Invisalign and braces are two tried and true methods for straightening your teeth. They simply offer different paths to arrive at the results you’re after! However, sometimes one method is a better fit than the other, depending on the case.
When deciding between these two treatment options, it’s important to analyze your particular circumstances and priorities. This guide will break down all the major differences between Invisalign and traditional metal braces, from effectiveness to convenience to cost. By the end, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about your treatment options that goes beyond just appearances (but we’ll cover that too!).
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Invisalign vs. Metal Braces: Treatment Overviews
With traditional braces, metal brackets are affixed to the front of your teeth to encourage the gradual movement of teeth. Braces are typically administered by an orthodontist, and have an average treatment time of 24 months.
With Invisalign, clear, plastic aligners apply pressure to slowly move your teeth. This treatment can safely be implemented by both orthodontists and general dentists, and has an average treatment time of 12-18 months.
Both metal braces and Invisalign provide a safe and effective way to get a smile that makes you feel your best. It’s all about deciding which one makes the most sense for you and your unique set of circumstances.
Price, convenience, and appearance are all important factors to be considered when choosing which teeth straightening treatment is best for you. But a treatment’s effectiveness should be top of mind as well, to ensure that you get the smile you want (and keep it!).
While both Invisalign and metal braces safely and efficiently correct a vast array of conditions, braces get the slight upper hand here, since they can treat even the most complex conditions. But Invisalign isn’t too far behind! The introduction of their “SmartForce” attachments has made more complex tooth movements possible with Invisalign as well. These tiny attachments are bonded to the front of your teeth and work as a kind of anchor for your aligners.
- With the use of supplemental attachments, Invisalign can treat many of the same issues as braces
- Manufactured by Align Technology, the industry leader
- Aligners are made with SmartTrack plastic, which is reportedly more comfortable and can move teeth up to 50% faster than competing aligners
- May be moments of discomfort when switching to a new aligner
- Can treat even the most complex orthodontic cases
- They may be some discomfort at times from the metal wires, but this also makes them more durable than clear aligners
- Since they are attached to your teeth, there is very little room for user error, you can’t forget to put them in because they’re always in
What Can It Treat?
Whether you’re dealing with crowding, spacing, or overbite, pretty much any condition can be corrected with braces. Invisalign can treat almost any condition that braces can, they only fall a little short when it comes to treating some severe bite issues.
Invisalign and braces are very customizable, which makes them well suited to take on most complications. With metal braces, your orthodontist can utilize devices like headgear or attachments like rubber bands to help align your bite and jaw. Invisalign utilizes the SmartForce attachments we mentioned earlier, which help to achieve more complex tooth movements than aligners could do on their own.
Invisalign is almost capable of tackling every single condition as braces, the only place they fall behind is with severe overbite. So if you do not suffer from severe overbite, then you can go ahead and view them as equally effective options.
Invisalign is made from a patented plastic called SmartTrack, which they report is more comfortable than competing materials, and moves teeth 50% faster. They also claim that SmartTrack plastic is more predictable than competing brands, making treatment plans more realistic. This plastic is durable and isn’t likely to warp or easily break. In the clear aligner world, it doesn’t get much better than SmartTrack.
Metal braces are more durable and a little less comfortable than clear aligners. However, the good news is your mouth will get accustomed to the feeling over time.
Consistency is the area where braces really shine. Since they are physically attached to you, there’s not a whole lot of room for user error (outside of the foods you eat, but we’ll get to that later).
This is especially advantageous if a year or so into treatment, your enthusiasm for the process begins to wane. There’s no way to get complacent with your braces, since you aren’t taking them in and out — those brackets are with you until the end of treatment.
With clear aligners, if fatigue sets in a year into treatment, and the patient becomes a little complacent or forgetful wearing their clear aligners, that can create major delays in their end result.
So it’s all about knowing yourself, and knowing what you can reasonably expect from yourself throughout this process. If you are researching treatments for a teenager it could be beneficial to assess these options in terms of the commitment required for each of them. If commitment is hard to elicit from the patient, perhaps braces are the way to go, since it doesn’t require them to make several daily decisions to keep treatment on track.
During your perusal of teeth straightening treatments you might feel a small shot of panic when you see the price points. The price of orthodontic treatment can be a major hurdle for most folks, and while there is no denying this is a significant expense — there are ways to make this experience more affordable.
