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-made for every patient, depending on the severity of teeth misalignment (malocclusion).

In-office clear aligners, such as Invisalign, 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.

In-Office Aligners vs. At-Home Aligners

There are two types of clear aligner options available:

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

At-home aligners, also called direct-to-consumer aligners, are cheaper than in-office aligners. Treatment is completed remotely, so you will never visit a dentist or an orthodontist for checkups.

Both in-office and at-home aligners are made of clear, medical-grade, BPA-free plastic.

Some aligners do not touch your gums at all. They are trimmed to comfortably sit along your gum line in a ‘scalloped fashion.’ This design makes the trays less irritating and even more ‘invisible.’ 

Other aligners (most at-home options) are not trimmed along your gum line. Instead, they partially cover your gums and may cause more irritation in the beginning stages. The discomfort is typically minor.

Direct-to-consumer aligners — such as SmileDirectClub and Byte — can only treat minor to moderate cases of teeth misalignment. Some examples include a few crooked teeth or small gaps between the teeth. You will likely be denied treatment if you have moderate to severe teeth misalignment, such as an overbite, underbite, or other jaw-related issues. However, Candid can treat more complex bite issues.

How Aligners Work

The clear aligner treatment process involves the following steps:

1. A Custom Treatment Plan

First, you'll visit an orthodontist for a consultation. During the consultation, a dentist will examine your teeth and take a precise digital scan of your mouth. Then a custom treatment plan is made.

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Clearing Things Up About At-Home Aligners

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You'll receive a digital preview of your new smile before the aligners are created.

Some clear aligner brands also 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 Candid, SmileDirectClub, ALIGNERCO, NewSmile, and byte®.

Invisalign and ClearCorrect require in-person consultations.

2. Aligner Preparation

After the teeth impressions are made, your custom treatment plan will be created using 3D technology. Once approved, the digital models are transferred to a production facility and the aligners are made.

From here, you'll accept treatment and begin the process.

3. Aligners Daily Upkeep

You'll change out the aligner trays every 1 to 3 weeks. For effective teeth straightening, you must wear them for about 20 to 22 hours a day.

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

Some companies (Byte, NewSmile, ALIGNERCO, and SmileDirectClub) also offer Nighttime Clear Aligners™ that only have to be worn for 10 hours a day.

* NewMouth does not recommend night aligners because there is no scientific proof that they are safe or effective. Learn more about nighttime aligners here.

Each set of aligners will slowly move the teeth into the correct position. Treatment can take anywhere between 3 and 24 months.

4. After Treatment

After treatment is complete, a custom clear retainer is made from a mold of your newly straightened teeth.

Retainers should be worn every night while sleeping to ensure malocclusion does not recur over time.

NewMouth recommends Candid because they work with a large network of licensed and experienced orthodontists. One of these specialists will oversee your treatment plan from start to finish.

Popular Invisible Aligner Brands

Vacuum-formed clear thermoplastic sheets were introduced into orthodontics in the 1980s. They were originally used as retainers. Today, these devices are known as 'clear aligners.'

There are a few different companies that make invisible aligners:

Invisalign®

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.

invisalign

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.

Invisalign is #1 in the aligner industry. These aligners are proven to be effective and safe teeth straightening devices.

To start Invisalign treatment, you have to visit a licensed Invisalign doctor to undergo scans and have a treatment plan created. You also have to visit an orthodontist every few weeks to track progress, making treatment less convenient. 

Candid

Candid is an effective tooth straightening option that offers superior care with added convenience. Candid treatment outcomes are similar to Invisalign.

However, Candid is thousands cheaper than Invisalign, making it a safe and affordable option. 

candid starter kit

Candid only works with highly qualified orthodontists who have at least 20 years of experience in the teeth straightening industry. Orthodontists have to complete 2 to 3 years of tooth movement residency after dental school. 

Candid aligners are stain-resistant, durable, and BPA- and phthalate-free. The aligners are fabricated in Silicon Valley. They are made of Zendura FLX material, which is similar to Invisalign’s SmartTrack (in terms of comfortability). 

A gentle teeth whitening foam is also included in every purchase. It can be used up to four times a day to keep your aligners and teeth bright.

Candid treatment is monitored 100% remotely through the Candid App (available on iOS and Android). This app is a complete ‘teledentistry service’ that allows you to connect to a Candid orthodontist at any time. No other aligner brands offer this service.

You’ll send in progress photos every two weeks using the CandidScan included in your treatment package. The box connects to your phone and is used to take detailed images of tooth movement.

The app will walk 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. 

In addition, the same orthodontist who designs your treatment plan will track your teeth straightening progress from start to finish. This ensures your teeth are moving safely and correctly.

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.

NewMouth recommends Candid because they only work with highly qualified orthodontists. The company also has the best remote monitoring (via the Candid App) and patient onboarding process.

Read our full review of Candid aligners here.

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:

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. 

newsmile aligners 4

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.

You’ll send in progress photos through the NewSmile app to ensure your teeth are moving correctly.

NewSmile’s Fast Track Aligners are worn for 22+ hours a day. They should only be removed for cleaning, eating, and brushing. Treatment takes between 4 and 6 months, but sometimes up to a year. They cost $1,195.

NewSmile’s Night Aligners require less daily wear time (10+ hours a day). They cost $1,295.


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


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

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

Read our full review of NewSmile here.

newsmile impression kit

NewSmile

Budget option

NewSmile aligners are trimmed along your gum line to provide a comfortable and less visible treatment experience.

