When they created the first mass-marketed clear aligner system in 1997, Invisalign changed the teeth-straightening game. No longer were visible metal braces the sole option for adjusting and straightening teeth. Instead, adults could choose Invisalign’s equally effective but much less noticeable clear aligners.
SmileDirectClub was one of the first companies to pioneer a clear aligner treatment that can be administered entirely from home. Place their aligners side by side and they’ll look similar, but Invisalign and SmileDirectClub actually deliver very different treatments and procedures.
If you’re trying to decide between them, you’re in the right place. This review will dig into the details of how Invisalign and SmileDirectClub actually compare.
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Over two decades ago, a dental device company called Align Technology developed the first clear aligner series, called Invisalign, which was the only clear aligner on the market for nearly ten years.
Through an ambitious marketing campaign, they partnered with dentists and orthodontists across the country and transformed 175,000 smiles by 2004. Today, Invisalign is still the clear aligner giant. They partner with 100,000 dentists in 90 countries and have treated over twelve million patients.
Compared to Invisalign’s long history, at-home aligner systems are fairly young. But SmileDirectClub is one of the oldest, most experienced among them. They started selling aligners in 2014 and grew rapidly. Customers took note of home aligners’ convenience, inspiring the rise of several competitors.
Despite the competition, SmileDirectClub has maintained its majority hold in the home aligner space, having treated over one million patients to date, attracting many adults who want clear aligners but would rather not go to a dentist for Invisalign.
Like The Idea of Home Treatment? Get To Know Your Options.
SmileDirectClub may have been the first company to offer at-home clear aligner treatment, but they’re not the only one. If you like the cost and convenience of at-home treatment, it’s a good idea to know all your options.
We recommend that anyone interested in at-home treatment also look into Byte, our #1-recommended clear aligner service. To compare the five best at-home clear aligner brands, visit our in-depth comparison review below.
You don’t want to dive into a specific treatment without the confidence that it can achieve the smile you want on a reasonable timeline. When considering a company’s effectiveness, consider the scope of conditions they can treat, along with their aligner manufacturing and design quality.
Face-to-face dental care and supplemental attachments make Invisalign one of the most effective clear aligner treatments. And while SmileDirectClub can effectively treat mild cases, among at-home and hybrid treatments, they’re about average.
- Can treat even severe misalignments by employing orthodontic attachments.
- Created by Align Technology, the largest and longest-standing clear aligner producer.
- Aligners are trimmed in a scalloped fashion to fit the gumline.
- Can treat mild-to-moderate cases of crowding and spacing, and some bite issues, but can’t incorporate attachments.
- Once partnered with Align Technology to manufacture aligners, but now produces them in-house.
- Designs their aligners to overlap the gums for extra power.
What Can They Treat?
SmileDirectClub is very effective in correcting mild-to-moderate cases of crowding and spacing, along with some minor bite issues. Using Invisalign, however, dentists can effectively treat these conditions, plus a whole lot more.
Regular office visits during Invisalign treatment allow your dentist to correct severe tooth and jaw misalignments by supplementing your aligners with orthodontic elastics and attachments. In fact, Invisalign makes their own “Smartforce” attachments — tiny, tooth-colored shapes affixed to your teeth that induce more intricate movements. From crowding and spacing to drastic bite issues like overbite, underbite, crossbite, and more, Invisalign can handle it all.
Unfortunately, you can’t administer these types of attachments at home, so SmileDirectClub can’t treat the same wide range of conditions.
Invisalign aligners are manufactured by their parent company, Align Technology, the largest and longest-standing clear aligner producer in the U.S. They use a material called SmartTrack, which Invisalign claims ensures “more predictable, controlled tooth movements.” With decades of manufacturing experience, Align Technology produces high-quality, consistent products, so you’ll know that your aligners are safe and structurally sound.
SmileDirectClub actually had a longstanding manufacturing partnership with Align Technology, who produced all of their aligner products. However, in 2019, the pair announced that they would no longer be doing business together. Since the break-up, SmileDirectClub has produced their aligners in-house. They’ve implemented a design they call “Comfort Sense,” which they describe as a “proprietary soft, medium, and firm aligner plastic progression to ease teeth more comfortably into place.”
Invisalign customizes their aligners to match your gum line instead of cutting them straight across the top. Believe it or not, this can affect your aligners’ effectiveness. Straight-cut aligners slightly overlap the gums, which provides a leverage point and allows them to exert up to 4X more force on your teeth. SmileDirectClub trims their aligners slightly, but they still overlap the gums, giving them some extra power.
