Home teeth aligners are relatively new—the industry’s first option, Smile Direct Club, got their start in 2014. Since they are so new, a lot of people are a bit hesitant: are at-home aligners safe? Can you trust them to straighten your smile? Or will using home aligners leave your teeth worse for wear?
These are natural questions to ask, and we’re here to help you answer them. Home teeth aligners are indeed safe to use. But, compared to more traditional methods like braces or Invisalign, home teeth aligners require you to be personally responsible for your treatment safety. There are certain steps that you’ll need to take. Thankfully, none of those steps are difficult, and anyone can safely complete them at home.
In this guide, we’ll dig deeper into home aligner safety, including what home teeth aligner companies do to ensure your safety as well as what steps you can take. We’ll also point you towards the industry’s safest brands, so you can start your treatment with confidence.
A Note on DIY Orthodontics
At-home teeth aligners may be administered from the comfort of your home, but they are not the same thing as DIY orthodontics. At-home teeth aligners use treatment plans designed and monitored by licensed professionals; a qualified dental professional looks at where your teeth are today and creates a safe, proven method to move them into new positions.
DIY orthodontics are “designed” by you, and unless you’re a licensed orthodontist, that’s a recipe for disaster. Some of the more common DIY methods include wearing tooth bands, using repurposed paper clips and aluminum foil, or even 3D printing your own set of braces. At best, these methods are unreliable.
But at worst, they can damage your teeth and even your jaw bone by exerting too much force or pulling in the wrong places. Understandably, we urge you to skip the DIY approach. In the long run, it won’t save you time or money.
How At-Home Aligners Work
Before you begin treatment with an at-home aligner company, you’ll purchase an impression kit and use it to take 3D molds of your teeth. Once the company receives those molds, a licensed dental professional analyzes those impressions to determine if you’re a good candidate for treatment. If you are, they’ll create a treatment plan using advanced software.
Normally, at-home aligner companies take about 4 to 6 weeks to manufacture your entire set of custom clear aligners. You’ll receive all of them at once.
Each pair of aligners acts like a “step” in your treatment. When you wear the aligners, the clear plastic exerts gentle force on your teeth throughout the day, pulling them into new positions. By the time you reach your last set of aligners, you’ll have achieved the smile of your dreams. Once your treatment is complete, you’ll maintain it by wearing aftercare retainers. Thankfully, though, post-treatment retainers don’t require the same intensive wear schedule.
How Home Aligner Companies Ensure Safety
Administering your own aligners from home might seem unsafe, but home aligner companies do take steps to guarantee that your treatment will be safe, reliable, and effective. Each company has its own individual policies, but here are some of the industry-wide safety measures:
Licensed Dental Professionals
Advanced software does play a role in designing your at-home aligner treatment, but ultimately, it’s a state-certified, licensed orthodontist or dentist who creates your treatment plan. In our opinion, the safest companies employ orthodontists exclusively. Some companies use a team of dentists and orthodontists. Orthodontists have more extensive training in how to shift teeth safely. But either way, a qualified dental professional will look after your smile.
Home aligner companies don’t just create plastic aligners in some dusty old warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Instead, home aligner brands partner with reputable dental supply manufacturers like AlignTech and Essix to create their aligners. These manufacturing partnerships ensure that your aligners are top quality (comparable to what orthodontists use for in-office methods like Invisalign).
While at-home aligner companies give you a lot of convenience and independence, you don’t want to be left high and dry with a box of aligners and no input at all! That’s why, in our opinion, the safest home aligner companies have methods of checking in with you during treatment.
The CandidMonitoring program offered by Candid is the best example of this. About every two weeks you’ll be asked to send photo updates of your smile to the Candid team for review. Other companies aren’t quite as thorough in their monitoring, but AlignerCo will occasionally ask for a photo update of your smile. Meanwhile, Byte assigns a personal care advisor to each patient to provide individualized advice and support throughout the treatment process.
Ensuring Safety At Home
Home teeth aligner companies do everything they can to keep your treatment safe, but ultimately, your safety is a team effort. It’s up to you to take good care of your smile throughout treatment. Let’s talk about what you can do to ensure that your treatment process is safe and effective.
Make a preliminary dentist’s appointment
Before you begin treatment with a home-teeth aligner brand, you should first get a clean bill of dental health from your dentist. This step may seem like a hassle, especially if you don’t have any glaring dental issues, but it’s important. In fact, some home teeth aligner companies require a preliminary dentist check-up prior to treatment.
For example, let’s say you still have your wisdom teeth. Should you get them removed, or will you have enough space for them? Your dentist can answer that question for you (plus, if you need them removed, you need to address that before seeking aligner treatments).
Follow your treatment plan carefully
When you receive your aligner kit, you’ll also get detailed instructions about how long to wear each aligner. Following those instructions is key to achieving your dream smile. Usually, you wear each set of aligners for about 2 weeks, 22 hours per day. That 2-week period gives your teeth adequate time to shift into new positions gradually.
Switching to your next set of aligners too soon can damage your teeth, gums, and even your jawbone, so don’t do it. Following your treatment plan ensures that your teeth shift at a safe pace.
Practice good dental hygiene
You should always brush and floss regularly, but it’s especially important to do so when using at-home teeth aligners. Bacteria buildup on your teeth can spread to your aligners, putting you at a greater risk of infections (and highly questionable breath). In addition, new cavities would need to be treated, derailing your orthodontic treatment, too. Accommodations for fillings can be made, but it’s much easier to practice good hygiene to begin with.
If something seems off, contact the company right away!
Good communication is critical with at-home teeth aligners. After all, the professional who designed your treatment won’t necessarily be viewing your progress on a regular basis (Candid is the exception here). That means it’s up to you to report any hiccups throughout your treatment, whether that’s a cracked or broken aligner, extreme discomfort, a broken tooth (because accidents happen), or anything else.
Addressing any issues as soon as they emerge will help keep your treatment on track. And the longer you leave a problem unaddressed, the more likely it is to become a big problem—one that requires in-office corrections (which would cost you extra cash, too).
The Safest Home Aligner Brands
Provided you follow your treatment plan and take good care of your teeth, treatment with any home aligner company is safe. However, there are a few companies that go above and beyond to ensure your safety: Byte and Candid.
Byte assigns a dedicated care assistant to each customer. Whenever you reach out to customer support for assistance, you’ll interact with someone who’s already familiar with your case. Your assistant will know the ins and outs of your case, reducing the chances of miscommunication and confusion that would occur if you were bounced back and forth between different customer service representatives. Byte uses a team of orthodontists to design their treatments, ensuring their safety and quality.
For more information on Byte, check out our full review.
Candid began as a fully remote clear aligner provider, but has recently shifted to “CanidPro,” a hybrid at-home/in-office treatment option. Your treatment will be administered by a local dentist in the Candid network, and overseen remotely thanks to the sophisticated CandidMonitoring system.
Using your smartphone and a special imaging device included in your treatment bundle, you can upload progress photos to the Candid app every 10-14 days. The Candid team and/or your dentist will review these images, and make any necessary tweaks to your treatment. In some cases, you may be given the go-ahead to switch a near aligner early, sometimes shortening your treatment length.
This high level of oversight makes us confident in Candid’s treatment quality.
For more information on Candid, check out our full review.
Even though at-home aligner treatment isn’t as well-known as in-office treatment methods, it is still a safe, effective option. If your case is a mild or moderate cosmetic one, then you’re probably a good candidate for at-home treatment.
We hope this guide has helped set your mind at ease about at-home treatment. If you’d like to pursue at-home treatment, check out our full review of the top 4 best home teeth aligners.