Braces Alternatives (Affordable vs. Comprehensive Options)

erica medical reviewer
Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Alyssa Hill
Written by
Alyssa Hill
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Evidence Based
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9 sources cited
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What are Traditional Metal Braces?

Traditional braces are dental appliances that consist of small brackets and wires.

The brackets attach to your teeth and the wires connect to the brackets. The wires gently apply pressure to your teeth, pulling them into the correct position. Brackets are typically metal and sometimes feature colored or clear elastic rubber bands.

Braces can be used to correct crooked or gapped teeth, irregular jaw alignment, and more severe cases of malocclusion (teeth misalignment). 

Orthodontists are the primary providers of braces (some general dentists also offer orthodontic services). However, orthodontists are the best choice because they have three or more years of specialty training in teeth straightening.

Braces are worn for 12 to 24 months, on average. You also have to wear a retainer to keep your teeth straight after treatment (at night only).

What Does 'Malocclusion' Mean? Why is it Bad?

Malocclusion (teeth misalignment) refers to how your upper and lower teeth align/interact when your mouth is closed.

An improper bite can lead to jaw pain, speech difficulties, oral health issues, and chronic headaches. Malocclusion can also injure teeth if they collide with one another while chewing or speaking.

The best at-home invisible aligner:

Other brands:

Is There a Cheaper Alternative to Braces?

Some cheaper alternatives to traditional metal braces include:

At-Home (Direct-to-Consumer) Clear Aligners 

If you want straighter teeth, but don’t want metal brackets and wires on your teeth, at-home clear aligners are an excellent option. They are a virtually invisible and removable alternative to braces designed around comfort and convenience.

Aligners are made of clear, medical-grade, BPA-free plastic. They are perfectly molded to the shape of your teeth and gradually move them into the correct position over time.

Each custom-made aligner is worn for 1 to 3 weeks at a time (22+ hours a day). Treatment length depends on your unique plan.

There are two clear aligner options available, including in-office aligners and at-home aligners

In-office aligners (like Invisalign) are the most well-known option because they have been around the longest. You have to visit a licensed specialist to receive these aligners, and the treatment process is more comprehensive and expensive.

At-home aligners, also called direct-to-consumer aligners, are significantly cheaper than in-office aligners. Treatment is completed 100% remotely and you will not visit a dentist or orthodontist for in-person checkups.

Instead, you will send in progress photos to ensure your teeth are moving correctly (usually through an app). This means treatment is also not monitored as closely, so there is a slightly higher risk for error

At-home aligners can only treat minor to moderate cases of teeth misalignment, including slightly crooked/overlapping teeth, and gapped teeth. Braces can treat moderate to severe cases of teeth misalignment, including underbites, overbites, open bites, crossbites, and similar issues.

Aligners Crash Course

Clearing Things Up About At-Home Aligners

Are you interested in straightening your teeth, but don’t know where to start? Become confident in at-home aligner therapy with our crash course.

Here are the five best at-home aligner options:

1. Candid

Unlike other direct-to-consumer aligner companies, Candid only works with highly qualified orthodontists (teeth straightening experts). The same orthodontist who designs your treatment plan will track your progress from start to finish.

Candid is the most expensive at-home aligner brand ($2,400). However, they have excellent customer service and a detailed onboarding process. The digital check-ins are also more comprehensive than other at-home aligners.

More specifically, every treatment plan is overseen and monitored by a qualified orthodontist in the Candid Mobile App. This app gives you 24/7 access to Candid's teledentistry services.

For example, you’ll use the app to send in progress photos every two weeks using the Scan Box included in your treatment package.

The box connects to your phone and is used to take detailed images of tooth movement.

The app walks you through the entire process during each scan. You can also set up notifications on your phone to make sure you don’t miss a scan date. 

Once you submit the photos, you’ll hear back from your orthodontist within a few hours. They will let you know if it’s safe to move on to the next set. If your teeth aren’t tracking correctly, the orthodontist will provide you with screenshots of your teeth highlighting what went wrong and how to get your treatment back on track. 

You can begin Candid aligner treatment in two different ways:

  1. Order an impression kit online and take the impressions yourself. If you choose to take your impressions at home, Candid will give you access to step-by-step videos to ensure you take them correctly. These instructions are very in depth and easy to follow. 
  2. Visit a Candid Studio for a professional scan and x-rays. If you visit a Candid studio for a scan, a trained professional will take impressions and x-rays of your teeth. If you have a Candid Studio in your area, take advantage of it to ensure you get the best care and results possible.

Cost: $2,400

Treatment Time: 6 to 12 months

Monthly Payment Plan: Starting at $99/mo

candid aligner kit

Candid

Best remote monitoring & care

Every treatment plan is overseen by a qualified orthodontist with over 20 years of experience. Your treatment is monitored in the Candid Mobile App, where you'll have access to teledentistry services 24/7.

You can begin treatment in two ways:

2. NewSmile

NewSmile is one of the most affordable at-home aligners, but they are also one of the newest companies.