With Invisalign, your dentist can match or exceed that power by incorporating attachments and elastics, so this design difference is negligible. Because SmileDirectClub treatment doesn’t involve office visits, they can’t incorporate the same attachments.
Each company uses software to scan your teeth, create 3D models of your dental arches, and simulate your treatment plan. Invisalign has a proven 3D scanner system called iTero, paired with custom software called ClinCheck, which uses algorithms to model ideal movements for each tooth. iTero scanners and ClinCheck software both have long track records of success and can pair specifically with Invisalign’s treatment, allowing your dentist to customize your aligner design based on what they see in their dental examinations.
When considering clear aligner treatment, one of the first things people evaluate is cost, and rightfully so. Orthodontic treatment isn’t cheap. It’s an investment in the future of your smile.
The price difference between companies can also be significant, and at-home options like SmileDirectClub are often much more affordable than in-office ones like Invisalign. Invisalign’s higher price, however, allows your dentist to facilitate more effective treatment.
- No set sticker price (depends on your dentist), the average cost is $3,000–$8,000
- Aftercare retainers cost anywhere from $100–$300, depending on the dentist.
- Financing varies depending on the dentist, may require a credit check or down payment.
- $2,050 sticker price.
- Charges $99 for retainers after treatment.
- Also charges $59 for an impression kit (unless you visit a SmileShop).
- Financing requires a down payment but no credit check (everyone is approved!).
Peruse any home aligner company’s homepage, and you’ll likely find their sticker price front and center. This is because home aligner companies like SmileDirectClub, Byte, and AlignerCo usually offer attractive pricing, especially when compared to in-office brands. SmileDirectClub, for example, charges $2,050 upfront, $59 for an impression kit (unless you visit a SmileShop), and $99 at the end of treatment for each set of aftercare retainers.
Invisalign doesn’t have a set sticker price because it all depends on your specific condition and dentist. Think about it this way: if you have a severe case that requires more office visits (not to mention the added cost of attachments, if your dentist chooses to use them), your treatment will be more expensive. But, minor cases will often cost less. Still, because you’re paying for your dentist’s time and hands-on care, Invisalign is more expensive than SmileDirectClub, typically running between $3,000 and $8,000.
What About Insurance?
Sometimes, insurance companies will consider this clear aligner treatment purely cosmetic and ineligible for coverage. But depending on your plan, you may get some help. Insurance companies won’t often cover the entire cost, but you might receive partial coverage. And in general, they’re more likely to cover in-office treatments like Invisalign than at-home ones like SmileDirectClub. Even so, there’s a chance you could receive assistance from your insurance company with either option, although the process for requesting this coverage varies.
Dentist’s offices can receive payments directly from insurance companies, so your insurer can pay them directly. SmileDirectClub has partnerships with several insurance providers who can pay them directly. Other companies and plans will require you to pay the full amount up front, then request a reimbursement. To know for sure whether you’ll receive coverage, contact your provider.
Most people are probably not prepared to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket. The good news is that you don’t have to. SmileDirectClub provides financing and payment plans for every customer through SmilePay, which doesn’t even require a credit check. It does, however, require a down payment of $250, and then you’ll pay $89 per month for 26 months.
When your planner is packed and your life is flying by, it might seem impossible to fit teeth straightening treatment into your schedule. After all, it takes time and dedication over several months to effectively transform your smile. Convenience can mean fast treatment times, low time commitments, flexible treatment schedules, and more. At-home aligner systems like SmileDirectClub nearly always win the convenience category by allowing you to complete the entire process from the comfort of your own home.
By cutting out office visits, SmileDirectClub and other at-home clear aligner services have streamlined the process, although Invisalign still might be a convenient option if you’ve got a complex misalignment.
- An in-person consultation with a dentist is required to get started, including X-rays and photos.
- Requires office visits every 4–6 weeks to monitor progress and receive new aligner sets.
- Does not have a nighttime-only option, only the all-day, 22+ hour schedule.
- Average treatment time is 12–18 months.
- Option of either ordering an impression kit online, visiting a SmileShop location for a free 3D scan, or scheduling a consultation with one of their partnering dentists.
- You’ll complete treatment entirely at home — no office visits required.
- Offers a nighttime-only option that only requires aligner wear for ten hours per day.
- Average treatment time is 4–6 months.
Sometimes the most difficult step is the first one, going from dipping your toe in the water to jumping in completely. SmileDirectClub has streamlined their startup process, making it easy, fast, and comfortable.
