SmileDirectClub introduced the first at-home clear aligners in 2014 as an affordable, totally remote alternative to traditional orthodontic treatment options like braces and Invisalign. As their popularity grew, several other at-home aligner brands entered the market with equally convenient and affordable services. And although each brand has its own unique selling points, they all share one major perk: treatment entirely from home — no dental visits required.
Since the industry is still relatively new, most people don’t know if at-home teeth straightening will actually work for them. We also aren’t sure of the long-term effects of remote home orthodontics. If you’re uncertain about any aspect of home aligner treatment, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll go over the major benefits of at-home clear aligner treatment, weigh the pros and cons, and outline some of our top picks.
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Top 3 Benefits of At-Home Clear Aligner Treatment
Traditional treatment options like braces and Invisalign 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 huge time commitment. Choosing home aligners instead can offer some significant benefits, including:
#1: It’s very affordable.
There are several at-home aligner companies on the market, but most of them are around the same price. Regardless of the brand, online aligners usually cost about half the price of traditional orthodontics. The average cost of treatment is about $1,900. And, some providers even include whitening and/or aftercare retainers in the price. AlignerCo, the industry’s least expensive home aligner brand, only costs $995. For comparison, in-office aligners like Invisalign and ClearCorrect normally cost about $5,000, and they rarely include free retainers or whitening with treatment.
Financing and payment plans are available through individual dentist offices to make the cost of in-office treatments more manageable. However, they often require a credit check or a hefty down payment. While some online aligner companies follow this model, others offer guaranteed financing without a credit check and payment plans for under $100 per month. So, online aligners will likely be easier to fit into your budget.
#2: It’s more convenient than traditional orthodontics.
Online aligner companies attract a vast majority of their customers by offering superior convenience. We all have busy schedules, and it can be difficult to find time for Invisalign’s monthly dental visits. Home aligners have eliminated this burden by allowing patients to administer treatment on their own, with a dentist monitoring their progress remotely.
Most people who are considering teeth straightening treatment are looking for a complete smile makeover, and that can include whitening. With in-office aligners like Invisalign, you must complete treatment before using any whitening products. And it will almost definitely come at an extra cost. To make their treatment even more convenient, some home aligner brands have introduced whitening products that you can use while wearing your aligners. So, you can straighten and whiten your teeth at the same time.
On top of all that, SmileDirectClub, Byte, NewSmile, and AlignerCo all have nighttime-only options that allow you to wear your aligner for just ten hours per night. Other home aligner brands and Invisalign require 22+ hours of daily wear.
#3: Treatment doesn’t take as long.
In-office orthodontic treatment often lasts around a year, so if you have an important event coming up later this year, it might not fit into your timeline.
Home aligners, on the other hand, require an average treatment time of just six months. Although they’re best-suited for mild-to-moderate cases of misalignment, most people are good candidates for home aligner treatment.
At-home aligner services offer shorter treatment times because they typically treat milder cases that require fewer aligners. But the way they cut their aligners helps too. In-office brands like Invisalign “scallop” their aligners to match the gumline. In contrast, many home aligner brands cut their aligners straight across the top, allowing the trays to apply additional pressure on the teeth.
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. As we’ve discussed, home aligners don’t require in-office visits, so they’re limited in the conditions they can treat. Invisalign can treat more complex misalignments because dentists have the option of incorporating supplemental appliances to enhance treatment.
Specifically, Invisalign uses Smartforce® attachments, which are placed on specific teeth to make more complex and detailed movements. The attachments are small, tooth-colored squares that typically blend in, but can sometimes make your aligners more visible. They can only be placed by a dentist, so at-home aligner brands don’t offer them.
At-home aligners and Invisalign also differ in how they’re manufactured. Invisalign’s aligners are only produced by Align Technology, their parent company and the #1 clear aligner manufacturer in the country.
On the other hand, other home aligner brands on the market may work with a variety of manufacturers — some even produce their aligners in-house. They’re all made from transparent, 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.
Is At-Home Treatment Safe?
The concept of home aligner treatment may be difficult to process. When you first hear that you won’t be seeing a dentist in-person for the entirety of your treatment, it might sound a little alarming. You might assume that you’ll be completely on your own to complete treatment, but that’s not entirely true.
Your treatment will be monitored remotely by a dental professional for the entire process. Some brands have virtual check-ins and others have you send photos of your teeth to your case provider so they can monitor progress. Keep in mind, you can always contact the company’s customer support team if you have any questions or concerns.
Still, it’s important to remember that with the exception of Candid, you won’t get any face-to-face interaction with your dentist and customer support waiting times vary depending on the brand you choose. So, it could take a few days before you get a response to your question or concern. In-office aligners have an obvious advantage here since you can schedule an appointment with your dentist at any time. At the very least, you can contact their office and speak with someone you’ve met personally.
Aligner quality is also an important factor to consider to ensure your treatment will be safe. As we previously mentioned, all of the aligner brands that we promote are made from transparent, medical-grade BPA-free plastic. So, they’re all safe to wear.
How Do I Know If At-Home Aligners Will Work For Me?
The best candidates for online aligners are people with mild-to-moderate cases of crowding and spacing with 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 there’s a good chance 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 important instructions to take accurate impressions of your teeth. Some companies even have step-by-step videos or video call options to make the process easier. Once you take 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, it can be challenging to take impressions on your own. And, they need to be taken correctly, so that a dentist can accurately review your case. Most online aligner brands don’t have physical locations, so ordering an impression kit is the only way to get started.
SmileDirectClub stands out from the pack by offering free 3D scans at their 300+ retail shops across the country. As an alternative to ordering an impression kit, you can schedule a free appointment at one of their locations and have a dental professional scan your teeth.
Once you mail the impressions back in and your assigned dental professional reviews them, they will decide if you are a good candidate for treatment. If you are, they will send you a proposed plan that usually includes how many trays you’ll need, how long treatment will take, and a rendering of what your teeth will look like after treatment.
Best At-Home Aligner Brands
#1: Byte ($1,999)
In every aligner package, Byte includes a high-frequency vibration device called the HyperByte. Using gentle micropulses, this device is intended to help seat your aligners and the company says it can reduce discomfort. There’s also evidence that devices like this may help teeth shift faster for some. On top of that, they have affordable prices and assign each customer a personal advisor for customer support. They might not have any retail 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 and wear their retainers as directed. If you want to see your transformed smile ASAP, but don’t want to sacrifice quality in the process, Byte is your best bet.
#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.
#3: SmileDirectClub ($2,250)
SmileDirectClub was the first mass market at-home aligner company, and in the several years since they launched, their popularity has skyrocketed. Their prices might be slightly higher than some other at-home aligners, but they’ve engineered one of the most convenient treatments available.
They have over 100 SmileShops and 1,000 partnering dental offices where you can get a teeth scan instead of using their impression kit. Plus, they’ve introduced a nighttime-only treatment plan, prorated refunds during treatment, a lifetime guarantee, and a do-it-all app that lets you track your progress, upload photos of your teeth for review, and contact their customer support team seven days a week. The icing on top: If you can’t pay for treatment upfront, they offer financing to everyone, regardless of credit score.
Over the past few years, at-home clear aligners have proven to be a viable alternative to traditional orthodontic options. The treatment plans from services like Byte and SmileDirectClub are convenient, affordable, and effective for many cases of mild-to-moderate misalignment. And, so far, the majority of their online reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
That said, we encourage you to consider all your options, weigh the pros and cons of each, and just as importantly, visit a dentist for a check-up before beginning treatment.
Best of luck to you on your smile journey!