Everyone wants a million-dollar smile, but getting one as an adult can be tough. After all, no one past their awkward teen years wants to deal with the “brace face” life. Thankfully, with at-home teeth aligners, you don’t have to.
At-home clear aligners make it possible to straighten your teeth from the comfort of your house. No brackets, no wires, no office visits. And as an added plus, these alternatives are hundreds of dollars cheaper than braces.
Two top at-home aligner companies are Smile Direct and AlignerCo, but which is right for you? In this comparison, we’ll answer that question. Your smile is unique, and your treatment should fit your unique needs, too.
Spoiler | AlignerCo Wins
5 Things They Have in Common
For the bulk of this review, we’ll talk about the ways AlignerCo and Smile Direct are different. But they do have a fair bit in common. On the obvious side, both companies will help you perfect your grin without going to the dentist’s office. But the commonalities between AlignerCo and Smile Direct go much deeper than that:
1) Financing: If you can’t pay for your entire treatment up front, then you’ll be able to get a financing plan with both AlignerCo and Smile Direct. With either service, you’ll need to make a downpayment and then monthly payments of $89-100. The only exception is AlignerCo’s SmileFlex Easy plan, which doesn’t require a down payment; there’s a credit check instead.
2) Discreet: Smile Direct and AlignerCo both use slightly different aligners, but the general idea is the same. And unlike braces, aligners from Smile Direct and AlignerCo are nearly invisible when you have them on.
3) Safe: We get it. At-home treatment (also called teledentistry) sounds a bit sketchy. But in reality, it isn’t. Both AlignerCo and Smile Direct use teams of qualified dental professionals to create a custom treatment plan just for you. They combine your dental impressions with advanced technology to craft your set of aligners. Basically, they’ve taken the technology Invisalign perfected and brought it to the comfort of your home
4) Insurance Coverage: AlignerCo and Smile Direct both may be covered (in part) by your insurance. With both companies, though, you’ll need to inquire with your provider to learn if you’re covered. In general, if your policy includes orthodontic benefits, you’ll probably get insurance reimbursement.
5) Affordability: Smile Direct and AlignerCo both have different price points (more on this in a moment), but each company gives a lot of bang for your buck, especially when compared to braces. With AlignerCo, you’ll get all your aligners in your treatment and a free set of your post-treatment retainers. Smile Direct costs a bit more, but they have different options for treatment and free whitening in their kits.
That covers the similarities. For the remainder of this review, we’ll dig into the differences so you can pick the home aligner that’s best for you.
Company Track Records
Home teeth alignment is a fairly new industry. Even so, it’s important to consider each company’s respective track record. Here’s how the two compare:
|Founded: 2019||Founded: 2014|
|Company focus: Providing the most affordable aligners in the industry||Company focus: Making dental care more accessible to the estimated 80% of Americans who need it|
Smile Direct isn’t really old compared to its predecessor, Invisalign (who got started in the 1990s). But Smile Direct was the first company to bring clear aligners directly to the consumer. And as the first to the field, they won a significant percentage of the market. Back in 2017, they hit a growth spurt that temporarily reduced the quality of their customer service. But since then, Smile Direct has made significant strides in that category.
AlignerCo, by comparison, is much newer. Competing directly with Smile Direct is a challenge, but AlignerCo has risen to it. They’ve filled a gap in the at-home aligner industry: sheer affordability. We expect that this competitive advantage will help them continue growing.
Home teeth aligner companies all use clear plastic aligners to help shift your teeth into the perfect position. But who creates those aligners is an important distinction. That includes the person designing your treatment plan and the manufacturer producing the aligners themselves.
