With the invention of the first clear aligner 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, and the company’s popularity took off.
Since then, clear aligner treatment has been continuously evolving. Invisalign has developed new aligner processes. And, several other competitors have hit the market with treatments that can be completed entirely from home.
SmileDirectClub was one of the first companies to pioneer at-home clear aligner treatment. They send custom clear aligners directly to customers’ homes, where they can administer the entire treatment themselves. Place the two products side by side, and they’ll look very similar, but the truth is that Invisalign and SmileDirectClub deliver very different treatments and procedures.
If you’re trying to decide between these two popular treatment options, you’ve landed in the right place. In this review, we’ll dive into the details of how Invisalign and SmileDirectClub actually compare — including several things your dentist might not have told you.
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Over two decades ago, a dental technology 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 8 million patients.
Compared to Invisalign’s long history, at-home aligner systems are fairly young. But SmileDirectClub is 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 750,000 patients to date. In just a few years, they’ve grown to become one of Invisalign’s main competitors.
At-Home vs. In-Office Treatment: The Pros and Cons
As we mentioned above, even though they both produce clear aligners, Invisalign and SmileDirectClub provide fairly different treatments. This is because Invisalign is administered in-office by a dentist, while SmileDirectClub’s aligners are developed remotely by a licensed dental professional, and treatment is completed at home.
But which is better? The answer isn’t so straightforward. First, let’s discuss the pros & cons of in-office treatment with Invisalign:
Pros of In-Office Treatment:
- In-office aligner treatments can incorporate attachments that allow them to treat more severe tooth and jaw misalignments.
- Regular office visits allow dentists to carefully monitor your progress and adjust or supplement your treatment if necessary.
- In-office treatments provide more personalized customer service, as you can take any questions or concerns directly to your dentist.
Cons of In-Office Treatment:
- Because you’re also paying for your dentist’s time, in-office treatment is often more expensive than at-home treatments.
- Making regular office visits is more time-consuming and less convenient than at-home treatment.
With all that in mind, let’s consider the pros & cons of at-home treatment with SmileDirectClub:
Pros of At-Home Treatment:
- At-home aligners are, on average, much more affordable than in-office treatments.
- Because they don’t require office visits, home aligner treatments are often more convenient.
- At-home aligner treatments typically take around 6 months to achieve the desired results, while in-office treatments often take about 12.
Cons of At-Home Treatment:
- They’re not able to treat more severe cases of crowding, spacing and bite misalignments like in-office aligners can.
- Depending on the company, customer support isn’t as personalized you’ll receive with in-office aligners.
The fact is, at-home and in-office aligners are both quality options, but which one you choose largely depends on your unique condition and situation. For example, an in-office brand might be more effective for someone with a severe overbite, while an at-home brand could be preferable for someone with a mild case of spacing and a smaller budget.
Invisalign and SmileDirectClub each present their own unique treatments with specific nuances and perks. Let’s dig into the details to find out where each company excels.
Of course, the price doesn’t matter unless the clear aligner treatment can deliver results. You don’t want to dive into treatment without the confidence that it can achieve the smile you want on a timeline that works for you. When considering a company’s effectiveness, you’ll want to analyze the scope of conditions they can treat along with their aligner manufacturing and design quality.
Invisalign’s face-to-face dental care and supplemental attachments make it the most effective clear aligner treatment. And even among at-home treatments, we think there are a couple of better options than SmileDirectClub.
- Can treat almost any condition that braces by employing orthodontic attachments
- Created by Align Technology, the #1 clear aligner producer
- Aligners are customized and trimmed in a scalloped-fashion to fit the gumline
- Can treat mild-to-moderate cases of crowding and spacing, and some bite issues
- Once partnered with Align Technology to manufacture aligners, but now produces them in-house
- Aligners are cut straight across for more power and faster treatment time
What Can They Treat?
