SmileDirectClub introduced the first at-home clear aligners in 2014 as an alternative to traditional orthodontic treatment options like braces and Invisalign. They gained popularity because they were more affordable than Invisalign and didn’t require monthly visits to a dental office. As their popularity grew, several other at-home aligner brands entered the market with even more 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 the best brands to choose from.
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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 $1,145. 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, and AlignerCo all have nighttime-only options that allow you to wear your aligner for just 10 hours per night. Other home aligner brands and Invisalign require 22+ hours of daily wear.
#3: Treatment doesn’t take as long.
The shortest in-office orthodontic treatments will still last about a year, even for relatively mild cases. So, if you have an important event coming up later this year, in-office aligners might not fit into your timeline.
Home aligners require an average treatment time of just 6 months, though one company currently boasts a 3-month timeline (more on that later). 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. This straight cut allows the aligners to apply additional pressure to the teeth, encouraging them to move more quickly.
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 when it comes to how they’re manufactured. Invisalign’s aligners are only produced by Align Technology, their parent company which is 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 (straight cut or scalloped to match the gumline).
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)
Byte’s claim to fame is the HyperByte device, a high-frequency vibration device that they include in the cost of your aligner bundle. The HyperByte uses gentle micropulses to help provide a more comfortable aligner fit and encourage faster dental shifts. On top of that, they have affordable prices and give each customer a personal Byte advisor for customer support. They might not have retail locations yet, 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. 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: AlignerCo ($895)
If sticking to a tight budget is your top priority, AlignerCo’s industry-low prices are likely a big draw. Not only do they beat every other company’s prices by several hundred dollars, but they offer flexible financing plans too. And they still deliver quality products thanks to their partnership with Dentsply Sirona’s Raintree Essix material, as well as personalized customer service. They’re a fairly young company, but they’ve already established themselves among the competition. If you’re looking for the most affordable service out there, go with AlignerCo.
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!
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