AlignerCo and Smile Direct each have their own production methods:
|Treatment designers: A mixed team of orthodontists and general dentists||Treatment designers: A mixed team of orthodontists and general dentists|
|Aligner manufacturer: currently unknown||Aligner manufacturer: Currently done in-house, so unnamed. Formerly Align Technology.|
The manufacturer of your aligners is important. After all, the manufacturer affects the quality and durability of each piece of plastic that enters your mouth. So, we’d really like to know who manufactures aligners for AlignerCo and Smile Direct. In the past, Invisalign provided aligners for Smile Direct, but that partnership has dissolved. For the time being, Smile Direct is producing their aligners in-house, And we’re still waiting to see if they announce a new manufacturer.
That said, who designs your treatment is even more important. Let’s be fair: general dentists do have well-rounded professional training, which includes teeth movements. However, they don’t have the same expertise as orthodontists. Orthodontists have to complete several more years of postgraduate education learning the science of the perfect smile.
By guaranteeing that only an orthodontist will design and oversee your case, other companies ensure safe, high-quality, and effective treatment. Smile Direct and AlignerCo don’t. Their treatment is still top quality, but there’s no guarantee that an orthodontist will personally oversee your case.
No two smiles are exactly alike. So, regardless of which company you choose, your treatment could be longer or shorter than someone else’s. This speed largely depends on the severity of your crowding or spacing condition.
That said, each company’s product affects your treatment speed as well. Here are the average treatment times for AlignerCo and Smile Direct:
- AlignerCo: 6 to 11 months, 8-12 months for nighttime treatment
- Smile Direct: 6 months for standard treatment, 10 months for nighttime-only
One of the nice things about both AlignerCo and Smile Direct is that they offer both nighttime and daytime treatments. That allows you to wear your aligners for 10 hours per day instead of 22. But you can pick which works best for you. Either way, you’ll find that Smile Direct is usually a bit faster than AlignerCo—but not by too much. In general, we’ve found that both companies are pretty on par with the industry average.
Pricing & Features
Let’s talk about bang for your buck. In this section, we’ll dig into the pricing details for impression kits, treatment, and whitening from AlignerCo and Smile Direct.
Impression Kit Pricing
All home aligners have you kick off your treatment by taking teeth impressions. With most companies, this means using an at-home impression kit. Smile Direct maintains retail locations called SmileShops where you can get free teeth scans instead of ordering an impression kit. AlignerCo offers only the impression kits (and you can still order one from Smile Direct if you’d rather do it yourself).
Here’s how the impression kit prices stack up:
- AlignerCo, $75 or FREE: The impression kit from AlignerCo includes everything you’ll need to take your impressions, including putty, trays, a cheek retractor, instructions, and return shipping. Bought separately, the kit costs $75, but AlignerCo will give you the kit for free if you pay for your entire treatment up front.
- Smile Direct, FREE or $59: One of Smile Direct’s best edges over the competition is the number of retail locations they have, affectionately named SmileShops. There are 300+ shops nationwide. You can visit one of these shops and have images taken in person instead of taking impressions. If you do, it’s free! There’s no obligation to proceed with treatment, either. But if you don’t live near a SmileShop, you can still take your impressions at home.
Both AlignerCo and Smile Direct provide a guarantee on your impression kit. If you send in impressions and it turns out that you’re not a good candidate for treatment, they’ll refund the kit price and any money you prepaid on your aligners. If you are a candidate, though, you’ll pay the kit price regardless of whether or not you decide to get treatment.
Once you complete your impressions, AlignerCo or Smile Direct will create your personalized treatment plan. This includes all of the aligners you’ll need to shift your smile from meh to wow. Regardless of how many aligners you need, your price is the same. Let’s start out by discussing the base prices for each service.
- AligneroCo, $1,145, $1345 for nighttime treatment: AlignerCo’s price point is, without a doubt, the most affordable price in the industry. They’re hundreds of dollars cheaper than their closest price competitor (NewSmile charges $1,595). The treatment plan includes all of your aligners plus your first set of post-treatment retainers.
- Smile Direct, $1,950: With Smile Direct, the price you see is also (usually) the price you get. Like AlignerCo, they include all the aligners you’ll need to treat your smile. Post-treatment aligners are available for $99.