Most home aligner companies require you to make and submit molds of your teeth using an impression kit, and some customers find this process difficult. As an alternative, SmileDirectClub has established 300+ SmileShops nationwide, where customers can receive free teeth scans that take the place of impressions. If you’d rather start your journey in a dentist’s office, the SmileDirectClub Partner Network includes more than 1,500 dentists nationwide, where you can begin your treatment with an in-office consultation and teeth scan. Note that this dentist will only take your scans and submit them to SmileDirectClub — they won’t be involved in the full process like they would with Invisalign.
Since a dentist will develop your Invsialign treatment, you can get started by scheduling an initial consultation. Your dentist will scan your teeth, take X-rays, and design your aligners if you’re interested in continuing. This is just as easy as visiting a SmileShop, although you might have to pay for it.
Note: If you get started at a SmileShop, you may have the option to sign up for a “Fast Track” service, which gets your aligners to your door as fast as possible. However, it also means you need to pay the full treatment cost upfront. And according to some customer reviews, after agreeing to fast-track their aligner production, they weren’t able to see their full treatment plan before receiving their aligners, so make sure you consider it carefully before signing up.
Office Visits vs. Home Application
Invisalign typically requires office visits every 4–6 weeks so that your dentist can monitor your progress and fit you for the next aligner sets. This takes away from your precious free time and may require you to take time off work. Between scheduling the appointment, driving to and from the office, and sitting in the patient’s chair, you could be looking at a significant chunk out of your day.
SmileDirectClub and their at-home aligner contemporaries eliminate these regular office visits. After you’ve been approved for treatment, they will ship the aligners directly to your doorstep, no appointments necessary. They do, however, provide virtual check-ins where you’ll submit photos of your teeth every 90 days, so they can make sure your treatment is staying on track.
How Long Does Treatment Take?
Along with “how much will it cost?”, this is one of the most common questions people have about clear aligner treatments. The short answer is that your treatment’s duration depends on the severity of your condition. Complicated teeth movements simply take longer to complete.
But generally, at-home aligners work faster than in-office ones. Why? Because they’re usually treating milder cases. Just looking at the averages: SmileDirectClub treatment typically takes around 4–6 months, while Invisalign takes closer to 12–18. Of course, Invisalign is capable of shorter treatment times, and SmileDirectClub treatment can exceed six months. It all depends on your unique case.
What About Nighttime-Only Treatment?
Nighttime aligners are a relatively new development in clear aligner treatment. Typically, you must wear your aligners for 22+ hours per day. However, SmileDirectClub, Byte, and AlignerCo have introduced nighttime-only plans, which only require you to wear them ten hours per day (overnight) instead.
SmileDirectClub’s Nighttime Aligners are the same ones that you would receive for regular, all-day treatment. You just follow a different schedule, wearing each set ten hours per day for two weeks instead of one. While this flexible schedule makes treatment more convenient, it also extends your overall timeline to ten months on average. Plus, not wearing your aligners for longer periods of time each day could allow your teeth to start shifting back to their old positions, causing additional strain on their roots.
Let’s talk about looks. The primary reason many people choose clear aligners over traditional braces is that they’re much less noticeable. Even though all clear aligners excel in appearance, many companies have taken extra steps to make their aligners the clearest, best looking, and least visible — and each company’s website will tell you that they’ve succeeded.
Aligner attractiveness is a fairly subjective category, as it relies on personal preferences. So, you’ll want to consider your own tastes and style as you weigh your options. Both Invisalign and SmileDirectClub make discreet aligners, but there are a few small differences that set them apart.
- Uses a frosted, textured plastic that matches your tooth surfaces.
- Scallops their aligners to match your gum line.
- Reasonably stain resistant.
- Supplemental appliances, such as attachments or elastics, will make aligners more visible.
- Uses a frosted, textured plastic that matches your tooth surfaces.
- Their aligners slightly overlap your gums.
- Reasonably stain-resistant.
- Cannot incorporate attachments, so aligners stay clear and less noticeable.
All aligner companies use clear, BPA-free plastics in their products, but these plastics can either be completely translucent or matte and textured. Both Invisalign and SmileDirectClub use matte aligners, which can look more natural. Your teeth are full of tiny pores, which gives them a textured surface, one that’s better matched by matte aligners. Translucent ones can be reflective, giving your teeth an artificially shiny appearance, although some people prefer this gleam in their smile.
