In the short time they’ve been on the market, at-home teeth aligners have become a popular alternatives to braces and Invisalign. And it’s no surprise why: they’re discreet, affordable, and incredibly convenient. The best part? With home aligners, you don’t have to step foot in an orthodontist’s office, making it a great option for busy adults.
What makes at-home aligners possible? Long story short, at-home aligners are the culmination of decades (and even centuries) of orthodontic research. The concept of braces has been around for hundreds of years, but we’ve come a long way since then, moving from crude brackets and wires to clear trays and even teledentistry, or remote dental care.
If you’re considering at-home aligners to treat your smile, you’ll want to be fully informed about them. That’s why, in this article, we’ll give you a fly-by of the history of home aligners and how the treatment works. By the end, you’ll know exactly what to expect.
Invisalign & The Clear Aligner Revolution
At-home aligners would not exist without Invisalign, the pioneer of what we like to call the Clear Aligner Revolution. In a sense, Invisalign invented the clear aligners we know today. The concept was simple: why not use something clear to pull on the teeth instead of metal?
Thanks to extensive research and innovation, Invisalign was able to introduce their clear aligners as the top alternative to braces. Unsurprisingly, the concept took off. All told, clear aligners from both Invisalign and other companies are much less noticeable than braces—for both the user and everyone else. The clear material is nearly invisible, and it doesn’t cut into your cheeks and gums much. (Granted, there is still some discomfort, but it’s far less than braces).
Even though a lot of competitors have emerged, Invisalign still reigns supreme as the most popular alternative to braces. They largely owe their success to the sheer versatility of their treatment process. In fact, thanks to their SmartTrack technology and SmartForce attachments, Invisalign is just as powerful as braces.
In practice, treatment with Invisalign and home aligners looks pretty similar: you wear your clear aligners religiously, and those aligners exert gentle force on your teeth, pulling them into new positions. At-home clear aligners use the same basic technology as Invisalign, but they simplify the process even more (see below).
Smile Direct Club and Other At-Home Services
At-home aligners are a recent development in dentistry; the first company, Smile Direct, got started in 2014. Then some competitors broke into Smile Direct’s at-home monopoly in 2017. So all in all, at-home aligners are just getting started.
Thankfully, though, at-home aligners use proven, established technology to administer your treatment; they just take out the middleman. Instead of picking up your aligners at your orthodontist’s office, the at-home aligner company you choose will send your aligners directly to you. Once you receive them, the day-to-day of your treatment looks really similar to Invisalign: you wear your aligners for about 22 hours a day, moving on to the next aligner as prescribed. With Invisalign, you’d need to go to regular check-ups with your orthodontist.
Office visits are the primary difference between in-office and at-home treatment, and with those visits comes extra cost and time. (In-office treatment methods can handle a wider variety of cases, though).
For most busy adults, at-home treatment is a much better option. Office visits won’t put any additional stress on your already busy schedule. Plus, at-home treatment is considerably cheaper, and it’s typically faster. The speed, convenience, and affordability is a win-win.
How Do At-Home Aligners Work?
At-home aligners are incredibly convenient, but they’re not ideal for everyone. In general, home aligners are best for people with mild to moderate cosmetic cases. Individuals with extremely crooked teeth or a bite issue like underbite, open bite, or overjet should look into Invisalign or braces instead.
Not sure if you’d be a good candidate for at-home aligners? That’s okay; each company includes a candidacy check as part of their start-up process. Here’s how it works: you order an impression kit and create 3D molds of your teeth from the comfort of your own bathroom. Once that’s done, you ship the kit back to your chosen company. Their dental professionals will use your molds and special software to determine if you’re a good candidate for treatment.
If you’re not a good candidate for home treatment, you’ll get a refund for the cost of the impression kit. But if you are a candidate, they’ll create a treatment plan for you and create your custom aligners. This part of the process can take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks (depending on the company and current order volume, of course).
But what if you don’t want to take your own impressions? Lucky for you, a few clear aligner providers like Smile Direct Club offer retail locations where you can get an in-person scan. Your provider will use these scans to develop your treatment plan, and your aligners.
Once your aligners arrive at your house, the real magic of treatment starts. You’ll get every single aligner you need to perfect your smile in one kit, and each aligner is a “step” in the process. Usually, you’ll wear each set of aligners for 2 weeks before moving on to the next one.
Wearing your aligners religiously is the key to successful at-home treatment. After all, the aligners exert gentle, constant force on your teeth, pulling them into new, straighter positions. That doesn’t happen if you don’t wear your aligners adequately.
It’s tough to say exactly how long your treatment will last. That’s because every aligner company offers a different treatment length, and of course, everyone’s smile is a bit different. On average, treatments with at-home aligners last around 6 months, but that time can range anywhere from 4 to 11 months (not including post-treatment retainers).
Where Are We Today?
Today, we’re in an exciting place with the home aligner industry; there are more options than ever. Smile Direct got a slight head start when they first started in 2014, but Candid and Byte were quick on their heels in 2017. Then there’s AlignerCo, the “new kid on the block” as of 2019.
But what’s even more intriguing is the fact that each home aligner company has its own unique selling point (as well as disadvantages, too). Whether you need the shortest treatment possible or the most affordable, you’ll find there’s something for everyone in today’s home aligner scene.
Options are great, but sometimes they can feel overwhelming. In our experience, here are some of the key factors you should keep in mind when choosing an at-home aligner company:
- Pricing: Money is always a deciding factor, right? Price points in the industry typically range between $1,145 and $2,300. That’s cheaper than Invisalign or braces, but it’s still a significant investment.
- Patient Support: Since at-home treatments don’t require regular office visits, customer support is your go-to whenever you have a question. That means you need a company that’s going to respond in a timely, friendly, and truly helpful manner.
- Treatment Quality: Some at-home aligner companies use teams of dentists and orthodontists to design their treatment plans. Ideally, an orthodontist will design your treatment plan, but it’s not always guaranteed.
- Treatment Length: You’ll be counting down the days until you reach your perfect smile, but the size of that countdown will depend on which company you use. The shortest treatment option takes an average of 4 months. However, some others can take as long as 11 months.
Based on these (and other) criteria, we’ve reviewed and ranked the Top 4 Best Home Teeth Aligners in 2020. If you’re curious about home aligner treatment, that guide is a good place to start.
The 3 Best At-Home Aligner Companies
Let’s be honest: there are a lot of good options out there on the home aligner scene. But each company has its own perks, so it’s tough for us to say which is “best” for you. You’ll get to pick which company matches your unique smile, schedule, and budget, but here are a few of our favorites.
Byte is our all-around favorite home aligner, and if you’re eager to see your perfect smile, we think you’ll agree. Byte’s average treatment time lasts just 4 months (that’s significantly shorter than most of their competitors).
They’re also one of the few at-home aligner companies to offer nighttime treatment, which allows you to skip the hassle of wearing your aligners 24/7. Read our full review of Byte for more information.
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 their sophisticated CandidMonitoring system.
If you’re interested in the convenience of home aligners, but want the robust oversight of in-office care, look no further than Candid. Read our full review of Candid for more information.
In general, home aligners are much cheaper than Invisalign and braces, but AlignerCo takes that affordability to the next level. With a price tag of just $1,145, AlignerCo is hundreds cheaper than their at-home rivals.
Thankfully, AlignerCo doesn’t sacrifice quality in the name of affordability, so you’ll still get your perfect smile using AlignerCo. Read our full review of AlignerCo for more information.