Can’t pay all at once? Both services offer financing too.
- AlignerCo, $1,320: AlignerCo actually offers two financing plans: SmileFlex and SmileFlex Easy. SmileFlex requires you to pass a credit check. But once you do, you’ll be able to start making your 12 monthly payments of $110. SmileFlex Easy lets you skip the credit check; instead, you’ll make a down payment of $275. After that, you’ll have 11 payments of $95. Financing for nighttime treatment is just a bit pricier.
- Smile Direct, $2,386: Smile Direct has a 100% approval rate, so your credit score doesn’t matter. To kick off financing, they require a fairly standard down payment of $250. After that, you’ll pay $89 per month for 24 months.
With either company, financing will actually cost you more. So if you can swing it, it’s well worth it to pay the whole sum up front.
AlignerCo doesn’t offer any whitening products in their treatment bundles; that’s because they want to keep your costs as low as possible. Smile Direct, however, gives you a free set with your kit. If you want to buy more, though, you’ll need to shell out a little extra cash:
- Smile Direct, $40-45: Smile Direct includes one free whitening kit with your treatment. After that, the price for extra whitening depends on the size of the supply. Each kit includes teeth whitening pens. The more expensive ones also include an LED light to speed things up. You can purchase a 6- or 12-month supply.
All told, AlignerCo is a bit cheaper than Smile Direct. No free whitening is a bit of a bummer, but since it keeps the costs low, it’s fair. Look at it this way: Smile Direct charges about $700 more than AlignerCo, but they don’t include your post-treatment retainers. So aside from whitening, you actually get more with AlignerCo—and for less money.
No one anticipates having issues with their aligners, but stuff happens. That’s life. When it does, you’ll need to talk with customer support. We’ve tested them ourselves, and here’s how the two compare:
|Contact methods: Phone, email, webchat, & video call (for impressions)||Contact methods: Phone, email, social media|
|Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST, 7 days a week||Hours: “Customer Care Available 24/7” (per their website)|
|Speed: Phone and chat get prompt, same-day responses; email queries can take up to 24 hours||Speed: Hit-or-miss; phone gets a same-day response (occasional hold times); email delay up to 24 hours|
|Friendliness: Prompt, helpful, & enthusiastic||Friendliness: Professional & upbeat|
|Takeaway: AlignerCo’s small size allows them to give individualized attention to each customer, every time.||Takeaway: Smile Direct’s customer support is adequate, but there’s some room for improvement. And they’re working on it.|
Between AlignerCo and Smile Direct’s customer support teams, we prefer AlignerCo. Granted, both companies will have slip-ups every now and then. And like we mentioned earlier, Smile Direct had a few customer service issues in 2017. They’ve made some big improvements, and we hope they’ll keep up the good work. Meanwhile, AlignerCo’s small team excels at giving you individualized service and (for the most part) they always have.
Ease of Getting Started
Ease is the name of the game when it comes to at-home aligner treatment. But not all aligner companies use the same process. Some are a bit easier than others.
This applies to Smile Direct, which maintains physical locations (called SmileShops) where customers can schedule a visit to skip the hassle of an impression kit. During the appointment, a smile assistant will administer a teeth scan and send it to Smile Direct. These appointments are free and much simpler than impressions. However, if you don’t live near a SmileShop, you can still purchase an impression kit.
Unfortunately, AlignerCo doesn’t offer this option. To make up for it, they offer video call support for impressions. You can have a customer service representative coach you through the process. They’ll help ensure that you get your impressions right.
What if I get it wrong?
Impression kits are a tad tricky, so don’t panic if you mess them up. If the impressions are iffy—they could work, but you’re not sure—send them in. The orthodontists will let you know if you need to try again.
If you’re sure you’ve botched the impressions, contact customer support at AlignerCo or Smile Direct and they’ll send another kit your way.