There are many contributing factors impacting the cost of orthodontic treatment, but generally speaking, Invisalign and metal braces are pretty comparable in price.
- No set sticker price, the average cost is $3,000 – $8,000
- Aftercare retainers cost anywhere from $100 – $300, depending on the dentist
- Financing varies depending on the dentists, may require a credit check or down payment
- No set sticker price, the average cost is $3,000-$8,000
- Aftercare retainers cost anywhere from $100 – $300, depending on the dentist
- Financing varies depending on the dentists, may require a credit check or down payment
There is a great deal of variability when it comes to the cost you can expect to pay for your teeth straightening treatment. The main factors are your specific condition, and your chosen orthodontist or dentist. If your condition is more severe, it will take more time (therefore more appointments) to correct.
Even though there is no exact sticker price, the average cost of Invisalign and braces is roughly the same. Both boast an average treatment cost between $3,000-$8,000. There’s no arguing that this is a large sum of money. However, metal braces are much less expensive than ceramic or lingual braces.
Will Insurance Cover It?
Insurance may help you out with some of the cost, but of course it all depends. Certain insurance plans cover orthodontic treatment, but not all of them. Often if a provider covers Invisalign or metal braces, the coverage will only contribute partially to the overall cost. But with an expense like this, partial coverage is nothing to sneeze at — it can help make the total feel a bit more approachable.
Contact your insurance provider directly to see if they contribute to treatment — and if so, how much you will receive. If you are covered for part of your treatment, the office you choose for treatment will take care of all the paperwork with your insurance provider.
Is Financing Available?
There is no denying that teeth straightening is expensive, which is why numerous dentists and orthodontists’ offices have in-house financing options available to their patients. Be sure to ask your dentist or orthodontist what your options might be.
If you love your dentist but you don’t love their financing options, then it may behoove you to check out third party financing. Companies like CareCredit and beWell offer financing for orthodontic treatment, but oftentimes these companies require a credit check — so if your credit score isn’t where you’d like it to be, this may not be the best route for you.
Let’s face it — we’re all busy. It’s natural to want to optimize our lives to free up as much time as possible to do the things we love. When deciding to undergo teeth straightening treatment, it’s easy to understand why people would want to go with whatever option takes up the least amount of time.
Invisalign and braces require an investment of time not just for the length of treatment, but for all of the appointments themselves. But convenience can mean different things to different people. For some, juggling these appointments (on top of all their other responsibilities) means the shorter treatment time the better. For others, convenience may be found in the treatment with the least personal responsibility. It’s all about figuring out what works best for you.
- Begins with an in-person appointment with a dentist or orthodontist, complete with X-rays and photos of your smile
- Average treatment time is 12-18 months
- Easy to clean and maintain
- You must remove aligners before eating or drinking anything besides water
- Aligners need to be worn 22 hours per day
- Appointments every 4-6 weeks
- Begins with an in-person appointment with a dentist or orthodontist , complete with X-rays and photos of your smile
- Average treatment time is 24 months
- Some initial discomfort due to metal material
- The brackets’ affixment onto the teeth provide ample opportunity for plaque growth, so you have to be diligent with oral hygiene
- Appointments every 4-8 weeks
It’s exciting to debut a new smile post-treatment! Many people have a specific date in mind where they’d like to be able to premiere their new look, so it’s normal to want to ensure that your treatment time will line up with your planned reveal.
Invisalign’s average treatment time is between 12-18 months. Metal braces average 24 months of treatment (but can be anywhere from 12-36 months in some cases). The time frame for your specific treatment will depend on your specific condition, but hopefully these time frames can help you set some light expectations for your treatment time frame.
You’ll need to attend regular appointments throughout your treatment. Though it varies depending on the office you’ve chosen as well as your particular condition, typically with Invisalign you’ll need an appointment every 4-6 weeks, and with braces you’ll need to go in about every 4-8 weeks.
It’s good to keep in mind that longer treatment times don’t only mean your smile will debut a little later, it can also potentially mean several more appointments, which is a time commitment that can add up over time.
Since braces are made of metal, there can be some discomfort and irritation from the wires and brackets as you’re first getting used to them. There can also be some soreness from your teeth and gums due to the new movements of your teeth. After each appointment, this is likely to be more intense due to the adjustments made — but within a few days your mouth will become more used to the changes.
