SmileDirectClub introduced the first at-home clear aligners in 2014 as an alternative to traditional orthodontic treatment options like braces and Invisalign. They kickstarted a trend of at-home treatment that resulted in several new competitors. And although each brand has its own unique selling points, they all share one major perk: treatment completed entirely from home — no dental visits required.
Home aligners also boast lower costs, higher convenience, and much shorter treatment times. That said, the industry is still relatively new, and at-home treatment isn’t a viable option for everyone. So how do you decide if the pros outweigh the cons? In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the drawbacks of at-home clear aligner treatment to help you decide whether or not it’s the right choice for you.
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What Are The Downsides of Using At-Home Aligners?
Home aligners completely transformed the orthodontic industry and made cosmetic dentistry more financially accessible. However, there are downsides to completing treatment entirely from home. For starters, you can’t choose the dentist or orthodontist that oversees your home aligner treatment. They’ll be selected at random, so you won’t be able to review their qualifications and experience personally.
All home aligner treatments are monitored remotely by a dental professional for the entire process. If you have any questions or concerns, you’ll have the option to reach out to the company’s customer support team. However, customer service waiting times vary depending on the brand you choose. So, it could take a few days before you get a response. In-office aligners have a distinct advantage here because you can schedule an appointment with your dentist at any time.
Home aligners are also much more limited than in-office brands in the conditions they’re able to treat. Dentists can supplement Invisalign and ClearCorrect aligners with attachments that are placed on specific teeth to make more complex movements. However, these attachments have to be placed by a dentist or orthodontist, so home aligners can’t use them. Because you complete home aligner treatment entirely from home, you won’t get the same level of detail.
Do the Pros Outweigh the Cons? Here’s Our Take.
Like any treatment, home aligners have drawbacks, but there are clear advantages to completing treatment entirely from home. In-office treatments, like Invisalign and ClearCorrect, are more established and well-known, but they often come at a price, both figuratively and literally.
In-office treatments are typically very expensive, and they require a considerable time commitment. Choosing home aligners instead can offer some significant benefits, like superior cost, convenience, and treatment speed.
The average cost of treatment with in-office aligners like Invisalign is about $5,000, while home aligners cost about $1,900 on average. The most budget-friendly brand, AlignerCo, only costs $1,145. So, they’re definitely a more affordable option.
Home aligners also have in-office aligners beat for convenience. Although regular office visits can be helpful, fitting them into an already busy schedule isn’t easy. We’re all constantly chasing a moment of free time, so you probably don’t want to spend it at the dentist’s office. Home aligners eliminate the need for office visits, so you won’t have to schedule monthly appointments. Instead, you’ll check in remotely and send your assigned dental professional photos of your teeth, so they can monitor your progress.
One of the biggest draws to home aligner treatment is its expedited treatment time. Most people can complete treatment in about 6 months, and Byte even boasts average treatment plans as short as 4-5 months (we’ll get to that later). In-office treatments typically take about 12-15 months. So, if you have an important event coming up later this year, home aligners might be more suitable for your timeline.
What’s the Difference Between At-Home Aligners and Invisalign?
Although at-home aligner brands like SmileDirectClub and in-office brands like Invisalign both offer clear aligners, there are some significant differences between the two treatment styles.
Most importantly, Invisalign can treat more complex misalignments because of their Smartforce® attachments and regular office visits. Smartforce® attachments are small tooth-colored shapes that are cemented onto specific teeth during treatment. They help move the tooth with more precision than is possible by just wearing the Invisalign tray by itself.
This feature allows Invisalign to handle more complex cases while still offering patients a discreet way to straighten their teeth. Because you have an in-office check up with a dentist, they’ll be able to make changes to your treatment in real time. This is helpful if a tooth moves more quickly than anticipated or if moving one tooth in a certain way is affecting another tooth too much.
The reason home aligner brands are able to boast shorter treatment times than traditional options like Invisalign, is largely due to the fact that they can only correct mild-to-moderate cases.
Invisalign’s aligners are produced by Align Technology, their parent company and the #1 clear aligner manufacturer in the country. On the other hand, the various other home aligner brands work with a variety of manufacturers — some even produce their aligners in-house. They’re all made from transparent, medical-grade, BPA-free plastic, just like Invisalign. But, each brand’s aligners look and feel slightly different depending on their manufacturer and how they are cut (straight cut or scalloped to match the gumline).
Are Home Aligner Products Safe?
Home aligner treatment does have some drawbacks, but all the providers we review are safe as long as you take appropriate measures to prepare for treatment and follow the provider’s instructions.
To ensure your treatment goes as smoothly as possible, it’s essential to schedule an appointment with your dentist to thoroughly evaluate your teeth. Healthy teeth move the most effectively and safely. So, cavities, gum disease, and displaced wisdom teeth will all have a negative effect on your treatment.
