Although tried-and-true treatments like braces dominated the orthodontic industry for decades, clear aligners have skyrocketed in popularity, meeting the skyrocketing demand for less visible and more affordable options.
With clear aligners’ stock higher than ever, and a variety of clear aligner brands on the market, the big question is, are they right for you? Some clear aligners are better-suited to treat certain conditions than others. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most popular clear aligners available and help you decide whether they’re a good option for your teeth.
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What Are Clear Aligners?
In 1997, Invisalign pioneered the first mainstream clear aligner system, making it possible to correct a vast majority of cosmetic dental issues using discreet, often affordable clear aligners.
These are custom-crafted from medical-grade plastics by a dental professional based on molds or scans of your teeth. They come in a series and each aligner puts gentle pressure on your teeth, slowly moving them to the desired positions.
Today, the newest innovation in clear aligner treatment allows for faster, cheaper treatment from the comfort of your own home. Home aligner companies like Byte and SmileDirectClub have proven effective at correcting dental concerns like crowding, spacing, and even some mild bite conditions.
How Do Clear Aligners Work?
Adults seeking teeth straightening treatment often gravitate toward clear aligners because they eliminate the hassle and visibility of braces. Plus, they’re powerful — clear aligners can correct some of the most widespread cosmetic dental issues. Both in-office and at-home clear aligners have been proven to treat mild-to-moderate alignment issues, such as crowding and spacing. This means that the average person with slightly crooked teeth or a small gap between their teeth is a great fit for clear aligner treatment.
In addition to being barely noticeable, clear aligners also offer a reduced treatment time. In-office aligners like Invisalign and ClearCorrect often take 12–18 months, while at-home alternatives usually take around six, and our favorite at-home aligner brand (Byte) says their average treatment plan length is just 4-5 months. This is a huge difference from braces, which can take 24 months or more.
Invisalign, ClearCorrect, and other in-office treatments often take longer, however, because they typically treat more complex conditions like bite misalignments, since they can incorporate elastics and attachments. At-home clear aligner providers ship aligners to their patients and eliminate the need for in-person office visits with a dentist or orthodontist, which reduces the cost of treatment and provides more overall convenience.
What Clear Aligners Can I Choose From?
When it was first introduced, Invisalign was the only option for most people seeking clear aligner treatment for their spacing or crowding issues. Because of its relatively high cost and time-consuming office visits, Invisalign is not the perfect option for everyone. Today, there are options to accommodate a variety of different budgets and lifestyles, making clear aligner treatment more accessible than ever before.
- Mild-to-moderate spacing
- Mild-to-moderate crowding
- Minor bite misalignments
- Moderate-to-severe spacing
- Moderate-to-severe crowding
- Moderate bite misalignments
Invisalign, ClearCorrect, SureSmile, and 3M Clarity Aligners are the dominating in-office clear aligners. Invisalign is the original clear aligner treatment and currently leads the industry. To start your Invisalign treatment, you first need to visit a dentist and have them take impressions of your teeth. Then, your dentist will send the impressions to a dental lab, where a team analyzes them to create aligners that are perfectly fitted for your teeth. The dentist will make any necessary final adjustments to the design before your aligners are delivered. ClearCorrect, SureSmile, and 3M Clarity’s pre-treatment procedures are very similar.
You must wear all in-office aligners for at least 22 hours per day and should only remove them when eating or drinking anything besides water. The typical treatment time is about a year, no matter which provider you choose. All of them, however, require regular trips to the dentist’s office, and you’ll need to change your aligner sets about once every two weeks. Once treatment is complete, you’ll receive or purchase a set of retainers to preserve their new smile.
In-office aligners stand out thanks to their ability to treat more complex cases, such as bite misalignments and moderate-to-severe crowding or spacing. For anyone seeking more drastic results or anyone who favors one-on-one treatment with a dentist, in-office aligners will probably be a great fit. However, this additional face-time with a dental professional comes at a price. Invisalign typically costs about $3,000–$8,000, as does 3M Clarity. ClearCorrect and SureSmile can be slightly cheaper, but they’re still often pricier than at-home aligners. Also, the treatment time of about one year, on average, is sometimes too long for adults looking for quick results.
Home Teeth Aligners
As people seek cheaper and more convenient treatment options, home teeth aligners like Byte, SmileDirectClub, NewSmile, and AlignerCo have quickly become a booming and rapidly evolving industry. Unlike in-office aligners, home teeth aligners require no office visits and offer a decreased treatment time and decreased overall price.
The first step in the home teeth alignment process is to take impressions of your teeth. Your provider will send you a kit with instructions for taking impressions, which you’ll complete and send back. Alternatively, SmileDirectClub has physical locations where you can have your teeth scanned instead of completing an impression kit. Either way, if you’re approved for treatment, the company will custom-design your aligners, then ship them directly to you. From there, it’s up to you to complete your treatment by wearing the aligners as prescribed.
Each home aligner provider has its own unique advantages. Some companies offer treatment monitored by a certified orthodontist rather than a general dentist. Some offer free retainers for aftercare, and some even offer financing options to accommodate a wide range of budgets. Due to the lack of office visits, all home aligner companies provide a significantly cheaper option than Invisalign or ClearCorrect, with an average treatment cost of about $1,900.
There are several home aligner brands on the market, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. To learn more, check out our comprehensive comparison of the five best at-home clear aligners.
What Kind of Results Should I Expect?
