Clear aligners are a nearly invisible and removable alternative to traditional metal braces. They are an excellent option for adults who want to straighten their teeth discreetly and comfortably. Aligners aren’t typically recommended for children (except Invisalign). But some teens with minor to moderate bite issues may benefit from these orthodontic devices.
There are two types of clear aligner options. 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 significantly cheaper than in-office aligners. Treatment is completed 100% remotely and you will not visit a dentist or orthodontist for in-person checkups. Treatment is also not monitored as closely, so there is a slightly higher risk for error.
Invisalign is the most popular in-office aligner, while SmileDirectClub is the most well-known remote aligner (or at-home option).
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 (e.g., Invisalign). 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 types of aligners (most at-home options) are not trimmed along your gum line. Instead, they have a straight edge, partially cover your gums, and may cause more irritation in the beginning stages. The discomfort is typically minor.
Invisalign is the most established in-office aligner brand. These FDA-approved aligners stand out in the industry because they are made of a patented thermoplastic material (called SmartTrack®). Invisalign claims this material is more comfortable, accurate, and discreet.
Invisalign treatment is monitored in person. Your dental office acts as the ‘middleman,’ which means you’ll receive a higher standard of care. However, this also means the aligners will be more expensive than at-home options.
In-office aligners like Invisalign are recommended for patients who have complex cases of teeth misalignment.
The Invisalign treatment process consists of the following steps:
Invisalign pricing varies greatly and depends on your unique plan, treatment length, and level of teeth misalignment.
Invisalign typically costs anywhere between $3,000 and $8,000. This does not include the cost of the retainers that keep your teeth straight after treatment.
Invisalign can treat many different types of teeth misalignment, including:
If you have impacted teeth, missing teeth, or severely misaligned teeth/jaws, you may not be a candidate for Invisalign. Speak with your dentist about alternative options.
SmileDirectClub is a 6-year-old aligner company that offers completely remote teeth straightening for less than Invisalign.
SmileDirect is the first and most well-known brand of at-home aligners. The company works with registered doctors, dentists, and orthodontists to ensure each treatment case runs smoothly.
The SmileDirectClub treatment process consists of the following steps:
SmileDirectClub sells two different types of aligners. The most popular is 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). The treatment length for night aligners is typically longer.
Both aligner options cost $1,950, and the impression kit/scan is $59. SmileDirect also offers a payment plan option (SmilePay™), where you’ll pay a $250 down payment and $89/month for 24 months. No credit checks are required before purchasing.
SmileDirectClub can fix most cases of minor to moderate teeth misalignment, including:
Which aligner option is right for you? Read below to compare the main differences between Invisalign and SmileDirect:
SmileDirectClub costs under $2,000, while Invisalign can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $8,000.
SmileDirectClub also offers a payment plan, where you’ll pay $89/month after a $250 down payment. Some dentists/orthodontists offer payment plans for Invisalign treatment.
In addition, both Invisalign and SmileDirect accept insurance. You can also pay with an HSA/FSA.
SmileDirectClub offers two different options that allow you to get started with treatment. The first option is visiting a SmileShop for an in-person scan/impressions. Or, you can order an impression kit online. SmileDirect will send you instructions on how to take the molds correctly. Make sure you follow these directions carefully so your aligners fit perfectly.
Invisalign does not offer remote scans/impressions. You have to visit a licensed dentist or orthodontist who specializes in Invisalign. They will take in-depth scans and x-rays of your teeth, mouth, and jaw during this appointment. This process is more intensive than SmileDirect.
With SmileDirect, a licensed doctor, dentist, or orthodontist tracks your progress through virtual scans. These appointments are completely remote and flexible. You will never visit a specialist in person.
Invisalign treatment requires you to set up in-person visits with an Invisalign doctor every few weeks to track your progress. They will examine your teeth during these appointments and determine if you should move onto the next step or not.
SmileDirectClub works with hundreds of dentists, orthodontists, and doctors around the United States.
A certified Invisalign doctor tracks Invisalign progress.
SmileDirectClub treatment takes between 4 and 6 months, on average. Invisalign treatment lasts between 12 and 24 months, sometimes longer for more severe cases. This longer time frame ensures your teeth are moving safely and accurately.
SmileDirectClub can only treat minor to moderate cases of teeth misalignment (malocclusion). This includes slightly crooked/overlapping teeth and gapped teeth.
Invisalign can treat moderate to severe cases of teeth misalignment, including underbites, overbites, open bites, crossbites, and similar issues. Invisalign is also available for children who still have some baby teeth remaining.
Since Invisalign is monitored in person by a licensed doctor, treatment is more comprehensive than at-home treatments like SmileDirectClub. Your Invisalign doctor can make adjustments as necessary, even mid-treatment, because you don’t receive all of the aligners at once.
Invisalign offers several treatment options depending on the severity of your malocclusion. For patients with minor issues, they offer Invisalign Express, which is a faster type of treatment. They also have aligner options for younger patients with both primary and permanent teeth.
With SmileDirectClub, you will receive all of your aligners together. This makes it more difficult to request refinements throughout treatment if some trays do not fit correctly.
Most Invisalign treatment plans require attachments (also known as buttons). These devices allow for more precise teeth/jaw alignment. At-home aligners do not provide attachments, potentially affecting treatment results.
Most dental professionals recommend in-office aligners (like Invisalign or braces) over at-home aligners. This is mainly because remote treatment is not monitored closely, so there is a higher risk for complications. These complications can include inaccurate results and poorly fitted trays from impression errors.
For example, one article from NBC News (2020) states that a patient experienced bite issues and jaw pain after her aligner treatment. The patient also developed migraines due to improperly fitting trays.13 While errors like this do not happen to every patient, they are possible.
Despite this, current research shows that remote aligners are generally considered safe and effective (87.5% satisfaction rate).6 To prevent poor results, make sure you follow the impression kit instructions very carefully and stick to your treatment plan.
(1) “FAQ.” Invisalign.
(2) “See What Invisalign® Treatment Can Do.” Invisalign.
(3) “SmartTrack® Material.” Invisalign.
(4) “You Made Your Smile Beautiful. Keep It That Way with Vivera® Retainers.” Retainers for Invisalign | Vivera.
(5) “How Does Invisalign® Treatment Work?” How Does Invisalign Work | Invisalign Braces.
(6) Wexler, Anna, et al. “Direct-to-Consumer Orthodontics: Surveying the User Experience.” The Journal of the American Dental Association
(7) Proffit, William R., et al. Contemporary Orthodontics. Elsevier/Mosby, 2019.
(8) Hirani, Dr Sagar et al. “Invisible Orthodontics-A Review.” (2016).
(9) Muir JC. “Lingual orthodontic appliances: invisible braces.” The New Zealand Dental Journal. 1991 Apr;87(388):57-59.
(10) SmileDirectClub. “Insurance.”
(11) SmileDirectClub. “Pricing.”
(12) SmileDirectClub. “How Does Smile Direct Club Work?”
(13) Nguyen, Vicky, and Lauren Dunn. “'Things Didn't Feel Right': Some SmileDirectClub Customers Report Problems.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 18 Feb. 2020.