Once you start home aligner treatment, you’ll receive detailed instructions from the company. Like any other treatment, you should follow your provider’s instructions to prevent any issues and ensure the best, safest results.
Home aligner brands require patients to either wear their aligners for 22 hours per day, only removing them to eat, drink, or brush, or, if you opt for a nighttime version, wearing them for 8-10 hours every night. Deviating from the designated schedule will almost definitely delay your treatment. Plus, you could develop a bite issue from inconsistent wear.
To learn more about ensuring safe home aligner treatment, take a look at our in-depth guide.
How Do I Know If Home Aligners Will Work for Me?
The best candidates for home aligners are people with mild-to-moderate cases of crowding and spacing and no bite issues. As we mentioned earlier, home aligners are limited in the cases they can treat, so not everyone is a good candidate. Luckily, home aligner providers typically accept about 70% of the cases they receive, so the chances are good that you’ll be approved.
Every home aligner company has a similar process to determine your candidacy for treatment. In most cases, you’ll need to visit the company’s website to order an impression kit. They’ll mail you the kit, including instructions to take accurate impressions of your teeth. Once you make your impressions, you’ll send them back to the company to review. Then, a dentist will evaluate your case and determine whether you’re a good fit treatment.
Unfortunately, more than a few reviews online reveal that taking impressions can be somewhat challenging. Most online aligner brands don’t have physical locations, so ordering an impression kit is your only option to start treatment. SmileDirectClub stands out from the pack by offering free 3D scans at their retail shops located across the country. So, if you’re worried about taking impressions on your own, you can schedule an appointment for a free scan instead.
Best At-Home Clear Aligner Brands
1. Byte: $1,999
Byte is one of the newest home aligner brands, but their treatment incorporates some of the most innovative technology currently available, like the HyperByte device. As a result, they boast the industry’s shortest treatment plans (4-5 months on average). On top of that, they maintain reasonable prices and financing plans that don’t require a credit check.
They might not have convenient physical locations, but they’re one of the only companies to offer nighttime-only treatment, so you can transform your smile by wearing aligners for just 10 hours per night. Byte also offers a lifetime guarantee for your smile after treatment. So, if your teeth ever shift, they’ll send you new aligners to readjust them, completely free — even if you completed treatment years prior.
For a more detailed look at Byte, visit our comprehensive review.
2. Candid: $3,500+
Candid differs from other online clear aligners in that they use a hybrid at-home and in-person treatment model. 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.
However, this level of involvement comes with a major trade-off: Candid treatment costs $3,500+, which is about twice as expensive as fully-remote options like Byte.
For a more detailed look at Candid, visit our comprehensive review.
3. AlignerCo: $1,145
AlignerCo is another newcomer to the home aligner industry, but they’ve quickly gained popularity by being the most affordable brand available. Their $1,145 sticker price is hundreds lower than every other home aligner company. So, if cost is your primary concern, AlignerCo could be a great option.
Cheap prices, however, don’t mean cheap products. AlignerCo’s aligners are made by Essix, a trusted and long-standing dental product supplier. Plus, for added convenience, AlignerCo offers a nighttime-only treatment option called NightOnly, which only requires 10 hours of wear per night. This option costs a couple hundred dollars more than their standard daytime aligners, but it’s still the most affordable nighttime-only treatment option on the market by a longshot.
For a more detailed look at AlignerCo, visit our comprehensive review.
What Are My Other Treatment Options?
Home teeth aligners offer the fastest and cheapest treatment option available. However, there are benefits to choosing a more conventional option instead. If you’d prefer to see a dentist in person throughout your treatment, there are several alternatives that don’t include typical metal braces.
If your case of misalignment is particularly severe, clear or ceramic braces could be the perfect fit. They’re much more discreet than traditional braces, but they can treat almost any misalignment and most bite issues. Lingual braces are also a popular choice among adults. They’re placed behind the teeth, so most people won’t even notice you’re wearing them.
If your heart is set on clear aligners, Invisalign and ClearCorrect are the premier in-office options. They can both treat almost any condition that braces can, and the treatment process is very similar to that of home aligners. However, you’ll have the option of seeing your dentist whenever you need to.
Home teeth aligners are a popular and innovative way to straighten your teeth, but they aren’t right for everyone. If you’d feel more comfortable seeing a dentist in person, you may be happier and more satisfied with an in-office treatment like Invisalign or clear braces.
Like any dental treatment, home aligners have their drawbacks. And, each provider offers different advantages. If you’ve been considering home aligners, schedule an appointment with your dentist to discuss your options and help you decide whether they’re the right choice for your teeth.