Whether you go with an in-office or at-home provider, clear aligners are a highly effective treatment. With in-office options, your dentist or orthodontist can make adjustments as your treatment progresses — even crafting more aligners at the end if your teeth haven’t moved as expected (although this will likely cost extra). So you can be sure you’ll end up with a perfectly straight smile.
Even though they don’t require in-person oversight, most home aligner companies will provide “refinements” if your results don’t match the smile preview they provided at the beginning. This involves taking and sending new molds of your teeth so that their dental team can create new aligners to finish the job. Most at-home aligner companies don’t charge extra for this service, so you can feel sure that you’ll end up with the smile you want.
What are My Other Treatment Options?
While clear aligners are a popular choice due to their discreetness and shorter treatment times, they are not the right option for everyone. Depending on your priorities and specific smile concerns, one of the alternative treatments below may be a better fit for you.
Traditional metal braces are the most thorough orthodontic treatment, and they are a classic for a reason. Perfect for complex cases like complicated bite issues or severe crowding and spacing, braces provide orthodontists with the ability to make highly detailed and in-depth changes to your smile. As technology has improved, a variety of styles of braces have become available to the public. More discreet options like clear braces and lingual (behind the teeth) braces have given the industry more variety, although they come at a higher price point.
The major advantages to braces are their ability to treat complex cases and the regular one-on-one time with an orthodontist. On the other hand, braces are highly visible and treatment typically lasts about two years. The cost of braces is also a downside, as the average treatment usually costs about $5,000.
If you’re hoping for a complete smile makeover or a “Hollywood Smile” effect, veneers may be the perfect treatment option. Veneers are thin, custom-made, and tooth-colored shells that are placed over the teeth to improve their appearance. Veneers are typically made of porcelain and can conceal a variety of conditions, including mild-to-moderate spacing, crowding, discoloration, staining, and even short or chipped teeth.
The treatment process for veneers is nearly instant. However, it is far more invasive than the other options in this guide. First, the dentist needs to “prep” your teeth, an irreversible process that involves shaving down a small layer of enamel. After that, your dentist will cement the custom-made veneers onto your teeth.
Veneers are a popular option for adults who want immediate gratification and a brand new smile, complete with custom shaping, whitening, and correction of any alignment issues. However, the high, ongoing costs associated with veneers make them a less than ideal option for the average patient. Veneers typically cost around $1,000 per tooth and you need to replace them about once every ten years.
For minor spacing issues or small chips, dental bonding is a great, quick and affordable option. Dental bonding uses a resin material, similar to that used for filling cavities, to build up the teeth and eliminate spaces or chipping. Bonding can be completed in one dental visit and is usually completely painless, requiring no anesthesia.
The average cost of dental bonding is about $300–$600 per tooth, making it one of the cheapest options available. However, bonding is only appropriate for minor cases of spacing and minor chips on the teeth. It won’t be a suitable treatment option for most cases of crowding or mild-to-moderate spacing between several teeth.
Clear aligners are no longer the taboo treatment they were in the early 2000s. Today, there are multiple clear aligner options to fit anyone’s expectations, budget and lifestyle. If you’re looking for a less visible and more convenient treatment option, clear aligners may be a great fit for you.
These innovative products have transformed the orthodontic industry and show no signs of slowing in popularity. If clear aligners sound appealing to you, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with your dentist to discuss your options and find out whether clear aligners are the right choice for your teeth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do clear aligners work?
Yes, for most conditions, clear aligners are highly effective. At-home aligners are a great option for mild-to-moderate cases of crowding and spacing, while in-office aligners like Invisalign can treat more severe cases and even some bite issues.
How much do clear aligners cost?
It depends on which clear aligner treatment you choose. If you go with an in-office treatment like Invisalign, it will cost (on average) between $3,000 and $8,000. At-home aligner services like Byte and SmileDirectClub, on the other hand, are somewhat less expensive, costing $1,000–$2,500 on average.
For a detailed look at pricing, take a look at our guides to the true cost of Invisalign, Byte, and SmileDirectClub.
Do clear aligners affect your speech?
Some patients report having a slight lisp when they first begin wearing their aligners. This is because your mouth isn’t accustomed to wearing them, and typically only occurs as the beginning of treatment. As you get used to wearing your aligners, it should go away.
Can clear aligners treat bite issues?
In-office aligner brands like Invisalign and ClearCorrect can treat some bite issues, since they can incorporate attachments and have the benefit of in-person oversight. However, some bite misalignments might even be too severe for those treatments, and will require braces or other appliances. To know for sure, consult your orthodontist, who can give a treatment recommendation.
Are clear aligners covered by insurance?
Sometimes, but not always. It depends entirely on your specific insurance plan. If you have orthodontic coverage, there’s a good chance your plan might cover in-office clear aligner treatments.
With at-home aligners, it’s a little bit more hit or miss. Certain home aligner brands have partnerships with particular insurance providers to provide partial coverage. You should check with your insurance provider to find out if you’re eligible for coverage, and see our orthodontics insurance guide for a closer look.
What are the best clear aligners?
In our opinion, it’s Byte. They incorporate innovative technology into their treatment, provide a nighttime-only option, and put a lifetime guarantee on their results (see our full Byte review for an in-depth look). There are some other good brands on the market, and the best one for you depends entirely on your preferences and circumstances. Check out our guide to the five best at-home aligner companies for a full comparison.
Do clear aligners hurt?
Overall, clear aligners are a fairly comfortable treatment. When you first put on a new set of aligners, there might be some slight discomfort, since the aligners are designed to put gentle pressure on your teeth. But that feeling usually subsides as you grow accustomed to wearing them.
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