Similarly, Invisalign aligners can be a little uncomfortable when you put in a new set, but after a few days most patients see a significant decrease in their discomfort.
For both Invisalign and braces, there is going to be a bit of an adjustment at meal times. With Invisalign you will need to remove your aligners before eating or drinking anything that isn’t water, and after your meal you’ll need to brush and floss your teeth before putting your aligners back in. Depending on your line of work, or how frequently you go out to restaurants, this may end up being a bit cumbersome for your lifestyle.
Since braces are physically attached to you, they’re always with you! It would be impossible to pop your braces off before a meal. However, they do present their own unique set of challenges.
There are certain foods you’ll want to avoid if you choose to get braces. Foods that are very hard or chewy are ruled out — as is popcorn. These foods could break or dislodge a bracket, which would need to be repaired by your orthodontist and delay treatment.
For many people, forgoing these particular foods may not be an issue, but if popcorn is a main pillar of your life’s joy, this could be a major setback. It’s all about weighing the pros and cons for your specific lifestyle.
Braces will also require closer attention paid to brushing and flossing. All of those attachments invite new nooks and crannies for plague to build up, meaning you’ll have to become very diligent with your oral hygiene.
For a lot of folks, the impetus for undergoing teeth straightening treatment in the first place has to do with their appearance — so it makes sense that many people care about the aesthetics of the treatment itself, too. If you are looking to keep a low profile, then Invisalign offers a much more discreet option than braces.
It’s also possible that you want to express a little personality throughout your treatment. Traditional metal braces can be affixed with colorful bands, giving you the freedom to have your treatment reflect a little more of your personality. If you’re loud and proud that you’re undergoing orthodontic treatment, braces could let you express yourself more easily.
- Made from a frosted plastic to better match the natural look of your teeth
- Aligners are scalloped on top to mimic the gumline
- These are removable, giving you a little more freedom aesthetically
- There’s really no hiding your metal braces, since they are on the front of your teeth
- Colorful bands may be an exciting element to the process for some
Some clear aligner companies believe that the clearer the aligner the more natural it looks. We actually disagree with that line of thinking. Clear, shiny plastic tends to look a little bit more noticeable on our naturally porous teeth. That’s why Invisalign’s clear aligners manage to be so discreet — by making them with a slightly frosted plastic that looks more similar to our teeth’s natural surfaces.
Invisalign’s aligners are scalloped on the top, to mimic the natural peaks and valleys of your gumline. This makes the aligners less noticeable than competing brands that use a straight edge for the top of their aligners — making it much easier to spot where the plastic meets the gumline.
The nice thing about clear aligners is that you can remove them! So if there’s a photo you want to grin big in, you have the choice of grinning with or without your aligners.
Invisalign and metal braces couldn’t be more different than when it comes to appearances, so it all comes down to you and what you like! If you want to go with a discreet option, Invisalign’s frosted plastic is a fantastic choice. If you want a little bit of flare in your orthodontic treatment, then braces offer many different opportunities to express yourself with color. Appearance is subjective, so go with what makes you feel good!
Patient Experience Comparison
Teeth straightening treatment is an investment in yourself, both with your money and your time. You’ll want to make sure your money is being spent on treatment administered by someone you feel comfortable with and who you trust. A provider should help you feel empowered to voice your concerns, to ask questions, and to really make this process a dialogue between the two of you.
With both Invisalign and braces, you will be able to voice any questions or concerns with the office where you receive your treatment. This person will likely grow to know you over the course of your treatment, which will only enhance the level of customer service they will be able to provide. Be sure to make note of the hours your dentist or orthodontist’s office is available so you know when you can reach out with questions and concerns.
Both Invisalign and braces necessitate in-person appointments every 4-8 weeks. These visits are crucial for evaluating your treatment progress and for making potential adjustments. It may be a little daunting to make such a big commitment of your time, but for some people these valuable face to face appointments help hold them accountable with their treatment and keep them motivated.
Since overall treatment times are longer with braces than Invisalign, you will ultimately have fewer appointments if you go with Invisalign.
Refinements and Adjustments
If you reach the end of your treatment and you have not yet achieved the smile that you wish — not to worry, you have options! If you’ve chosen Invisalign, they will produce additional aligners for free. You’ll need to sit tight while the aligners are manufactured, but you’ll be in good hands once they are!
