The world of at-home orthodontic treatment is a new and exciting one. Today, providers like Byte and SmileDirectClub are gaining more and more popularity as alternative treatment options 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 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 it’s the right fit for your teeth.
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Looking for The Best At-Home Teeth Aligner?
Byte is our top-recommended home teeth-straightening solution. They boast an average treatment plan length of 4–5 months, and they claim their “HyperByte” high-frequency vibration device may help provide a more comfortable aligner fit. They also offer a nighttime-only treatment option for added convenience, and put a lifetime guarantee on your smile once you’re through with treatment.
What Are Home Teeth Aligners?
At-home aligners are a relatively new orthodontic treatment that features clear plastic trays designed by dental professionals to slowly and gently shift your teeth. Made from medical-grade, BPA-free materials, these trays come in a series. You’ll wear each aligner in the series for a couple of weeks, applying gentle pressure on your teeth to make small movements until your teeth reach the desired, perfectly straight positions.
Invisalign was the first to introduce a mainstream clear aligner system in 1997 as a less-visible alternative to traditional braces, and a treatment completed entirely in-office. Since then, innovative companies like Byte, SmileDirectClub, NewSmile, and AlignerCo have taken that technology and developed a treatment you can complete entirely from home. Designed and monitored by dentists and orthodontists, these treatments have taken off in popularity in recent years thanks to their speed, affordability, and convenience.
Home Aligners vs. Invisalign: What’s the Difference?
Invisalign is the original clear aligner system, and it’s treated more than twelve million patients to date. By using a series of customized clear aligners, Invisalign can effectively correct most cases of misalignment, including crowding, spacing, and even bite issues.
Home aligners are very similar in that they 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.
Although there are some slight differences in the cut and color, both in-office and at-home aligners typically feel about the same on your teeth. And you’ll usually need to wear your aligners 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 Invisalign’s major advantages is its versatility. Their aligners can treat more complex misalignments than home aligners by using attachments. These are typically small, tooth-colored squares placed on selected teeth to enhance treatment. Only a doctor can place these attachments, so home aligners can’t incorporate them.
How Do Home Teeth Aligners Work?
Home aligners are currently the only orthodontic option available that offers at-home treatment while still providing the supervision of a dental professional. You’ll work with a dentist or orthodontist who remotely monitors your progress to make sure your treatment is going smoothly.
Getting home aligners is relatively simple. The company’s dental team will customize your treatment to make cosmetic changes to 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: Complete Your Impressions (or 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 molds of your teeth. The kit usually costs $50–100. But, if you’re not accepted for treatment, you can usually get a refund.
The impression kit includes instructions, a putty-like material, and two sets of trays. You’ll need to take photos of your teeth, which is a pretty simple process. However, taking impressions of your teeth may present a challenge. Luckily, the kit’s instructions should be very detailed. There are also videos online if you need extra guidance, and some companies even offer video calls to walk you through it.
Most companies give you two chances to take the impressions successfully or you’ll need to order a new kit. When you’ve finished, ship your impressions back to the company for evaluation. Alternatively, some providers, like SmileDirectClub, offer free 3D scans at their retail locations. So, if you aren’t comfortable taking the impressions on your own, you can skip that step entirely.
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.
Step 3: The Company Creates Your Custom Aligners
Once you’ve been approved, a dental professional will create your customized treatment plan. This plan includes digital images of how your teeth will look every step of the way, and you’ll have a chance to review the proposed plan before paying for treatment.
If you’re satisfied with the plan, you can go online to purchase your aligners. Home aligner treatment usually costs around $1,200–$2,000. However, there are financing options and payment plans available if you aren’t prepared to pay for treatment all at once. Byte, AlignerCo, and SmileDirectClub even offer financing without a required credit check to make things more convenient.
After you’ve paid for treatment, it can take 1–2 months to manufacture and ship your aligners. 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 you can use in your aligners during treatment. It’s essential to follow the company’s instructions to ensure 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. You can’t eat or drink anything except plain water while wearing your aligners, so it may be smart to plan out your meals or limit snacking.
Most providers also require that you 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 and adjust your treatment, if necessary. You can contact the company at any time to report any issues or concerns.
Treatment with home aligners typically lasts about six months, although Byte says their average treatment plan length is just 4–5 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 and prorated refunds after that. 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. Some providers, like SmileDirectClub, sell retainers separately for about $100. However, Byte, NewSmile, and AlignerCo include one set of aftercare retainers in the cost of treatment.
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.
What Kind of Results Should I Expect?
Home aligners can generally deliver the perfectly straight smile that you’re after. However, as with any orthodontic treatment, there are rare times that teeth don’t move quite as expected. In these cases, most at-home aligner companies have a “refinement” process to finish the job.
This involves taking and submitting new impressions of your teeth, which the dental team will review to determine your eligibility for a refinement. If you’re approved, they will create a few new aligners to make those final teeth shifts. Typically, these refinements are free of charge.