For many shoppers, customer reviews can make or break purchasing decisions. If you’re one of those shoppers, we’ve got you covered. We’ve done the legwork for you to see what customers across the web are saying about AlignerCo and Smile Direct.
|Top loves: More affordable than other options; process is easy to complete; excellent customer support||Top loves: Friendly customer support; very affordable; convenient to treat at home|
|Top complaints: Sometimes aligners don’t fit and refinements are tricky; products manufactured overseas||Top complaints: billing mix-ups; sometimes aligners break; requesting re-evaluations is tedious|
|Average score: 4.5/5||Average score: 4/5|
Smile Direct has a lot more reviews than AlignerCo, but that doesn’t mean they “win” the customer reviews section. For the most part, the majority of their reviews are positive, but they do have enough negative reviews that they’re not our favorite service. Many of those negative reviews date back to 2017, when Smile Direct grew faster than their service department.
Smile Direct has made improvements since then, but they still don’t have the same positive reputation as AlignerCo. For the most part, you’ll see that lots of AlignerCo customers have given rave reviews, thanking their customer service reps by name.
Refund Policies & Satisfaction Guarantees
With any purchase, there’s always the nagging question: what if it doesn’t work out? AlignerCo and Smile Direct both have very individualized approaches for refunds and satisfaction guarantees.
AlignerCo’s Satisfaction Guarantee
Like a lot of home aligner companies, AlignerCo offers only one true refund: their impression kits. If you buy one and you aren’t a candidate, you’ll get a refund for the kit. Beyond that though, once you purchase your aligners, you’ll only receive a refund if there are manufacturing defects with your aligners. However, if you reach the end of your treatment and you’re not satisfied with your results, you should contact customer support. Provided you’ve followed all the requirements of your treatment, you can also request a refinement for $200.
Smile Direct’s “Club Warranty”
With Smile Direct, you have 30 days to change your mind about your aligners. If you try it out and decide it’s not right for you within that first month, you can return them for a full refund.
Then there’s the Club Warranty. Smile Direct promises its club members that if they’re not totally satisfied with the results at the end of treatment, they can request a re-evaluation and get new aligners to finish the job. To be eligible for this warranty, you must check in with your assigned doctor every 90 days, follow your prescribed treatment to a T, and submit any request for re-evaluation within 30 days of finishing treatment.
Which is the Best Clear Aligner for You?
When it all comes down to it, AlignerCo and Smile Direct are both good options. But at the end of the day, you can only pick one.
In our opinion, AlignerCo is the better option for most people. They’re our #2 favorite pick for clear aligner companies. And compared to Smile Direct, they offer the same product for a much cheaper price. Their customer service model is excellent, too. And while they may be a young company, they’ve won a pretty impressive reputation already. Smile Direct, though, offers superior convenience, and they give a great mix of value and efficiency.
- Choose AlignerCo if: saving your money is an absolute priority. AlignerCo has the best prices in the entire industry.
- Choose Smile Direct if: you want the confidence that comes from working with a well-established brand. Smile Direct has served more than a million customers, so they’ve probably already seen a case just like yours.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does either home aligner kit offer discounts?
Both do. It’s just a question of how much and how often. AlignerCo has a $100 referral discount on top of their seasonal sales. Smile Direct offers year-round discounts for students, and occasionally, they’ll discount their impression kits or aligner bundles.
Are AlignerCo and Smile Direct legit?
Your mom warned you about things that sound too good to be true, right? Thankfully home aligner companies like AlignerCo and Smile Direct aren’t. These companies leverage a competitive product with competitive prices. But they don’t sacrifice quality to do it. How? They don’t have the overhead costs of a physical office like a traditional orthodontist’s office, so they can reinvest those savings in measures that ensure fast and convenient treatment.
Which home aligner is more customer-focused?