Unlike most at-home aligner brands, NewSmile aligners do not touch your gums. They are trimmed to comfortably sit along your gum line in a ‘scalloped fashion.’ Not only does this design cause less irritation, but it also makes the trays less visible. 

Once you receive the impression kit, you should get an email to book a time with an Impression Specialist. During this video call, they will walk you through the process to ensure accuracy.

NewMouth recommends Candid over cheap aligner alternatives because they offer hands-on remote monitoring. Every treatment case is also overseen by a licensed orthodontist.

Cost: $1,195 (normal aligners) to $1,295 (night aligners)

* NewMouth does not recommend night aligners because there is no scientific proof that they are safe.

Treatment Time: 4 to 10 months

Monthly Payment Plan: Starting at $84/mo

newsmile impression kit

NewSmile

Budget option

NewSmile aligners are trimmed along your gum line to provide an even more visible treatment experience. They also offer live video chats with a specialist to ensure you take accurate impressions.

NewSmile aligners are more affordable than other brands. However, treatment is more hands-off after you approve the plan.

Use code NewMouthDeal for $100 off Aligners and code NewMouthKit for $20 off impression kit.

3. Byte

Byte is a relatively new at-home clear aligner supplier. They use innovative technology that offers quick and effective results at an affordable price.

Every byte customer receives a HyperByte® with their aligners. This FDA-cleared dental movement acceleration device straightens teeth faster with HFV (high-frequency vibration). You only have to wear it for 5 minutes a day (10 minutes a day for night aligners). 

* Keep in mind: There is no scientific proof pointing to the safety and effectiveness of moving teeth quickly. Successful orthodontics requires precise tooth movement.

An aligner-safe teeth whitening kit (BrightByte) is also included with every purchase.

Byte offers two treatment options. The treatment length/price will vary depending on the type of aligner you choose:

  • All-Day Aligners — these aligners are worn for 22 hours a day. The average treatment length for Byte All-Day Aligners is three months, which is about 2x faster than other clear aligners. 
  • At-Night Aligners — these aligners straighten your teeth while you sleep, and are worn for 10+ hours a day. The average treatment length for Byte’s At-Night Aligners is 5 to 6 months. 

* NewMouth does not recommend night aligners because there is no scientific proof that they are safe.

Cost: $1,895 to $2245

Treatment Time: 3 to 6 months

Monthly Payment Plan: Starting at $83/mo

byte impression kit

byte®

Quickest treatment time

Byte's All-Day Aligners are worn for 22 hours a day and can straighten teeth in 3 months.

The At-Night Aligners straighten teeth while you sleep and can take up to 6 months.

* NewMouth does not recommend night aligners because there is no scientific proof that they are safe.

4. SmileDirectClub

SmileDirectClub is the largest (and first) at-home aligner brand on the market. The brand has established more than 300 SmileShops, where clients can receive in-person teeth scans instead of ordering an impression kit online.

SmileDirectClub sells two different types of aligners. The most popular are the original aligners, which are worn for 22 hours a day. The Nighttime Aligners™ are only worn while you sleep (about 10 hours a day).

* NewMouth does not recommend night aligners because there is no scientific proof that they are safe.

Their SmilePay™ program also offers financing to every patient (without a credit check) to make the product more accessible.

Cost: $1,950

Treatment Time: 4 to 6 months

Monthly Payment Plan: Starting at $89/mo

smile direct kit

SmileDirectClub

The biggest company

SmileDirectClub is the largest, longest-standing clear aligner manufacturer. With hundreds of physical locations, you can choose an in-person consultation or order a mail-in impression kit.

5. ALIGNERCO

ALIGNERCO offers the cheapest invisible aligners on the market. They are typically a great option if you are on a budget, only have minor teeth misalignment, and do not require intensive remote monitoring. 

ALIGNERCO’s most popular treatment is the SmileAdvantage Clear Aligner. This aligner is worn for 22+ hours a day and can be removed for cleaning, eating, and brushing. The average treatment duration is between 8 and 12 months. 

The NightAdvantage Clear Aligners require less daily wear time (8 to 10 hours a day). Treatment takes between 12 and 18 months. 

* NewMouth does not recommend night aligners because there is no scientific proof that they are safe.

Although the price point of ALIGNERCO is appealing to many people, it’s not always the best idea to go with the cheapest option.

For example, if you are looking for more hands-on care and remote monitoring, ALIGNERCO may not be the best choice for you. 

NewMouth recommends Candid over cheap aligner alternatives because they offer hands-on remote monitoring. Every treatment case is also overseen by a licensed orthodontist.

Cost: $1,145 to $1,345

Treatment Time: 6 to 12 months

Monthly Payment Plan: Starting at $86/mo

aligner co kit

ALIGNERCO

Another budget option

ALIGNERCO is another brand that offers an affordable aligner experience. However, treatment is more hands-off after you approve the plan.

Other Braces Alternatives (More Comprehensive Options)

Here are some more comprehensive alternatives to braces:

Invisalign

Invisalign is renowned for creating the world’s first clear teeth aligners.

The brand is the most established and widely-used clear aligner supplier in the United States. It has been running for over two decades, helping customers achieve a straighter and more attractive smile.

