Pin Icon Phone Icon

The History of Invisalign

In recent years, Invisalign has evolved into more than “just” an alternative to traditional metal braces. Today, Invisalign treatment is a full-fledged competitor to conventional braces for many people who want to improve the appearance of their smile.

While a lot of people have heard of Invisalign, far fewer are familiar with its origins. With Invisalign generating 22.5 percent more revenue in the second quarter of 2019 in a year-over-year analysis, bringing the company’s quarterly total up to a record $600.7 million, it’s no wonder why a large number of people are curious about the treatment’s humble beginnings.

How Invisalign Got Its Start

Although you might think Invisalign is the product of the ingenuity of an orthodontist or dentist, that’s not the case. Invisalign was started by four students attending Stanford University, none of whom had any orthodontic training.

Zia Chishti is credited with coming up with the idea for Invisalign. When he was a college student, Chishti went to his orthodontist to have his metal braces removed. With it taking as long to remove conventional braces as it takes to put them on, Chishti had plenty of time to think about a better way for people to achieve their best smile.

When his braces were removed, Chishti’s orthodontist gave him a plastic retainer. As he looked at his “old school” retainer, Chishti realized that using a series of similar retainers could straighten teeth as effectively as metal braces. At the same time, Chishti noted that the retainers would offer some benefits braces don’t, such as allowing a wearer to remove the retainers to clean them or when they wanted to eat something.

A Partnership Is Formed

To make his idea a reality, Chishti teamed up with Kelsey Wirth. Almost immediately, the duo turned to other Stanford students to find developers. As they looked for developers, Chishti and Wirth met Apostolos Lerios and Brian Freyburger. Together, the four innovators formed Align Technology in 1997.

Lerios and Freyburger spearheaded the efforts needed in computer graphics. Working with fellow graduate student Marcy Levoy, the developers employed CAD modeling and 3D printers to bring geometry to life as they brought the realization of Invisalign ever closer. Around this time, Kleiner Perkins Caufield became the first investor in Align Technology.

Using a campus lab, Levoy, Freyburger and Lerios mastered the technology necessary to make what they referred to as “incremental retainers.” With Align Technology’s headquarters in a Menlo Park, CA garage, the innovators created a program that could model a person’s bite and create successive sets of retainers that would perfect the individual’s smile over time.

Getting Approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The founders of Align Technology worked to create the original version of Invisalign for a year. Once they created Invisalign, it was time to submit their product to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval. In 1998, the FDA approved Invisalign as an orthodontic treatment.

The Adoption of Invisalign

Even after the FDA gave its hard-earned blessing to the original Invisalign retainer, orthodontists and dentists were slow to adopt the new product. Most orthodontists and dentists were reluctant to use Invisalign because they preferred using the techniques they’ve been using for years, techniques that were proven to work. Some hesitated to use Invisalign because they feared it wouldn’t work as well as braces and it might require patients to undergo a second treatment to produce the desired results.

While many orthodontists and dentists were slow to warm up to Invisalign, the clear aligners became increasingly popular among consumers who didn’t want to settle for metal braces. As consumer demand for Invisalign increased, a growing number of dentists and orthodontists began using Invisalign to straighten their patients’ smiles.

A Turning Point Is Reached in 2000

By 2000, Align Technology had raised enough money to launch a $31 million TV advertising campaign. As reported by “The New York Times,” the company’s ad campaign was the “most aggressive” promotional campaign the dental industry has ever witnessed.

With consumer demand for Invisalign treatment continuing to grow, 75 percent of the orthodontists practicing in the United States had received Invisalign training by 2000. With such great success, Align Technology started offering similar training to dentists in the same year.

Homegrown Competition: OrthoClear

In 2001, Align Technology raised millions of dollars through an initial public offering. Despite that success, the company’s original founders, Chishti and Wirth, left the organization just two years later. Thomas Prescott stepped in to serve as the company’s new CEO and he quickly put an end to Align Technology’s over the top spending on marketing.

At the same time, Chishti founded a new company called OrthoClear. Chishti’s new organization was based on the same idea as Invisalign. Align Technology sued OrthoClear and a court sided with the former over the latter company. To settle their differences, OrthoClear accepted $20 million from Align Technology and agreed to shut down its operations.

Invisalign: The Current State of Affairs

While Invisalign has changed very little from its original design, Align Technology has developed new applications for its clear aligners such as Invisalign Teen. In addition to new applications, Align Technology now has strict standards for the amount of training a dentist or orthodontist must undergo to earn an Invisalign certification.

Since Invisalign was first introduced, it’s been used to improve more than six million smiles, including over 1.4 smiles belonging to teenagers. Invisalign isn’t limited to patients located in the United States. The treatment is actually readily available in countries around the world.

Clearsmile Orthodontics: Your Local Source for Invisalign Treatment

If you’re interested in Invisalign treatment, we invite you to contact Clearsmile Orthodontics to learn more. Our resident Invisalign specialist, Dr. Colin Webb, creates custom Invisalign treatment plans for hundreds of eager patients every six months, and he’ll be happy to do the same for you.

When you visit our Charlotte, NC office, you’ll see that we use Invisalign to treat a variety of issues, such as crossbites, overbites, and spacing. Make an appointment with Clearsmile Orthodontics to see if Invisalign is right for you now!