In this case, AlignerCo is more customer-focused for two reasons: first, AlignerCo is smaller and can give better attention to each individual. Plus, AlignerCo checks in with each customer on a regular basis through email. Smile Direct’s model is adequate, but not quite as customer-focused.
How exactly do at-home clear aligners work?
They’re nearly invisible, but they’re not magical. Technically speaking, at-home clear aligners use roughly the same technology that Invisalign uses. This starts with your impressions which a dental professional will use to design a series of clear trays that gently move your teeth to their final destination.
How do AlignerCo and Smile Direct compare to Invisalign?
They’re distant cousins, really. Invisalign pioneered the clear aligner alternative to traditional braces. However, Invisalign adds one different aspect: devices affixed to your teeth to secure the aligners, which must be attached in-office by a qualified orthodontist. Home aligners don’t use these devices, allowing you to complete your entire treatment at home.
How do these home aligners compare to Byte and Candid?
AlignerCo and Smile Direct are pretty similar to both Byte and Candid. Candid has their Remote Monitoring program, which strikes a nice balance between the convenience of at-home treatment and the orthodontist oversight you’d get with in-office treatment. Byte is a little on the newer side, but they boast the fastest treatment times in the entire industry with an average treatment of just 3 months.
Is there an age requirement for using either AlignerCo or Smile Direct?
AlignerCo and Smile Direct both require you to have all permanent teeth before beginning treatment. (You don’t want to dump thousands into teeth that will just fall out, anyway). AlignerCo treats anyone 14 and older, but Smile Direct’s patients must be at least 12 years old. With either service, minors must have parental consent before receiving treatment. It’s also a good idea to account for your wisdom teeth. If you need to have them removed (your dentist can tell you for sure), you should do so before getting clear aligner treatment.
Does either service provide free whitening treatment?
To keep their prices and costs low, AlignerCo doesn’t offer any free extras, whitening included. Smile Direct, however, includes free whitening with their aligner treatments, and you can use it in conjunction with your aligners. Their replacement kits cost $40-45, depending on the size you choose.
Can I use AlignerCo and Smile Direct if I live outside the USA?
If you live in Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, or Australia, then you can use Smile Direct. Technically, AlignerCo isn’t available internationally, but the sister company, SmilePath, is.
Do AlignerCo and Smile Direct have aggressive upsells?
Thankfully, no. Smile Direct “baits you in” (mildly) by giving you one set of their whitening treatment for free. But since there’s no obligation to buy a replacement kit once yours run out, it’s not a true upsell.
How do I know If at-home aligners are right for me?
Many people are good candidates for at-home treatment. In general, the only people who should automatically steer clear of at-home aligners are people with significant bite issues. If underbite, overbite, crossbite, etc. is the cause of your misalignment, then clear aligners may not be able to permanently correct your issue.
Individuals with implants may still be able to get treatment. To know for sure, you’ll need to take an impression kit with either service. They’ll let you know for sure if you are a candidate or not. If you are not a candidate, you’ll get a refund for the price of the impression kit.
If I lose my aligners during or after treatment, do I have to pay for new ones?
If you lose your AlignerCo aligner, contact customer support right away and they’ll get a new one sent your way. With Smile Direct, you should get in touch with customer support. They’ll help you determine if you need to replace the lost aligner or just move on to the next one. If you do need a replacement, they won’t charge you for the first one. Subsequent replacements will cost you $99, though.
Can I drink coffee when using AlignerCo or Smile Direct?
You can, but you shouldn’t. Aligners from AlignerCo and Smile Direct are fairly stain-resistant, but you should generally avoid eating or drinking colored liquids and foods while wearing your aligners. Water is a safe bet, though.
Are there any hidden costs?
AlignerCo doesn’t really have any hidden costs. What you see is what you get, especially since they include the first set of post-treatment retainers for free. Smile Direct, however, has the “hidden cost” of charging for post-treatment retainers ($99). With either company, however, you’ll need to purchase new post-treatment retainers occasionally. They do wear out over time.