the dinner table or public eatery if you can help it.
So how did my on-trail experience go with the aligners? On day hikes I managed this process very much like I did at home and work with breakfast and lunch but with one snack throughout the day.
When I shifted to extended multi day hikes this is where things went pear shaped, at least in the beginning. On extended, multi-day hikes it’s not unusual for me to walk anywhere between 20-30km in a day and my normal day-to-day routine doesn’t work. I have learnt over the years that depending on the length and complexity of the hike, I can burn anywhere up to 8,000+ Calories in a single day with around 5,500 being typical for a 20km day. This means that not only do I need to eat bigger meals but I also need to snack regularly. For me this was on average about every 60-90 minutes which meant I needed to put on, and take off, my aligners around 7-11 times a day depending on the distance travelled otherwise I was ‘bonking‘, and with every food break I also needed to clean my teeth before I put the aligners back on again.
So in the end I came up with the following routine. With Invisalign you do a self scan with your phone (and the special attachment) every 10 days which is easy when you are at home with phone signal and a mirror, but doesn’t work in remote areas on trails that don’t have phone signal. The first step I put in place was to pause my dental scans for the duration of a my hike which delayed me moving onto my next set of aligners by about two days but that delay could be longer depending on when you last took your scan. No big deal on a hike of around 5-7 days duration but I wouldn’t suggest this for a 5-7 week long hike as it will impact on your treatment progress.
And secondly I did trim my snacking back to a very small degree and as such with main meals and snacking ended up removing an replacing my aligners approximately around 6-7 times a day depending on what I was doing. I must also say here that my teeth cleaning wasn’t as robust as it usually was but I did make sure that there was no food stuck between my teeth before putting my aligners back on, so lots of flossing, and I did thoroughly rinse my mouth out to get rid of most of the leftover sugars as I could!
One other option I have heard of hikers doing was to only wear their aligners at nighttime and not during the day but this wasn’t an option that I tried so can’t speak to that process. Again this would also delay progress.
Whatever form of teeth straightening option you may choose they all have their pros and cons but one thing I would consider is avoiding extended long distance (multi-week) hikes while you are going through your treatment process otherwise you should start your treatment straight after. My time wearing my Invisalign aligners will be under 12 months so limiting myself to hikes of a week or less isn’t a big impost for this time period. Having said that I do know that people with really crooked teeth may be wearing their aligners for anywhere up to around two years so plan ahead.
For hikes of around a week or two you you may find that your treatment time could be extended as a result but so long as you are aware of that it’s manageable and you just need to work out how you will manage your on-trail experience.