Home teeth alignment is still a new development in orthodontia. So, it’s no surprise that people still wonder if it’s too good to be true. Home aligners were introduced in 2014 as an alternative to in-office options like Invisalign and ClearCorrect. They’re similar treatments, but the biggest difference is that home aligners don’t require any office visits, making them more convenient and affordable.
By eliminating office visits, home aligner companies can offer affordable treatment plans and financing options. Plus, the whole process typically only takes around six months. But many people still wonder: “does it really work?” In this guide, we’ll discuss the effectiveness of home teeth aligners and help you decide whether they’re a good option for your teeth.
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What Conditions Can Online Aligners Treat?
Home aligners have become a popular teeth-straightening option, especially for busy adults. However, they’re primarily a cosmetic treatment and can’t correct severe misalignments or jaw irregularities. The best candidates for home aligner treatment are people with mild-to-moderate cases of crowding or spacing. If your condition is more complicated, you may need a more traditional treatment, like braces or Invisalign.
Complex misalignments often require a more hands-on, comprehensive treatment, and home aligners simply can’t offer that level of intensive clinical oversight. Since home aligners don’t include any in-person office visits, the dentist who monitors your treatment can’t safely make mid-treatment changes that will drastically improve a severe misalignment or bite issue.
One of home aligner treatment’s main draws is the expedited treatment time, since they’re typically used for mild misalignments that don’t take long to correct. Luckily, most people are a good fit for home aligners. Home aligner providers typically accept about 70% of the cases they receive, so there’s a good chance that you’ll be approved.
How Does At-Home Treatment Work?
Before beginning home aligner treatment, you need to choose a provider. There are several options on the market, each with their own unique advantages. Our top pick is Byte, but the best fit for you depends on your unique smile and priorities. Once you’ve selected a provider, go to their website to order an impression kit.
Home aligner companies use dental impressions to determine your candidacy for treatment. The company will send a kit to your home with instructions for creating molds of your teeth. Unfortunately, taking impressions on your own can be challenging, and some people need multiple tries to get it right. That’s why SmileDirectClub opened retail locations where you can get free teeth scans instead of ordering an impression kit. But they’re the only company with this option — every other provider requires you to purchase an impression kit.
Once you’ve been approved for treatment, the company will create a customized treatment plan that shows your teeth at every step in the process. If you’re happy with the plan, you’ll approve it and pay the full amount (or enroll in a payment plan). Then, the company will manufacture your aligners and ship them directly to your home.
Your home aligner package will also include instructions to follow for a successful treatment. If you go with a standard all-day aligner plan, you’ll need to wear your aligners for 22 hours per day, only removing them to eat, drink, or brush your teeth. You’ll wear your aligners for an average of 4–6 months before completing treatment.
Byte, SmileDirectClub, AlignerCo, and NewSmile also offer nighttime-only treatment options, which only require ten hours of daily wear and have slightly longer overall timelines.
Do Home Teeth Aligners Work as Well as Invisalign?
Although home aligner brands and Invisalign both offer clear aligners, there are some significant differences between the two treatments. Home aligners don’t include any office visits, so they’re limited in the conditions they can treat.
In-office treatments, like Invisalign, give dentists the option of supplementing your treatment with attachments like buttons and elastics, which make them more effective. That’s why Invisalign can treat more complex misalignments, while home aligners are best for mild-to-moderate conditions.
Home aligner brands attempt to make up for their lack of attachments by cutting their aligners straight across, as opposed to scalloped along the gum line. The straight cut allows their aligners to apply more force and potentially move teeth more quickly, helping give home aligner brands a more convenient treatment time, about six months in many cases.
All home aligners are made from transparent, BPA-free plastic, just like Invisalign, but each brand looks and feels slightly different depending on their manufacturer. Some companies partner with well-known dental manufacturers, while others produce their aligners in-house for hands-on control over their product.
Are Online Aligners Safe?
To some, the name “home aligners” might sound a little deceiving. You might assume you need to complete the treatment all on your own, but that’s not entirely true. Most companies will remotely monitor your treatment every step of the way, and you’ll have the option to contact the company’s customer service team if you have any questions or concerns.
However, keep in mind that customer service waiting times will vary depending on the brand you choose. So, it could take a few days before you get a response. With in-office aligners, you’ll have the option to schedule an appointment with your dentist at any time.
At the very least, you can contact their office and speak with someone who knows you personally. Seeing your dentist face-to-face allows them to monitor your progress closely and address any issues on the spot. Plus, you’ll likely feel more comfortable knowing that you’ve chosen the dentist handling your treatment, rather than having an assigned dentist that you never see in person.
Is Treatment Permanent?
Unfortunately, no orthodontic treatment is absolutely permanent. Some treatments last longer than others, but they all require diligent aftercare — specifically, retainers. Once your teeth have moved from their original position, they will always be prone to shifting. So, retainers are necessary to keep your brand new smile in place. Some brands include retainers in their cost of treatment, but others do not. Still, retainers shouldn’t be considered optional. Even if you have to shell out an extra $100 for them after treatment, you’ll find that they’re well worth the investment, since they’ll help prevent you from needing additional orthodontic work in the future.
Your aftercare retainers will closely resemble your aligners. They’ll be clear and customized to fit your teeth. But they aren’t designed to move your teeth any further — only keep them in place. Each brand’s retainers will look and feel slightly different, but they’re all effective.
Most home aligner companies recommend a very similar transition from your final aligners to aftercare retainers. Once your treatment is complete, you’ll need to wear your new retainers 24/7 for the first few weeks. Then, you’re free to wear them only at night. Dentists typically recommend that you replace your retainers once every six months, so it’s important to be prepared for the financial commitment.
Some companies, like Byte and SmileDirectClub, are working to relieve that burden by offering a lifetime guarantee for your new smile. So, if your teeth ever shift, they’ll send new aligners to readjust them, completely free — as long as you’ve replaced your retainers twice per year and worn them diligently.
Which Home Teeth Aligner Brands Work Best?
All at-home clear aligner brands can treat mild-to-moderate cases of crowding and spacing, but some companies have gone the extra mile by using newer technologies and providing more comprehensive treatment. Read our review of the best at-home clear aligner services to learn more.
Home teeth aligners are a safe and effective way to straighten your teeth, but they’re best suited for people with mild-to-moderate crowding or spacing. If you’ve been considering getting home aligners, it’s important to schedule a consultation with your dentist to evaluate your teeth and discuss your options.
Before you move forward with treatment, be sure to compare each company’s unique perks and choose the one that best suits your needs. If you’re interested in learning more about our picks for the top home aligner brands, check out our detailed comparison.