They also offer live video chats with a specialist to ensure you make accurate impressions.

NewSmile aligners are more affordable than other brands.

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

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.

byte impression kits

Byte has 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.

Read our full review of byte aligners here.

byte personal aligners

byte®

Quickest treatment time

Byte aligners can straighten teeth in 3 to 6 months with daily HyperByte use (a tooth movement acceleration device).

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

SmileDirectClub

SmileDirectClub aligners are made of smooth, comfortable, BPA-free plastic.

Clear aligner treatment with SmileDirectClub is prescribed and managed by a state-licensed dentist or orthodontist.

You'll also have 24/7 access to support via phone, text, video chat, or email.

smile direct club e1598562602831

SmileDirect doesn’t work exclusively with orthodontists. This may affect the quality of treatment you receive. Read our article comparing Candid and SmileDirect here.

smile direct kit

SmileDirectClub

The biggest aligner company

SmileDirectClub is the largest, longest-standing clear aligner manufacturer.

ALIGNERCO

ALIGNERCO offers the cheapest invisible aligners on the market.

Treatment costs $1,145 to $1,345 (or starting at $99 for 11 months with the payment plan). Other clear aligner competitors are more expensive ($1,800 to $2,400).

alignerco

While more affordable, they are also a newer company with fewer reviews than byte and Candid. They also do not work directly with orthodontists and dentists, which can affect the quality of care.

To begin the teeth straightening process, the first step is to order an impression kit online. These kits are just $39.99.

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

Read our full review of ALIGNERCO here.

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.

Which Aligner is Right for You?

Direct-to-consumer clear aligner treatment by SmileDirectClub, Byte, and Candid is monitored remotely. There is a slightly higher risk for complications to occur, as treatment is less predictable without in-person office visits.

However, when monitored closely by an experienced dental specialist, remote clear aligner treatment is safe and effective.

Read below to compare the top 5 aligner brands:

CandidByteALIGNERCOSmileDirectClubNewSmile
Best Overall (Editor's Pick)Quickest Treatment
Time
Budget Aligner OptionFirst-Ever
Remote
Aligner
Budget Aligner Option
Cost$2,400$1,895 to $2,245$1,145 to $1,345$1,950$1,195 to
$1,295
Treatment Length6 to 12 months3 to 6 months8 to 12 months4 to 6
months
4 to 6
months
Payment Plan
In-Office Consultation Option
Ortho-Directed
Remote
Monitoring
Free Retainer
Premium Whitening Treatment
Lifetime
Guarantee
Accepts HSA/FSA

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 your teeth before wear
  • Soak them in retainer or denture cleaner
  • Remove the aligners before eating
  • Clean the aligners with mild soap daily
  • Never clean them with toothpaste

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 clear aligner 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
Monthly Payment Plan
Insurance Coverage
Invisalign®
$3,000-$8,000
Payment plan depends on treatment length
Insurance covers
up to $3,500
ClearCorrect
$2,500–$5,500
Payment plan depends on treatment length
Insurance covers up to $3,000
SmileDirectClub
$1,950 (if paid in full)
$89 / month
Insurance covers up to $1,100
Candid
$2,400 (if paid in full)
$99 / monthInsurance coverage
depends on provider
byte®
$1,895-$2,295 (if paid in full)
$83-$99 / month
Insurance coverage depends on provider
SnapCorrect
$1,749 (if paid in full)
$80 / month
Insurance covers up to $1,100
ALIGNERCO
$1,145-$1,345 (if paid in full)
$99 / month
Insurance coverage depends on the provider
NewSmile
$1,195 to $1,295 (if paid in full)$84-$92 / monthInsurance coverage depends on the provider

Clear Aligners FAQs

What can I expect during clear aligner treatment?

It may take a few weeks to get used to the aligner trays. Sensitivity and discomfort are common during the first few days.

Your bite may feel different as your teeth are moving, but this is normal.

Lisps and speech problems can also occur while you have the aligners in your mouth.

Are the aligners difficult to keep clean?

Most clear aligners are easy to keep clean. You can brush them lightly once or twice each day with a toothbrush and cool water.

Non-abrasive toothpaste can usually be used as well, depending on the brand and aligner material.

How long does the treatment take?

Treatment length varies depending on individual needs. However, clear aligner treatment typically takes no longer than 24 months.

How do I keep my teeth straight after treatment?

After treatment, you will be provided with a custom-made retainer. The retainer can either be removable or permanent, depending on preference.

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

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

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

(3) “What to Expect with Invisalign® Treatment.” Invisalign.

(4) FAQs About Invisible Aligners, byte.

(5) Hyperbyte: The Technology Behind Faster Invisible aligner results, byte.

(6) Insurance Coverage for Our Invisible Aligners, byte.

(7) Ke, Y., Zhu, Y., & Zhu, M. (2019, January 23). A comparison of treatment effectiveness between clear aligner and fixed appliance therapies.

(8) Candid. “Discover the Candid Difference.” Candid.

(9) Candid. “Candid Clear Aligners.” Candid.

(10) SmileDirectClub. “Insurance.”

(11) SmileDirectClub. “Pricing.”

(12) SmileDirectClub. “How Does Smile Direct Club Work.”

(3) “How it works,” SmileDirectClub

(14) “Pricing,” NewSmile

(15) Wexler, Anna, et al. “Direct-to-Consumer Orthodontics: Surveying the User Experience.” The Journal of the American Dental Association

(16) Verblio, and Alignerco. “Teeth Straightening: Invisible Aligners.” ALIGNERCO.

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