Invisalign is monitored in person by a licensed doctor, so treatment is more comprehensive than at-home aligners.

Your Invisalign doctor can make adjustments as necessary (even mid-treatment) because you don’t receive all of the aligners at once.

Most Invisalign treatment plans also require attachments (known as buttons). These devices allow for more precise teeth/jaw alignment. At-home aligners do not provide attachments, potentially affecting treatment results. 

Cost: $3,000 to $8,000

Treatment Time: 12 to 18 months


NewMouth recommends at-home clear aligners if you have mild teeth misalignment. Find out if you're a candidate for clear aligners.


Monthly Payment Plan: Starting at $50/mo

Lingual Braces

Lingual braces consist of the same components as traditional metal braces. However, they are fixed to the back of your teeth instead of your front teeth.

Traditional braces use a wire that is bent into a horseshoe form. However, the wire on lingual braces can be custom fixed to the contours of your mouth. This process can potentially shorten treatment time.

Lingual braces attach to the back of your teeth (where your tongue hits when you speak). Because of this, you may have a temporary lisp or interference with your speech when you first begin treatment.

Ceramic Braces

Ceramic braces also use the same components as metal braces.

However, the brackets consist of tooth-colored ceramic or porcelain instead of stainless steel. This makes ceramic braces nearly invisible.

Ceramic braces are more convenient than traditional metal braces because they blend in with your teeth. But they are also more expensive and tend to break more frequently since they are made of plastic, which is less stable than metal.

If you choose ceramic braces, excellent oral hygiene is crucial because foods and beverages can stain the brackets.

Veneers (Ceramic or Porcelain) 

Veneers are thin, tooth-colored shells that cover the front of your teeth. They are a permanent cosmetic dental treatment designed to improve the appearance of teeth.

Veneers are typically made of ceramic (porcelain) and are a great option for minor imperfections like uneven-sized teeth, small gaps, and irregularly shaped teeth.

tooth in lower jaw with dental veneer

Some patients require orthodontic treatment with braces or Invisalign before veneers are placed. This is because the teeth should all be properly positioned for optimal results. 

Veneers are used to improve the appearance of teeth, not to repair any damage. They are an excellent option if your teeth are discolored, stained, crooked, oddly shaped, chipped, or have spacing problems. 

Your teeth and gums must be healthy before veneer placement. In addition, you may not be suitable for veneers if you grind or clench your teeth, which can crack and damage the shells.

Retainers

Retainers hold your teeth in place after braces have shifted them into the correct position. A retainer is either made of a metal/acrylic bite plate (fixed) or plastic (removable).

A fixed retainer consists of a thin strip of metal that is fixed to the back of your teeth. A removable retainer is similar to a clear aligner and is only worn at night.

Most people have to wear a retainer every night (for a lifetime) to prevent shifting teeth.

When Are Braces Necessary Over Aligners?

At-home clear aligners can only treat minor cases of teeth misalignment. Invisalign can often treat more extreme cases. However, braces are usually necessary for severe forms of misalignment and bite/jaw issues.

Are Braces or Clear Aligners Faster?

An aligner applies pressure to all of your teeth at once (instead of each individual tooth). If you are strict about wearing your plastic aligners, they are likely to work quicker than braces.

Are Braces or Clear Aligners Cheaper?

The cost of Invisalign treatment is comparable to braces. Braces typically cost around $2,000 to $7,000. Invisalign averages between $3,000 and $8,000. All at-home clear aligner suppliers are less expensive than Invisalign (up to $2,400).

Other factors that can affect the cost of braces and aligners include:

  • If your oral health requires more work and attention (.e.g., overbite treatment will take longer than fixing minorly crooked teeth)
  • Orthodontic treatment prices in your city (varies greatly)
  • The brand/type of treatment you choose (e.g., in-office vs. at-home aligners)
  • How much your dental insurance plan will cover

What’s Next?

The most popular at-home clear aligner kits can be found right here:

Learn about the different brands and what they offer.

Resources

Dental braces and retainers, Health Direct, August 2018, https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-braces-and-retainers 

Braces Have Changed, From Metal to Tooth-Colored to Clear, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), June 2017, https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/braces-have-changed-metal-tooth-colored-clear 

Why Candid?, Candid Co,https://www.candidco.com/why-candid 

Why Byte? Byte, https://www.byteme.com/pages/why-byte 

How it works, Smile Direct Club, https://smiledirectclub.com/how_it_works/ 

The Invisalign Difference, Invisalign, https://www.invisalign.com/the-invisalign-difference 

Auluck, Angela., Lingual orthodontic treatment: what is the current evidence base?, Journal of orthodontics vol. 40 Suppl 1 (2013): S27-33, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24005948/ 

Chalipa, Javad et al., Comparison of Bond Strength of Metal and Ceramic Brackets Bonded with Conventional and High-Power LED Light Curing Units., Journal of dentistry (Tehran, Iran) vol. 13,6, 2016, 423-430, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5318499/ 

Veneers, Health Direct, August 2018, https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/veneers 

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