At-home clear aligners have completely transformed the orthodontic industry. Traditional clear aligners like Invisalign already provided a more discreet treatment option than braces, but at-home aligners exploded onto the market as an even more convenient and accessible alternative.
First introduced in 2014 by SmileDirectClub, at-home clear aligners are very similar to Invisalign. The most significant difference between the two is that home aligners don’t require any office visits, so you can complete treatment entirely remotely. They also cost significantly less than braces or Invisalign — thousands less.
All that said, the home aligner industry is still relatively new, and there are drawbacks to completing orthodontic treatment without face-to-face dental supervision. In this guide, we’ll discuss how safe at-home clear aligner treatment really is and help you decide whether or not it’s the right choice for you.
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How Does At-Home Clear Aligner Treatment Work?
The process starts with making sure you’re a good candidate for at-home aligner treatment. Home aligners are best for mild-to-moderate cases of crowding and spacing, and won’t be suitable for severe misalignments or bite issues.
To determine whether you’re a good fit, you’ll need to order an impression kit through your chosen provider’s website (or complete an in-person 3D scan). If you’re a suitable candidate for treatment, the company will send you a custom treatment plan preview.
Once you approve the plan and pay for treatment, your provider will send your aligners directly to your home. Typically, you will wear your aligners for at least 22 hours per day, only removing them to eat, drink (anything other than water), or brush your teeth. Some brands also offer nighttime-only aligners, which are designed to be worn for 10+ hours overnight.
Is At-Home Clear Aligner Treatment Safe?
At-home clear aligner treatment plans are always designed and/or approved by a licensed dentist or orthodontist — as long as you’re buying from a legitimate clear aligner service. However, this type of treatment is still relatively new and not unanimously embraced by the orthodontic community.
The main concern regarding the safety of fully-remote clear aligner treatment is the lack of face-to-face care. Since you won’t be seeing a dentist in-person during treatment, you won’t receive the same level of support that you’d get with traditional in-office aligners like Invisalign or ClearCorrect. That said, a recent NIH-funded survey found the majority of at-home aligner customers were satisfied with their results, and only 6.6% experienced side effects necessitating a visit to their local dentist.
If something goes wrong during at-home aligner treatment — for instance, an aligner breaks, or your teeth simply aren’t shifting as quickly as expected — you’ll be completely dependent on your provider’s remote support team. This is why at-home aligner services are able to offer such low prices, but on the flip side, there is a risk that you may not get the support quality or speed that you need if an issue arises.
Most reputable at-home aligner providers have reliable customer support teams that will be there when you need them, but we don’t think they can compare to the hands-on support of a local dentist or orthodontist.
At-Home Clear Aligners vs. “DIY Orthodontics”
At-home clear aligners are sometimes mistakenly compared to DIY orthodontic treatment. Both allow you to complete treatment entirely from home, but DIY orthodontic treatment doesn’t include any professional dental supervision. This is extremely dangerous and often results in damage to the teeth and gums.
In extreme cases, DIY orthodontics have caused severe damage, requiring more extensive orthodontics in the long run and even tooth loss. For a more detailed explanation of why DIY orthodontic treatment isn’t safe, check out our in-depth guide.
How Can I Ensure the Safest Treatment Possible?
Before starting any clear aligner treatment, it’s important to schedule a consultation with a dentist for a comprehensive exam. Healthy teeth move the most safely and effectively. So, your dentist will likely check for cavities and gum disease before recommending orthodontic treatment.
Your dentist may also take a 3D scan of your mouth to evaluate the positioning of your wisdom teeth. Once they’ve taken x-rays and photos of your teeth, your dentist should be able to tell you whether you’ll be a good candidate for clear aligners.
For the best results, you should also carefully follow the instructions provided by your clear aligner provider. This means wearing your aligners for the prescribed amount of time each day and only removing them to eat, drink, or brush your teeth. Clean your aligners regularly, and keep up your normal hygiene routine to ensure your teeth and gums stay healthy.
Home teeth alignment is a new and still evolving industry, but appears to be a safe way to straighten most mild-to-moderate cases of dental crowding and spacing. Like any dental treatment, there are steps you can take to make your experience as safe as possible. Visiting your dentist for a thorough evaluation of your teeth and following your home aligner instructions carefully are both critical to ensuring the best outcome possible.
Be sure to read each provider’s website thoroughly, and choose the one that will put you and your safety first. With the right preparation and cooperation during treatment, you’ll be on your way to a new, beautiful smile in no time.