The world of at-home orthodontic treatment is a new and exciting one. Today, providers like SmileDirectClub are gaining more and more popularity as an alternative treatment option for a variety of dental concerns. Not to mention, at-home treatment is significantly faster and more affordable than traditional orthodontic care.
But with all these exciting perks, a lot of people are left wondering: is home teeth alignment too good to be true? If that sounds like you, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll dive into the details of at-home aligner treatment to help you decide whether or not it’s the right fit for your teeth.
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Home Aligners vs. Invisalign: What’s the Difference?
Invisalign is the original clear aligner treatment and has been on the market since the late 90s. By using a series of customized clear aligners, Invisalign has been proven to treat most cases of misalignment, including crowding, spacing, and some bite issues. Home aligners are very similar, and also use clear aligner trays to facilitate treatment. However, if you choose Invisalign, you’ll need to schedule regular appointments with your dentist throughout treatment.
Home aligners and Invisalign also use very similar materials to create the aligners that move your teeth. However, Invisalign uses trays that are cut to fit perfectly around the teeth. With home aligners, the trays are cut straight across. Because of this, home aligners allow for more force and can move the teeth more quickly.
Although there are some slight differences in the cut and color, both in-office and at-home aligners typically feel about the same on the teeth. And, both should be worn for at least 22 hours per day. However, since home aligners eliminate the need for office visits, the cost of treatment can be several thousand dollars cheaper.
One of the major advantages of Invisalign is versatility. Invisalign can treat more complex misalignments than home aligners by using “attachments.” These attachments are typically small, tooth-colored squares that are placed on selected teeth to enhance treatment. Only a dentist can place these attachments, so they aren’t offered with home aligners.
How Do Home Teeth Aligners Work?
Home aligners are currently the only orthodontic treatment available that offers at-home treatment while still providing the supervision of a dental professional. You’ll work with a dentist remotely, to monitor your progress and make sure your treatment is going smoothly.
The process of receiving home aligners is relatively simple. Your treatment will be customized to correct any misalignments and make cosmetic changes to improve your smile. Then, you’ll receive the aligners in the mail along with instructions to help you get started.
There are a few leading home aligner providers on the market. Although they each have their unique advantages (more on that below) they all typically involve the following steps:
Step 1: Order an impression kit (or schedule a free scan)
Before beginning treatment, you’ll need to send the company photos and impressions of your teeth to confirm whether you’re a suitable candidate for home aligners. You can sign up for treatment online and pay for an impression kit to take the photos and a mold of your teeth. The kit usually costs about $50. But, if you’re not accepted for treatment, the cost of the kit is fully refundable.
Included in the impression kit will be instructions, a putty-like material, and two sets of trays. The photos are fairly easy to take. However, taking impressions of your teeth may present a challenge. Luckily, the kit’s instructions are very detailed. And, there are even videos online if you need extra guidance. You’ll have two chances to take the impressions successfully, or you’ll need to order a new kit. Then, you’ll ship your impressions back to the company to be analyzed and reviewed.
Alternatively, some providers, like SmileDirectClub, offer free 3D scans at their standing locations. So, if you aren’t comfortable taking the impressions on your own, you can skip that step entirely. Still, you’ll need to schedule an appointment to receive a free scan, and locations are currently only in major cities.
Step 2: A dental professional reviews your case
Home aligners are best suited for mild-to-moderate cases of misalignment, like crowding and spacing. If you have a more severe case or a bite issue, you may not be a good fit. For this reason, each provider assigns a dental professional to review your case and make sure you’re a good candidate for treatment.
Home aligner providers are required by law to have dental professionals available in every state to review and approve cases before they provide treatment. Some companies, like byte and Candid, work only with orthodontists to ensure quality treatment. Other providers use a network of general dentists, instead. In either case, the average wait time to find out whether you’ve been approved for treatment is 2-3 weeks. And, about 80% of cases are accepted.
Step 3: Your custom aligners are created
Once you’ve been approved, a dental professional will begin to create your customized treatment plan. Before the actual aligners are created, you’ll have a chance to review the proposed plan before paying for treatment. You’ll even be able to view a predicted “after” image of your teeth before moving forward.
