Clear Aligners: How They Work, Popular Brands & Costs

What are Clear Aligners?

Clear aligners, also called invisible aligners, are a type of orthodontic treatment that corrects misaligned or crooked teeth. They are a virtually invisible and removable alternative to braces designed around convenience and flexibility.

Aligner trays are custom-built for every patient, depending on the severity of teeth misalignment (malocclusion). Clear aligners can treat a variety of different cases, including:

  • Crowded Teeth — when the teeth overlap.
  • Overbites — when the upper front teeth overlap with the lower front teeth.
  • Underbites — when the lower front teeth overlap with the upper front teeth.
  • Diastema — when there are small or large gaps between the teeth.
  • Open Bites — when the front upper and lower teeth slant outward and do not touch when the mouth is shut. This is a very rare type of malocclusion.
  • Misaligned Primary (Baby) Teeth — clear aligners can be used during phase I orthodontic treatment to make room for existing baby teeth and developing permanent teeth. Children between 6 and 10 years of age are candidates for this treatment.
Invisalign braces or invisible retainer isolated on white background

Popular Invisible Aligner Brands

Vacuum-formed clear thermoplastic sheets were introduced into orthodontics in the 1980s. They were originally used as retainers, but it was quickly discovered that the devices were capable of moving teeth back into alignment. Today, these devices are called “clear aligners.”

There are a few different companies that now make invisible aligners:

Invisalign®

Beginning in the 1990s, Align Technology created the first sequence of aligners that could correct complex orthodontic issues in adults, teens, and children. Invisalign is now the most popular and widely-known clear aligner available. Invisalign aligners are made out of SmartTrack® material that is specifically engineered for the Invisalign system.

The material claims to provide a more accurate, comfortable, and quicker treatment experience than other clear aligners on the market. In fact, Invisalign treatment time is up to 50 percent faster with 75 percent more teeth straightening predictability.

Other popular brands of clear aligners include:

  • ClearCorrect
  • Smile Direct Club
  • Candid Co
  • byte®
  • SnapCorrect
  • Smile Love
  • Aligner Coo

Aligners Production Process & How They Work

Patients receive a series of aligners throughout the treatment process that includes virtual models with some teeth reset in small increments.

Multiple aligners are used because a single aligner is only capable of moving the teeth slightly (1 mm or less).

The clear aligner fabrication process involves:

1. A Custom Treatment Plan

First, patients visit an orthodontist for a consultation. During the consultation, a dentist exams the teeth and takes a precise digital scan of the mouth. Then a custom treatment plan is made after examining the 3D scan.

Patients are able to see a digital preview of their new smile before the aligners are created. Invisalign, ClearCorrect, and Candid Co require in-person consultations and custom treatment plans.

Some clear aligner brands allow patients to mail in molds of their teeth using a “goopy putty” rather than visiting an orthodontist or doctor for a consultation. Brands that provide mail-in impression kits include Smile Direct Club, byte®, SnapCorrect, and Smile Love.

2. Aligners Preparation

After teeth impressions are made, the custom treatment plan is sent to a digital treatment facility. First, technicians segment the individual teeth and clean up any obvious impurities. The patient’s dental arches are examined to ensure proper fit. The gingiva is also added and the sequence of aligners is staged based on the doctor’s instructions.

Then, the digital plan is placed online for the doctor to review and approve. Once approved, the digital models are transferred to a production facility and the aligners are fabricated. The clear aligners are sent directly to the doctor and then delivered to the patient.

3. Aligners Daily Upkeep

Patients get a new set of aligners every 1 to 2 weeks. In addition, they must wear them for about 22 hours per day to correct even mild malalignment. Smile Direct Club also offers Nighttime Clear Aligners™ that only have to be worn for 10 hours a day.

Each set of aligners will slowly move the teeth into the correct position, according to individual treatment plans. Depending on the patient, treatment can take anywhere from 10 to 24 months, sometimes longer.

After treatment is complete, a custom clear retainer is made from a mold of the newly straightened teeth. Retainers should be worn every night while sleeping to ensure malocclusion does not recur over time.

4. After Treatment

After treatment is complete, a custom clear retainer is made from a mold of the newly straightened teeth. Retainers should be worn every night while sleeping to ensure malocclusion does not recur over time.

brushing

Tips for Preserving Clear Aligners

  • Always rinse them with cold or lukewarm water after removal. Do not clean them with hot water because heat can damage and warp the plastic.
  • Brush and floss the teeth before wear.
  • Soak them in retainer or denture cleaner.
  • Remove aligners before eating.
  • Clean the aligners with mild soap daily. Never clean them with toothpaste.
teeth whitening

How Much Are Clear Aligners?

The brand of aligners chosen, the length of treatment required, and how many aligners are needed determines the cost of treatment. Many companies provide a “payment plan” option, which allows patients to pay a deposit up-front with smaller monthly payments.

The prices below reflect the costs of popular clear aligners, depending on the length of treatment:

Clear Aligner Brand
Cost of Treatment
Payment Plan Available?
Insurance Coverage
Invisalign®
$3,000-$7,000
Depends on Treatment Length
Up to $3500
ClearCorrect
$2,500–$5,500
Depends on Treatment Length
Up to $3,000
Smile Direct Club
$1895 (if paid in full)
$99 / 15 months
Up to $1,100
Candid Co
$1900 (if paid in full)
$88 / 24 months
Depends on Provider
byte®
$1995 (if paid in full)
$69 / 25 months
Depends on Provider
SnapCorrect
$1749 (if paid in full)
$80 / 24 months
Up to $1,100
Smile Love
$1895 (if paid in full)
$66 / 12 to 24 months
Depends on Provider

Is the cost of orthodontic treatment keeping you from getting the care you need?

Resources

Blue Ocean Publishing Group. The Million Dollar Smile, Changing Lives with Cosmetic Dentistry. 2018.

Proffit, William R., et al. Contemporary Orthodontics. Elsevier/Mosby, 2019.

“What to Expect with Invisalign® Treatment.” Invisalign, https://www.invisalign.com/how-invisalign-works.

Updated on: June 22, 2020
Author
Alyssa Hill
About
Medically Reviewed: October 11, 2019
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Lara Coseo
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