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
The Rundown: How AlignerCo and Smile Direct Club Stack Up
Home teeth alignment is a fairly new industry. Even so, it’s important to consider each company’s respective track record.
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.
Let’s take a look at how these providers compare across the board:
|AlignerCo||Smile Direct Club|
|Customers served||No published number, but enough to receive a good amount of third party reviews||1.5 million+|
|Claim to fame||Most affordable clear aligner treatment in the industry||Best brand power in the industry|
|No food restrictions?||✓||✓|
|No office visits?||✓||✓|
|Covered by insurance (with orthodontic benefits)?||✓||✓|
|Personalized customer service?|
|Free retainers?||✓||Only with SmilePay|
|Price Tag?||All-day treatment: $1,145 |
NightOnly Treatment: $1,345
|Financing Available?||Two different payment plans per treatment option; one requires a credit check and the other requires a downpayment||$250 down, then $89 for 26 months|
|Treatment Length?||6-11 months||6 months for all-day treatment, 10 months for nighttime only treatment|
|Start-Up Process?||At-home impression kit||Impression kit or 3D scan at a Smile Shop|
At first glance it may seem as though all clear aligners are identical. Which makes sense, since there’s plenty of similarities across clear aligner providers. They’re all trays made of BPA free plastic that will gradually move your teeth into alignment—but there are some differences worth noting, too.
Some providers make their aligners ultra clear in the hopes of making them as discreet as possible. Other providers take a different approach, and make aligners from plastic with a slightly frosted look. This may sound a little backwards, but since our teeth are porous, the matte frosted plastic typically looks more natural than the shiny plastic.
The tops of clear aligners are cut in one of two ways: straight across, or scalloped to match the gumline. The straight cut can exert more power, since its overlap with the gums works as an anchor. Since they don’t have the same overlap with your gums, scalloped aligners are a little more discreet, they just can’t exert as much force.
Let’s take a look at the design choices that AlignerCo and Smile Direct have made with their aligners:
|AlignerCo||Smile Direct Club|
|Manufacturer||RaintreeEssix||Smile Direct Club|
|Materials||BPA free Essix plastic||BPA free, Comfort Sense plastic; which uses plastics of varied firmness to provide a better aligner fit|
|Aligner Cut||Scalloped to match gumline||Straight cut|
|Aligner Transparency||Clear, shiny plastic||Slightly frosted plastic|
Smile Direct used to be at the top of their class when it came to aligner quality, due to their previous partnership with Align Technology (the manufacturer behind Invisalign). However, they’ve recently pivoted to making their own aligners instead. Though we don’t see any evidence that their quality has dipped, it’s difficult to know for sure.
Since Smile Direct has started making their own aligners, they’ve introduced their “Comfort Sense” system, which uses varying degrees of aligner firmness in the hopes of delivering a better fitting tray.
AlignerCo’s aligners are made by RaintreeEssix, a respected dental supplier. Their shiny surface may be a tad more noticeable than Smile Direct’s frosted plastic. However, it’s important to keep in mind that appearance is subjective. Some people enjoy having an added gleam to their grin. All that matters is you choose the aligners that work for you.
You might be wondering how remote treatment options keep an eye on your progress if you never have to attend in-person appointments. Each provider has a slightly different system, but usually remote treatment oversight happens via regular photo updates.
Here’s how AlignerCo and Smile Direct each approach their treatment oversight:
|AlignerCo||Smile Direct Club|
|Frequency of check-ins||Every 10-14 days, or whenever you switch to a new set of aligners||Every 90 days|
|Photos sent via||Smile Direct app|
|Treatment Length||6-11 months||All-day treatment: 6 months |
Nighttime only treatment: 10 months
|Customer Support||Everyday from 9am-9pm||Available via app, chat, email and phone. Smile Direct says their team is available 24/7|
If you’re unsure how to capture clear images of your smile; don’t worry—both of these providers include a cheek retractor in your treatment bundle to help you take quality pictures of your teeth. From there, you’ll either email your photos to AlignerCo, or upload them to the Smile Direct app. AlignerCo offers much more frequent treatment oversight, but Smile Direct’s app is a slightly simpler process.
If you need anything outside of these photo check-ins, you’ll need to reach out to customer support.
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.
Bang For Your Buck
We all want a million-dollar smile; but we shouldn’t have to spend a million dollars to get one. In this section, we’ll dig into the pricing details of your treatment. From impression kits to aftercare retainers, we’ll get to the bottom of how much you can expect to spend with AlignerCo and Smile Direct.
|AlignerCo||Smile Direct Club|
|Startup Costs||$75 impression kit, but if you pay for your treatment outright AlignerCo will throw in the kit for free!||$59 impression kit or free scan|
|Aligner Kit||All-day treatment: $1,145 |
NightOnly treatment: $1,345
|Add-Ons||Whitening kit: $49.99 |
WorryFree Protection Program: $599
|Whitening: After your free whitening runs out, you have many whitening options to choose from. Prices range from $17-$75|
|Financing||Both treatments have two payment plan options; one requires a credit check, and one requires a downpayment||$250 downpayment, then 26 monthly payments of $89|
|Post-Treatment||AlignerCo includes your first set of aftercare retainers for free! After that you can buy them in bulk through the WorryFree Protection Program||$99 per retainer set|
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).
