In 1997, two Stanford University students, Zia Chishti and Kelsey Worth, had a revolutionary idea: to create the world's first complete clear aligner system. Known as Invisalign, the concept involved a series of removable clear plastic aligners aimed at adults looking for discreet orthodontic treatment. Chishti was an adult orthodontic patient at the time, but struggled with the inconveniences of traditional braces. He realized that retainers, previously only used as a way to keep teeth in place after treatment, could be used throughout the treatment process, an option that may be more convenient than traditional braces.
Chishti partnered with fellow student Kelsey Wirth, and the two found Apostolos Lerios and Brian Freyburger, also Stanford students, as technical co-founders. Together, they created Align Technology, the company that would bring Invisalign to the market. Before the invention of Invisalign, those who wanted straighter teeth but didn't want to have metal braces had few, if any, alternatives. Invisalign was a revolutionary invention and changed the technology of tooth alignment in the world of dentistry.
The use of innovative clear aligners provided patients with a comfortable and aesthetic alternative to traditional braces. Invisalign entered the orthodontic landscape and quickly transformed the industry. Align Technology is a manufacturer of 3D digital scanners and Invisalign clear aligners used in orthodontics. Treatment with clear aligners involves an orthodontist or dentist taking a mold of the patient's teeth, which is used to create a digital dental scan.
The computer model suggests steps between current and desired tooth positions, and aligners are created for each stage. Each aligner is worn 22 hours a day for one to two weeks. These slowly move the teeth to the position agreed between the orthodontist or dentist and the patient. The average treatment time is 13.5 months.
Chishti worked on her Invisalign concept in her bedroom, with the help of her friends at Stanford. When the Invisalign system was first developed, many of the aligner manufacturing processes were carried out by hand, and computer technicians had to modify each tooth of the computerized model individually. Chishti left the company in 2003, but Invisalign continued to grow thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign. As the idea became increasingly popular with consumers and orthodontists alike, Invisalign has invested heavily in training dentists.
Invisalign aligners are manufactured in Mexico and treatment plans are created in Costa Rica. Despite patent infringement litigation, no manufacturer has obtained a court order against another manufacturer. While other clear aligner products were introduced during this time, none of them matched the widespread popularity of Invisalign. The story of Invisalign does not just begin with the first set of plastic aligners, but starts much earlier as all of its invention is based on the desire for more effective and comfortable tooth smoothing solutions.
Align Technology also operates independent subsidiaries in Hong Kong and Australia that sell Invisalign in their respective markets. Invisalign made it possible for those who would never choose to have metal braces, whether for cosmetic or health reasons, to get the straightest teeth they want. While medicine is constantly evolving and changing, it would not be an exaggeration to say that metal braces experienced very little progress between the time they were first used and when Invisalign came on the market.