SmileDirectClub is very effective when it comes to correcting mild-to-moderate cases of crowding and spacing, along with some minor bite issues. Invisalign, however, can effectively treat these conditions, plus a whole lot more.
Invisalign’s regular office visits allow your dentist to treat severe tooth and jaw misalignments by supplementing your aligners with orthodontic 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 this type of appliance at home, so SmileDirectClub can’t treat the same wide range of conditions.
Invisalign aligners are manufactured by their parent company, Align Technology, who is the largest and most experienced 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 because of a legal dispute. Since the break-up, SmileDirectClub has been producing their aligners in house, which may affect their quality.
Place Invisalign and SmileDirectClub’s aligners side by side, and you’ll notice a difference in their design. Invisalign’s aligners are scalloped and trimmed to match your gum line, while SmileDirectClub cuts theirs straight across. Believe it or not, this can influence your aligners’ effectiveness.
Straight-cut aligners overlap the gums, which provides a leverage point, allowing them to exert up to 4x more force on your teeth. This generally makes straight-cut aligners more powerful than scalloped ones, but Invisalign is unique. Your dentist can match the power of straight cut aligners by anchoring Invisalign’s aligners in place with small attachments, so this design difference is negligible.
Each company uses software to scan your teeth, create 3D models of your dental arches, and simulate your treatment plan. Invisalign uses 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.
SmileDirectClub uses trustworthy 3D imaging and treatment preparation software. But, it’s from a third party and doesn’t quite measure up to iTero and ClinCheck’s customization and history of success.
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, especially when comparing in-office aligners with at-home ones. Overall, SmileDirectClub is much more affordable than Invisalign, although Invisalign’s higher price allows it to facilitate more effective treatment.
- 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 dentist, may require a credit check or down payment
- $1,895 sticker price
- Charges $99 for retainers after treatment
- 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 usually offer attractive pricing, especially when compared to in-office brands. SmileDirectClub, for example, charges $1,895 upfront, $49 for an impression kit (unless you visit a SmileShop) and $99 at the end of treatment for your 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 your dentist needs to be paid for their time, 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 not eligible for coverage. But depending on your plan, you may get some help. Insurance companies won’t often cover the entire cost, but you may be able to get partial coverage. And in general, they’re more likely to cover in-office treatments than at-home ones. Still, whether you go with Invisalign or SmileDirectClub, you could receive assistance from your insurance company, but the process for requesting this coverage varies.
Dentist’s offices can receive payments directly from insurance companies, so your insurer can pay them directly. On the other hand, SmileDirectClub requires some extra steps. They don’t accept direct payments from insurance companies, so you’ll need to pay the entire amount and then request reimbursement from your insurer.
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 $85 per month for 24 months.
There are also payment plans available for Invisalign, but the specifics depend on your particular dentist. Before committing to Invisalign treatment, you should speak with your dentist about the financing plans they offer.
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.
- An in-person consultation with a dentist is required to get started, including X-rays and photos
- Requires monthly office visits 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 or visiting a SmileShop location for a free 3D scan
- Treatment is completed entirely at home– no office visits required
- Offers a nighttime-only option that only requires aligner wear for 10 hours per day
- Average treatment time is 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, but this can be difficult for many customers. As an alternative, SmileDirectClub has established 300+ SmileShops nationwide, where customers can receive free teeth scans that can be used to create their treatment plan.
Since Invisalign is developed by your dentist, 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 it might cost you money.
Office Visits vs. Home Application
Invisalign typically requires monthly office visits so that your dentist can monitor your progress and fit you for the next aligner sets. This takes a chunk out of your precious free time and may require you to take time off work, neither of which is preferable for busy adults. Between scheduling the appointment, driving to and from the office, and sitting in the patient’s chair, you’re looking at a solid block of time.
SmileDirectClub is more convenient solely because they eliminate these regular office visits. After you’ve been approved for treatment, they will ship your aligners directly to your doorstep, no appointments necessary.