If you’re satisfied with the plan, you can go online to purchase your aligners. Home aligner treatment usually costs about $1,900. However, there are financing options and payment plans available if you aren’t prepared to pay for treatment all at once. SmileDirectClub even offers financing without a required credit check, to make things more convenient.
After you’ve paid for treatment, it can take 1-2 months for your aligners to be created and shipped to your house. Wait times vary depending on the provider. So, it’s best to send back your impressions and pay for treatment as soon as possible.
Step 4: Begin and follow your treatment plan
Your aligners will arrive in the mail along with instructions for you to begin treatment. Some providers also include whitening gel, which can be used in your trays during treatment. It’s essential to follow the instructions provided by the company to ensure you’ll get the best results.
Treatment instructions are very similar for most providers. You should wear your aligners for at least 22 hours per day, only taking them out to eat or drink. Only water should be consumed while wearing your aligners. So, it may be smart to plan out your meals or limit snacking.
You’ll also send digital photos of your teeth to your assigned dentist or orthodontist during treatment. The photos help to document your progress and make sure you’re staying on track. You can contact the company at any time to report any issues or concerns. And, your dentist will adjust your treatment, if necessary.
Treatment with home aligners typically lasts about 6 months, although byte boasts an average treatment time of just 3 months. Of course, if you’re unsatisfied with your progress, you always have the option of stopping treatment. However, only SmileDirectClub offers a full refund within 30 days. Most other brands of home aligners are non-refundable if you decide to stop treatment.
Step 5: Maintain your new smile
To prevent your teeth from moving back to their original place after treatment, it is essential to wear a retainer. Most providers, including SmileDirectClub and Candid, offer retainers for about $100. However, byte includes aftercare retainers in the cost of treatment. So, you won’t need to purchase them separately.
You should wear your aftercare retainers every night to maintain your new smile. It’s recommended to wear the retainers for at least a year following treatment, to make sure your teeth don’t shift.
Pros and Cons of Home Teeth Alignment
Like most orthodontic treatments, home aligners have both advantages and disadvantages. Home teeth alignment is a very new process. Although they have taken the industry by storm by providing a more easily accessible option, home aligners are still a significant investment. So, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of treatment before making a final decision.
- Convenient: Home aligners don’t require any office visits. So, you won’t have to worry about making time in your schedule for trips to the dentist.
- Affordable: Home aligners offer a much cheaper option than more traditional orthodontic treatments, like braces or Invisalign. Most providers also offer payment plans to spread out the cost of treatment.
- Quicker treatment time: The average treatment time for home teeth alignment is just 6 months, making it one of the fastest options available to straighten your teeth.
- Inconspicuous: Home teeth aligners are nearly invisible. The trays can either be frosted or shiny, depending on the provider. But, they’ll still be much less noticeable than traditional braces.
- No choice in dental professional: Unlike Invisalign or traditional braces, you won’t be able to choose the dentist that handles your treatment. Also, while some providers only work with orthodontists, some choose to work with general dentists as well. This can significantly impact the quality of treatment.
- Relapse is more likely: Research has shown that short-term orthodontic treatment may be less stable than more conventional options, like braces. So, your teeth are more likely to shift back to their original place after treatment.
- Safety concerns: Home teeth alignment is still a very new treatment option. Because there is no dental professional directly overseeing your treatment process, there are some safety risks, including potential gum disease or decay. To reduce these risks, it’s best to visit a dentist before, during, and after treatment to ensure your teeth are healthy.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Home Teeth Alignment?
Home teeth alignment is best for people who value convenience and discreteness. Some people consider straightening their teeth but don’t want to sport highly visible braces. In those cases, home aligners may be a perfect choice. Also, if you have a particularly busy schedule, home aligners will likely fit well in your lifestyle. Since there are no required dental visits, you’ll be able to complete treatment without making any significant changes to your schedule.
Although home aligners can treat some minor bite issues, ideal candidates for treatment have only mild-to-moderate cases of teeth crowding or spacing. Most people who submit their impressions to home aligner providers are approved. However, you should make sure that your teeth and gums are healthy before starting treatment.
