Clear Aligners: How They Work, Popular Brands & Costs

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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).

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.

Direct-to-consumer clear aligners — such as Candid, Smile Direct, and Byte — can only treat minor 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.

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 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 aligners

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.

byte®

Byte® has over 200 licensed doctors, dentists, and orthodontists throughout the United States in its dental network. These specialists oversee your treatment from start to finish.

byte impression kit

They also only accept patients who are good candidates for clear aligners and teledentistry. Their HyperByte aligner has been shown to accelerate treatment by up to 2x. They also include free whitening treatment while using your aligners.

NewMouth recommends byte® because they work with an extensive network of board-certified dentists and orthodontists. Read our full review of byte aligners here.

Candid Co

Candid aligners are stain-resistant, durable, and BPA- and phthalate-free.

They also include a gentle teeth whitening foam that can be used throughout the day and each night.

candid starter kit and impressions

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

Also, the same doctor who designs your treatment plan will track your teeth straightening progress. This ensures your teeth are moving correctly and safely. 

NewMouth recommends Candid because they only work with highly qualified, experienced orthodontists. Read our full review of Candid aligners here.

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 aligners

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

Other popular brands of direct-to-consumer clear aligners include:

  • ClearCorrect
  • SnapCorrect
  • Smile Love
  • Aligner Co

Direct-to-consumer clear aligner treatment by SmileDirectClub, Byte, and Candid Co 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 orthodontist, remote clear aligner treatment is safe and effective.

How Aligners 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.

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.

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
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 Co
$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
Smile Love
$1,895 (if paid in full)
$79 / month
Insurance coverage depends on 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 toothpastes 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.


NewMouth recommends byte® and 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.

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.

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Updated on: November 4, 2020
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Alyssa Hill
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Lara Coseo
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