You may remember from the “Effectiveness” section that straight-cut aligners can sometimes be more powerful than ones trimmed to match your gum line. However, this can also make them slightly more visible. It’s not extremely noticeable, but in close quarters, someone might see where your aligner and gums overlap. Without attachments, Invisalign’s scalloped aligners are slightly less noticeable than SmileDirectClub’s, which overlap the gums.
Using Invisalign, dentists can treat a wide variety of conditions, even severe bite issues, but this could come at a cost. To treat more significant tooth and jaw misalignments, your dentist may employ additional orthodontics like elastics or Smartforce attachments. Each of these will automatically make your aligners more visible since they’re increasing the amount of hardware on your teeth.
How does your treatment provider handle questions? What do they do if a problem arises? How far will they go to make sure you get the results you want? All of these things contribute to the overall patient experience.
By all accounts, SmileDirectClub facilitates a decent customer experience. But that’s difficult to do from afar. Invisalign’s personalized, hands-on care from a dentist or orthodontist makes for a better all-around experience.
Invisalign Patient Experience
SmileDirectClub Patient Experience
- You can consult with your dentist in-person.
- Office visits allow your dentist to better keep track of your progress and make adjustments.
- Refunds depend on the policy of your dental office.
- Customer service is available via phone, email, webchat, and mobile app.
- Received some negative reviews in the past, but has since turned things around.
- Offers virtual check-ins throughout treatment.
- Will work to modify your plan if you’re not satisfied, plus offer full refunds within 30 days of starting treatment, and prorated refunds after that.
- Their Lifetime Smile Guarantee ensures your smile forever.
Knowing how and when you can contact your treatment provider is important. SmileDirectClub says that their dental care team is available seven days a week via phone, email, webchat, and their mobile app.
During Invisalign treatment, your dentist or orthodontist’s office functions as your primary customer support contact, so you’ll need to check their contact channels and availability. However, the company also has a contact page where you can submit a question or concern to their Smile Concierge Team.
Customer Support Responsiveness
We dug into numerous online reviews to assess SmileDirectClub’s general customer satisfaction, and we discovered that they’ve accumulated some complaints over the years. Customers have reported delays in communication and complaint resolutions.
It appears that, around 2017, SmileDirectClub’s rapid expansion caused it to outgrow its customer service. More recently, they’ve been implementing initiatives designed to improve customer support—like a mobile app to track your progress, virtual check-ins with dental professionals, and expanded availability. Based on more recent reviews, it seems to be working.
It’s more difficult to gauge Invisalign’s customer service satisfaction, as most questions and concerns go directly to the individual dentist or orthodontist and are handled within their office.
But having a personal contact (like a dentist’s office) is preferable to relying on remote customer support teams. It means that the people addressing your questions and concerns will be intimately familiar with you and your teeth. Plus, you can speak directly to your dentist instead of going through a customer service representative, so you’ll get an answer from an expert right away.
During your SmileDirectClub treatment, you won’t receive any in-person oversight. They offer virtual check-ins every 90 days with their dental team and progress tracking through their mobile app, so you can make sure you’re staying on track. However, 90 days isn’t as frequent as Invisalign’s office visits, and as a remote treatment, it’s harder for SmileDirectClub’s team to evaluate your progress. If something seems off or you don’t think your teeth are moving as they should, you won’t have a professional who can physically assess your progress.
Throughout Invisalign treatment, you’ll need to visit your dentist every 4–6 weeks so that they can evaluate your progress and make adjustments to your aligner plan, if necessary. Scheduling these office visits is less convenient and more time-consuming, but it also gives you reassurance that your teeth will stay on track, plus an in-person resource if you’re concerned about your teeth.
Refund & Warranty Policies
You might have that nagging thought at the back of your mind: “what if it doesn’t work?” The good news is that these two companies are highly successful for a reason, and a large majority of their customers end up with the results they’re after. But, there’s always the slim chance that you might be dissatisfied with your treatment.
SmileDirectClub will only offer a refund within the first 30 days if you have a quick change of heart. After that, they’ll provide prorated refunds for unopened and unused aligners, but the amount depends on how many aligners you return. If you aren’t seeing the results you want, in most cases, SmileDirectClub will work with you to alter your treatment plan. These refinements don’t often cost extra, but you may need to complete another impression kit or go back to a SmileShop for another teeth scan. Just know that they don’t approve everyone for refinements.