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 largely 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 takes around 6 months, while Invisalign takes closer to 12. This isn’t to say that Invisalign is incapable of shorter treatment times, or that SmileDirectClub treatment never exceeds 6 months. Both are certainly possible, but these cases are often the exception rather than the rule.
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 (and byte) recently introduced “Nighttime Aligners,” which only require you to wear them 10 hours per day (overnight) instead.
These are the same exact aligners that you would receive for regular, all-day treatment. You just follow a different schedule, wearing each set 10 hrs/day for two weeks instead of one. While this flexible schedule makes treatment more convenient, it also extends your overall timeline to 10 months (on average). Plus, not wearing your aligners for longer periods of time each day could allow your teeth to shift back to their old positions, causing additional strain on their roots.
Invisalign doesn’t offer a comparable nighttime-only option. They maintain that for best results, you should wear your aligners for 20-22 hours per day, removing them only to eat, drink, brush, and floss.
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 “best looking” or “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 similarly attractive aligners, but there are a few small differences that set them apart.
- Uses a frosted, textured plastic that better 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 better matches your tooth surfaces
- Uses straight-cut aligners that slightly overlap your gums.
- Reasonably stain resistant
- Attachments are not offered, 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 “frosted” and textured. Both Invisalign and SmileDirectClub use frosted aligners, which we think is the better-looking option. Your teeth are full of tiny pores, which gives them a matte surface, one that’s better matched by frosted aligners. Translucent ones can be reflective, giving your teeth an artificially shiny appearance.
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 be able to see where your aligner and gums overlap. So, Invisalign’s aligners, which match your gum lines, have a slight advantage here.
Invisalign can treat a wide variety of conditions, even severe bite issues, but this could come at a cost. In order to treat more significant tooth and jaw misalignments, your dentist may employ additional orthodontics like elastics, expanders, or Smartforce attachments. Each of these will automatically make your aligners more visible since they’re adding to the amount of hardware on your teeth.
SmileDirectClub’s aligners can’t incorporate dental attachments, so this added visibility isn’t a concern.
When it comes to your teeth, you don’t want to leave anything to chance. So, if there’s ever an issue during your treatment, you want to be confident that your aligner provider will work with you to resolve it quickly. That’s why you should also consider a company’s customer support before beginning their treatment.
By all accounts, SmileDirectClub has passable customer service, but it’s difficult for any home aligner company to compete with Invisalign’s personalized care from a dentist.
Invisalign Customer Friendliness
SmileDirectClub Customer Friendliness
- Your dentist’s office functions as your primary customer support contact
- Customer satisfaction varies depending on the office, but you have the option of speaking with your dentist in-person
- No company-wide policy on refunds or returns, varies depending on the dentist
- Customer service is available via phone, email, and webchat
- Received some negative reviews in the past, but seems to be turning it around
- Will work to modify your plan if you’re not satisfied, plus offers a full refund within 30 days of starting treatment
Knowing how and when you can contact your treatment provider is important. SmileDirectClub’s customer service is available during regular business hours via phone, email, and webchat. Their website says that they will respond to all emails within 24 hours.
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. And, based on more recent reviews, it seems to be working.
It’s more difficult to gauge Invisalign’s customer satisfaction, as the majority of questions and concerns go directly to the individual dentist or orthodontist and are handled within their office. But in our opinion, having a personal contact (like a dentist’s office) is much 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.
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 chance that you might end up 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, you can’t get your money back, but if you’re unhappy with your progress, they will work with you to correct it.
Invisalign doesn’t have a company-wide policy on refunds or returns. Instead, they defer to your dentist or orthodontist’s office. If your treatment doesn’t go as you expected, consult your dentist about your options.
Which Should You Choose?
Once again, both of these companies offer 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, SmileDirectClub could be a good fit.
Who Should Use Invisalign?
To correct a more severe condition, or if you’re more comfortable receiving one-on-one care from a dentist/orthodontist, Invisalign is an ideal choice.