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 before making a final decision.
- Convenient: Home aligners don’t require any office visits. 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 six 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, others choose to work with general dentists as well.
- Relapse is more likely: Research has shown that short-term orthodontic treatment may be less stable than more conventional options, like braces. In other words, your teeth are more likely to shift back 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 At-Home Teeth Alignment?
Home teeth alignment is best for people who value convenience and discretion. 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 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 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. 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 the treatment. 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 three recommended at-home clear aligner services are Byte, Candid, 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 your options, check out our review of the five best at-home clear aligners.
Byte boasts an average treatment plan length of just 4–5 months, and also includes a high-frequency vibration device called the “HyperByte” in your aligner bundle, which they say might reduce discomfort. On top of that, they have affordable prices and assign each customer a personal “Byte advisor” to provide consistent support. They might not have any teeth-scanning locations, but they do have financing plans with no credit checks and a nighttime-only option.
The cherry on top is their Byte-for-Life guarantee, which will send you new aligners if your teeth ever shift down the road — as long as you purchase their retainers and use them as directed. If you want an innovative aligner treatment, but don’t want to sacrifice quality in the process, Byte is a solid choice.
Take a look at our in-depth Byte review to learn more.
Is Byte Right For You?
If you decide Byte is the right treatment option for you, be sure to take advantage of this special promotion. Byte is currently offering its impression kit for just $17.95 ($80 off its list price). In addition, as part of this offer Byte will include with your impression kit a free whitening pen to help you brighten your teeth on the go. Enter the code SMILEBRYTE at checkout to claim this promotion.
#2: Candid ($3,500+)
Since hitting the market in 2017, Candid has continuously gone the extra mile to deliver a high-quality patient experience. They started as a fully remote clear aligner service like Byte, but have recently shifted to a hybrid treatment option called “CandidPro” that combines elements of in-office and at-home care.
After an initial in-person consultation and examination with a local dentist, you’ll check in virtually via their CandidMonitoring service every 14 days for the rest of your treatment. By keeping a local dentist involved for the entire treatment process, Candid offers a level of quality care that sets them apart from other services on this list.
You can find more details on Candid in our full review.
#3: SmileDirectClub ($2,250)
SmileDirectClub is the largest and most well-known home aligner brand. Founded in 2014, they’ve got more experience and satisfied customers than their at-home peers. They go above and beyond to provide the most convenient treatment available and have established a strong physical presence with 100+ SmileShops across the country, plus a partner network of over 1,000 dentists.
Like Byte, they’ve got a nighttime-only option and lifetime guarantee, and while their price might be higher than some other at-home aligner brands, they have an extensive refund policy. They’ll issue a full refund for any reason within 30 days of starting treatment, and they provide prorated refunds for unopened aligners after that.
Read through our full SmileDirectClub review for more info.
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 or orthodontist to discuss your options and find out if home aligners will be a good fit for your teeth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are mail-order aligners safe to use?
At-home clear aligner treatment plans are typically designed and/or approved by a licensed dentist or orthodontist — as long as you’re buying from a legitimate clear aligner service (such as those mentioned on this page).
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.
What are some reasons at-home clear aligners might not work for me?
At-home systems can treat many people with alignment concerns. However, you might not be a suitable candidate if:
- Your alignment problems are severe.
- You have gum disease.
- Your jawbone has lost volume or strength.
- You have teeth in active decay.
- You do not have enough teeth for the aligners to gain leverage.
Does insurance cover at-home aligner treatment?
If your insurance policy covers orthodontic treatment, it might cover at-home aligners from certain companies. For example, Byte is in network with multiple major insurance companies, including Aetna and Anthem. Reach out to your insurance provider to learn more.
Can my teeth shift back after treatment?
Yes, but this is true with any type of orthodontic treatment. Your teeth will naturally want to migrate back to their original locations. Retainers help hold your teeth in their new positions.
Do I still need to see a dentist while using mail-order aligners?
Yes, unless your treatment is so short it does not overlap with your usual twice-yearly appointments, in which case, you do not need to make extra appointments just because you are in treatment.
Are nighttime at-home aligners as good as all-day systems?
In most cases, yes. However, they might not be suitable for treating certain conditions. Visit our review of the best nighttime teeth aligners to learn more.
Are all mail-order aligner companies legit?
As with any large purchase, you should take your time to research your options and verify the legitimacy of the companies you are considering. We have vetted all the companies featured on our site and stand behind their quality. Please be careful and only order from reputable at-home aligner providers.
Will my orthodontist help me with my treatment?
Some will, and some won’t. Many orthodontists refuse to offer input on treatments that they are not administering themselves.
Can I just correct alignment in one arch?
Yes, depending on the company you work with; some require you to straighten both arches. Just keep in mind that most systems will not charge you less just because you only want to treat your top or bottom teeth.