Who Isn’t a Good Candidate for Home Teeth Alignment?
Home aligners have, no doubt, made cosmetic dentistry more accessible to the average person. However, they’re not a good fit for everyone. If you have a more complex case of misalignment, you’ll likely need a more thorough treatment option, like braces or Invisalign. There are even more discreet options, such as clear/ceramic or lingual braces, if visibility is your primary concern. Most people with bite issues like overbite or overjet will also be better suited for traditional orthodontics.
If you have a history of gum disease or poor oral hygiene, home aligners may exacerbate those issues. So, you won’t be able to begin treatment until you’ve had any cavities filled and reversed any signs of gum disease.
The placement of your wisdom teeth can also prevent you from starting treatment with home alignment. Your impressions or 3D scan will be able to determine whether your wisdom teeth will impact treatment. So, if they aren’t positioned correctly, you may not be a good fit for home aligners.
A Quick Look at the Top Providers
The home teeth alignment industry is still new and evolving. However, there are already several successful providers on the market. Each company has its unique advantages. Some include free aftercare retainers with the cost of treatment, while others stand out by offering financing without requiring a credit check.
Our top 3 home alignment providers are Candid, byte, and SmileDirectClub. We’ve compared each provider below to give you a quick overview of their major strengths and weaknesses. For a more comprehensive look at the top home teeth alignment companies and how they compare, be sure to check out our Top 5 Guide.
Out of our top 3 home aligner providers, Candid currently takes the top spot. Candid seems to place safety and effectiveness high on their priority list. The company only works with orthodontists to manage their patients’ treatment plans. And, their aligners are created by the same manufacturer that makes aligners for ClearCorrect, a top competitor of Invisalign.
Candid also offers aftercare retainers free of charge, included in the overall price of treatment. Other companies typically charge about $100 for retainers, so you’ll be saving some money on aftercare by choosing Candid.
Finally, Candid is one of only two providers that currently offer free 3D scans at standing locations. So, if you aren’t comfortable taking impressions of your teeth, you always have the option of scheduling an appointment for a free scan instead.
byte stands out from other providers by offering the fastest treatment plan and best customer service based on their reviews. With all of the other companies, 6 months is the standard treatment time. However, the average treatment time with byte is just 3 months. So, if you have a special event coming up soon or if you simply want the fastest treatment available, byte could be a great choice.
Although it is the newest home aligner company in the space, byte utilizes some of the most innovative technology. HyperByte, their “exclusive dental movement acceleration device,” allows byte to offer a much shorter treatment time. You’ll bite on the device for just 5 minutes per day as it sends gentle vibrations to stimulate bone structures in your mouth. The process allows the aligners to move your teeth faster, cutting treatment time in half.
Like Candid, byte also offers free aftercare retainers once your treatment is complete. Unfortunately though, byte does not currently have any retail locations. So, you’ll need to order an impression kit to get started.
SmileDirectClub was one of the very first home aligner brands to hit the market. They’ve treated more patients than all of the other companies combined. So, it’s no surprise that SmileDirectClub is still one of the most popular home aligner providers. We’ve ranked them #3 on our list of top providers.
SmileDirectClub excels in affordability and convenience. The company offers guaranteed financing over 24 months, without requiring a credit check. They also have the most retail locations of any provider, with about 200 SmileShops located across the US. SmileDirectClub even offers a nighttime treatment option that only requires you to wear their aligners for 10 hours per night. No other company provides a nighttime-only plan.
Likely due to its size, SmileDirectClub seems to have mixed reviews on customer service. Some patients have reported long shipping delays and inconsistent communication with the company when issues arise during treatment.
Home aligners are one of the most modern and groundbreaking dental treatments currently available. If other, more traditional, treatment options seem to be too inconvenient or out of your budget, home teeth alignment may be a great alternative. Completing treatment entirely from home is an attractive feature. However, home aligners are not the right choice for everyone.
If you’re seeking drastic results for a more severe or complex issue, a traditional orthodontic treatment, like braces, will likely be more appropriate. Visit a trusted dentist to discuss your options and find out if home aligners will be a good fit for your teeth.