On top of that, SmileDirectClub has a Lifetime Smile Guarantee, which provides free “aligner touch-ups” — AKA a couple of new aligners to make minor adjustments — after treatment if your teeth ever shift again. To qualify, you must order two sets of retainers ($99) per year and wear them as prescribed.
Which Should You Choose?
Once again, both of these companies offer high-quality, effective clear aligner treatments. Neither one is clearly or inherently better than the other. Rather, each one has its own strengths, and each excels in different circumstances. So, your decision should be based on your unique condition, goals, and expectations.
Who Should Use SmileDirectClub?
If you want superior convenience and a more affordable alternative to in-office treatments, and you’ve got a mild misalignment, SmileDirectClub could be a good fit.
Who Should Use Invisalign?
To correct a more severe condition, or if you’re more comfortable receiving face-to-face care from a dentist or orthodontist, Invisalign is an ideal choice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I choose Invisalign or SmileDirectClub?
It depends. If you have a severe dental or jaw misalignment, or if you just prefer in-person care, Invisalign is probably better. But if you’re looking for a faster, less expensive treatment, SmileDirectClub might be an ideal fit.
How do I get started with Invisalign or SmileDirectClub?
You can’t begin Invisalign treatment without first visiting your dentist or orthodontist. They will assess your smile, take impressions or scans of your teeth, and get the ball rolling. You can get started with SmileDirectClub treatment entirely from home, although you don’t have to. If you want to do it on your own, purchase and complete an impression kit.
You can also visit one of their 300+ SmileShops for a free teeth scan, or schedule an appointment with one of more than 1,500 dentists in the SmileDirectClub Partner Network.
How much do Invisalign and SmileDirectClub cost?
Invisalign’s prices can vary based on your condition, your location, and your dentist’s rates. But most people end up paying somewhere between $3,000 and $8,000. SmileDirectClub has a flat rate of $2,050, but you’ll also need to pay $59 for an impression kit (unless you visit a SmileShop) and $99 for each set of aftercare retainers.
How long do Invisalign and SmileDirectClub take?
Your Invisalign or SmileDirectClub timeline depends on the severity of your condition. On average, Invisalign takes 12–18 months and SmileDirectClub takes 4–6 months. The difference typically stems from the fact that Invisalign typically treats more severe, time-consuming cases.
Can I wear my aligners only at night?
If you choose SmileDirectClub, you’ll have the option of a nighttime-only plan that requires only ten hours of overnight wear rather than all day long. Invisalign says that effective teeth movements require 22+ hours of wear per day, so they don’t offer a nighttime option. To find out more about SmileDirectClub’s nighttime-only treatment, check out our full review.
What conditions can Invisalign and SmileDirectClub treat?
Invisalign can treat almost any dental or jaw misalignment because it can incorporate supplemental attachments for more power and intricacy. Because SmileDirectClub doesn’t have the same oversight and options, it’s restricted to treating mild and moderate cases of crowding and spacing.
What is the most effective clear aligner company?
Since they’re provided in-office by a dentist, Invisalign, ClearCorrect, 3M Clarity, and SureSmile can handle the widest range of conditions. Candid is another effective in-office option. Their dentist-directed treatment isn’t quite as comprehensive as Invisalign, but it incorporates robust remote monitoring. Read through our full Candid review, along with our guide to the most effective home aligners for more information.
What is the cheapest clear aligner company?
AlignerCo. At just $1,145, their price beats every competitor by a few hundred dollars, and sometimes they run promotions that drop it even lower. And if you can’t pay that up front, you can jump on a financing plan, regardless of your credit score.
Which other companies should I consider?
If you like the idea of at-home aligners, take a look at Byte, NewSmile, and AlignerCo. Byte utilizes innovative technology to facilitate highly efficient teeth shifts for some customers, AlignerCo has the Industry’s lowest prices ($1,145), and NewSmile boasts affordable prices plus free extras and remote monitoring.
Does insurance cover clear aligners?
Sometimes. Most insurance providers don’t cover home aligner treatment, although some might if you have orthodontic benefits. They’re more likely to cover an in-office treatment like Invisalign. The only way to find out for sure is to contact your provider and ask.
Are home aligners safe?
Yes! While administering treatment from home might seem daunting, the process is very safe. Home aligner companies use state-licensed dentists and orthodontists to create your treatment plan and design your aligners. Even though you won’t meet with them in-person, each company offers robust customer support services if something doesn’t feel quite right.
Do home aligners hurt?
When you switch to a new aligner set every two weeks, you might experience some discomfort for the first day or two, but after that, you’ll hardly notice them.