AlignerCo’s price point is, without a doubt, the most affordable price in the industry. They’re $250 cheaper than their closest price competitor (NewSmile charges $1,395). The treatment plan includes all of your aligners plus your first set of post-treatment retainers.
You can purchase additional retainers through their WorryFree Protection Program. For $599, AlignerCo will mail you a new set of retainers every six months, for six years. This may give you some initial sticker shock, but the per retainer price is a low $50; so if you can swing for the package it’s well worth it.
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 retainers are available for $99.
Can’t pay all at once? Both services offer financing.
With AlignerCo, each treatment plan has two different financing options: one that requires a credit check, and one that requires a downpayment.
If you’re approved by their third party financing partner Affirm, their daytime treatment can be broken up into 12 monthly payments as low as $81, and their nighttime only treatment can be broken into 12 monthly payments as low as $99.
If you’d rather make a downpayment, for all-day treatment you can make a $275 downpayment followed by 6 monthly payments of $175, and for nighttime treatment you can make a $345 downpayment followed by 6 monthly payments of $175.
Smile Direct’s financing is much more straightforward. They have 100% approval for their in-house financing, SmilePay. After a $250 downpayment you’ll just make 26 monthly payments of $89.
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.
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 $900 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.
The quality and the price of your clear aligner treatment are important, but so is how you’re treated throughout the process. After all, you’ll be working with these companies for at least 6 months—you’ll want to be sure they treat their customers right. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from the customer experience when you choose AlignerCo or Smile Direct.
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||Friendly customer support; very affordable; convenient to treat at home|
|Top Complaints||Sometimes aligners don’t fit and refinements are tricky; products manufactured overseas||Billing mix-ups; sometimes aligners break; requesting re-evaluations is tedious|
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.
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.
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.
Beyond that though, once you purchase your aligners, you’ll only receive a refund if there are manufacturing defects with your aligners.
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.
Additionally, Smile Direct offers lifetime touch-ups post treatment. If your teeth shift out of position—even years down the line—Smile Direct will provide you with free aligners and get your smile back to its former glory. To stay eligible, just stay up to date on wearing and replacing your retainers.
What If I Break an Aligner?
Accidents happen; if you break or lose an aligner, reach out to your provider right away.
AlignerCo doesn’t replace lost or broken aligners, so you’ll likely need to just move on to the next aligner tray; but it’s important to touch base with them first.
Smile Direct generously replaces one aligner for free, but you’ll be charged for subsequent replacements (the exact amount will be determined by Smile Direct’s dental team).
Sometimes teeth can be a bit more stubborn than your treatment plan anticipated, and you may end up needing a few more aligners than expected. These extra aligners are called refinements.
Some providers offer these aligners up for free, but unfortunately you’ll need to pay for any refinements from AlignerCo. If you reach the end of your AlignerCo 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 request a refinement for $200.
It’s never fun to spend extra money, but even with this potential added expense AlignerCo still has the most affordable price in the industry. So while the price tag for refinements may be frustrating, rest assured you’re still getting the best deal out there.
Smile Direct, on the other hand, includes free refinements through their Club Warranty program. Smile Direct promises its club members (customers) 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.
That said, Smile Direct’s reviews indicate that this process can be complicated and drawn out. To be fair, it seems like most providers struggle with delivering refinements quickly; it’s an imperfect system across the board. However, Smile Direct receives more negative feedback than their competitors. We love their generous policy, it just doesn’t seem to be fully working for them just yet.
Let’s be clear; teeth alignment is never going to be a completely pain-free experience. That comes with the territory—even braces and Invisalign cause discomfort. This is usually most pronounced when you switch to a set of aligners, since these will have a snugger fit than the previous set.
Smile Direct is working on their “Comfort Sense” aligners. Though a new feature, it’s possible that this varied aligner firmness could improve the wear experience of their customers.
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 #3 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 1.5 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 flexible 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 dentist. 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 Candid Monitoring program, which strikes a nice balance between the convenience of at-home treatment and the frequent oversight you’d get with in-office treatment. Byte boasts the shortest treatment lengths in the entire industry with an average treatment of just 4 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 have many free extras, whitening included. They do sell a whitening kit separately though, for $49.99. Smile Direct, however, includes free whitening with their aligner treatments, and you can use it in conjunction with your aligners. Their replacement kits cost $17-75, 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 their sister company, SmilePath, is available in Australia; and their other sister company, Straight My Teeth, operates in the UK.
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 runs 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?
Unfortunately AlignerCo doesn’t replace lost or broken aligners; so if this happens just contact them right away and they’ll advise you on next moves. 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. You’ll need to pay for subsequent replacements; but the exact price of those replacements will be determined by Smile Direct’s dental team.
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—as long as it isn’t hot, as this can warp the plastic.
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.