When it comes to braces, the process for post-treatment refinement is a little simpler: the braces just stay put until your smile is what you and your orthodontist want it to be! This will extend your treatment of course, but there won’t be any additional waiting due to production like there would be with Invisalign.
Which Should You Choose?
Both Invisalign and metal braces provide safe and effective treatment that have stood the test of time and transformed millions of smiles. Since both treatments are high quality, the decision of which treatment is best for you comes down to personal preferences.
Are you looking for the most discreet option? Invisalign may be just the company for you! Do you have a more complicated condition like severe overbite? Braces will be able to treat any condition you throw their way. It all comes down to what you think will be best for you and your lifestyle.
Who Should Choose Invisalign?
If you are looking for a discreet treatment, and you don’t have an extreme bite or jaw issue, then Invisalign could be a great option for you. Invisalign appointments typically take less time than metal braces, and the appointments are required less frequently than braces, so Invisalign will likely save you a significant amount of time in the long run, when compared to braces.
Who Should Choose Metal Braces?
If you think you might be prone to forgetting to put in your aligners, or you worry that you might experience burnout a year or so into treatment (making it harder to motivate yourself into adhering to the wear guidelines for Invisalign), then going a more user friendly route like metal braces may be a good solution for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get started with Invisalign or braces?
Make an appointment with your dentist or orthodontist. They will provide all the photos and scans you need to start your treatment. Invisalign can be treated by both orthodontists and dentists, so it’s likely the dentist you already have a relationship with can provide treatment. Braces can only be treated by an orthodontist, so for some that adds an additional hurdle of researching a reputable convenient office before they begin treatment.
Is Invisalign the only clear aligner company?
There is another in-office clear aligner company called ClearCorrect. ClearCorrect has slightly lower prices, but isn’t offered quite as widely as Invisalign.
If you’re looking for more convenience, there are at-home clear aligner companies that allow you to complete your entire treatment from home. Companies like SmileDirectClub, Byte, and AlignerCo all offer convenient and affordable teeth straightening treatment — all from the comfort of your own home.
For more info on these treatments check out our Top 5 At-Home Clear Aligners guide.
Is Invisalign worth the price over clear aligners like SmileDirectClub?
The short answer: it depends. At-home aligners bring significant savings of time and money — but they also treat a more narrow range of conditions than in-office options like Invisalign and braces. If your condition is on the severe side, an in-office option may be the best for you. But if your condition is milder, and you don’t have a particular attachment to in-person service, then at-home clear aligners may be more of a match for you.
Is it better to undergo teeth straightening treatment as an adult or as a teenager?
It’s not necessarily that one age range is better or worse to receive treatment — but since younger people are often still growing, their bodies will likely be more physically receptive to treatment, which can help with the overall timeline. However, as we have explained, there is a certain level of personal responsibility to many of these treatments — so for some that might be best explored in their adult life.
Should I be concerned about ingesting chemicals from plastic aligners?
Invisalign’s aligners (as well as the at-home clear aligner companies we have reviewed) all use FDA approved and made with BPA free plastic.
What is the cheapest teeth straightening treatment?
At-home clear aligners, but specifically AlignerCo — whose $1,145 price tag for day aligners is lower than all of their competitors. AlignerCo is often running promotions and sales, bringing their low prices even lower. They also offer third party financing that does not require a credit check, so anyone can move forward with treatment with a downpayment and a monthly payment after that.
Can I pay for treatment with my FSA/HSA earnings?
With Invisalign and other in person options like braces, it will all depend on the policies of the particular office where you have your treatment. It’s important to start a conversation with them about all your financial options before you begin treatment.
Is there a way for me to get a free consultation and treatment preview?
With in person options, there typically is not. However, companies like SmileDirectClub (despite being an at-home aligner company) offer many in-person locations to receive a complimentary teeth scan to determine if you are a good candidate for treatment. Other at-home clear aligner companies offer low cost impression kits to begin treatment, as well as refunds if you are determined not to be a candidate.
Is there a way to speed up treatment for braces or Invisalign?
There is. Certain dental or orthodontic offices offer supplemental treatments with devices like Propel, which induce teeth movement by making tiny perforations around your teeth. This can speed up treatment times by up to 50%, but of course not all offices offer this option.
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