Braces have been around a long time (the earliest varieties showed up centuries ago!). And during their long history, braces have treated millions of smiles. There’s no case too tough, and braces can even help correct tough issues like overbites and crossbites.
Despite the impressive reputation of braces, a lot of adults avoid them. That’s understandable. Braces can be uncomfortable, slow, expensive, and impossible to hide. Thankfully, with the advent of clear aligners (more specifically home teeth aligners), there are easier, more affordable treatment options available.
Braces and home aligners are not the same, though. And in this guide, we’ll outline the main differences between braces and home aligners, including who’s a good candidate for each method, costs, and more. By the end, you’ll have a clear picture of both treatment types, and more importantly, which one is best for you.
In-Office vs. At-Home Treatment: An Overview
If we had to summarize the difference between braces and home clear aligners in a phrase, here’s what we’d say: in-office vs. at-home treatments. And that’s an important distinction. If you go with an in-office treatment (like braces), then you’ll have pretty consistent access to your orthodontist. Your orthodontist can add in metal appliances and elastics, too. Those add-ons allow for stronger, more nuanced shifts, which makes braces the most powerful treatment option on the market. And with centuries of technology and research behind them, braces have, without a doubt, seen a case like yours.
By contrast, at-home clear aligners are much newer. They got their start in 2014 when Smile Direct first brought aligners directly to the consumer, cutting out orthodontist visits entirely.
But longevity isn’t the only difference between home teeth aligners and braces. Here are some important distinctions to keep in mind:
|Treatable cases: Practically unlimited||Treatable cases: Mild to moderate cosmetic cases only|
|Cost: Varies, but $5,000 on average||Cost: Averages at $1,895, but ranges between $1,145 and $2,400|
|Orthodontist oversight: Extensive and consistent from start to finish||Orthodontist oversight: Limited to treatment design only (Exception: Candid’s Remote Monitoring)|
|Treatment speed: 12 to 18 months on average||Treatment speed: 6 months on average, but can range between 3 to 11 months|
This is just a fly-by of the differences, though. For more details, read the sections regarding the advantages and disadvantages of braces and home aligners below. We’d highly recommend checking it out; understanding the pros and cons of each will help you pick the best treatment for your unique smile.
Pros & Cons of Braces
First, let’s talk braces…more specifically, the advantages of braces. Braces may get a bad reputation as a “teenagers-only” treatment, but that’s not true. A fair number of adults choose to get them, and that’s because there are plenty of advantages to treatment with braces:
- Treat severe conditions: In a way, the sky’s the limit when it comes to what braces can treat. Whether your issue is an overbite, underbite, severe crowding, or just your typical teeth spacing, braces can handle your case (even if you aren’t a good candidate for other treatment options).
- Consistent orthodontist oversight: Braces can only be installed (and maintained) at an orthodontist’s office by an orthodontist. The orthodontist in charge of your treatment will ensure that your progress stays on track at every appointment, so you’ll rarely encounter problems (and they’ll be resolved quickly in the rare cases when you do).
- Sturdiness: Braces are made from durable metal brackets and wires that are attached directly to your teeth. Occasionally, you’ll have a bracket pop off, but in general, things say put. You don’t have to worry about removing or replacing them yourself.
As powerful as they are, though, braces have a few notable disadvantages, too:
- Expensive: The cost of braces largely depends on your orthodontist’s fees, but on average, people usually spend $5,000 or more on braces. That’s thousands more expensive than home aligners.
- Uncomfortable: Discomfort is an unavoidable part of any treatment method, but it’s especially common with braces. The metal in the brackets and wires tends to cut into your cheeks and gums, causing irritation.
- Visible: We’ve all heard the nicknames “brace face” or “metal mouth.” And they exist for a reason: braces are really easy to spot.
Longer treatment timeline: On average, treatment with braces lasts 12 to 18 months, but it’s not unheard of for people to wear them for 2 years or more.
- Required office visits: Braces can only be administered and maintained in an orthodontist’s office. This isn’t a true disadvantage (office visits allow for extensive oversight, after all), but if you operate on a tight social calendar, it can be tough to fit in the necessary appointments.
- Difficult to clean: Brushing your teeth is hard when you have brackets and wires covering things up. Flossing is even harder. You’ll need a little extra patience to clean your teeth effectively during your treatment.
- Restricted eating: Tough, gummy foods like taffy and hard candies can damage or even pull off some of your brackets. Foods like popcorn can also get lodged in your teeth. That’s why, throughout your treatment, you’ll have to avoid certain foods.
Pros & Cons of Online Clear Aligners
Home clear aligners are pretty new to the orthodontic scene, but they have established themselves as a popular alternative to braces. And that popularity is no surprise; there are lots of advantages to home aligners:
- Shorter treatment timeline: The average treatment time for home aligners is just 6 months, which makes them almost twice as fast as braces. Granted, home aligners only treat minor cases (which naturally take less time), but the fastest company, Byte, takes just three months.
- More affordable: Each aligner company has its own price point, but the average price hovers around $1,895. That’s several thousand dollars cheaper than braces. And for reference, the cheapest home aligner option costs just $1,145.
- No office visits: No time to go to the dentist? No worries. 100% of your treatment is administered remotely, so you can focus on living to the fullest.
- Better looking: No matter what aligner company you choose, you’ll find that home aligners are barely visible once they’re in your mouth.
- No foods off-limits: If you love popcorn, taffy, caramels, or other foods that are normally off-limits with most orthodontic treatments, then clear aligners have you covered. Since you can pop out your aligners whenever you eat, you won’t damage them, no matter what you eat.
Of course, there are disadvantages to clear aligner treatment, too:
- Minimal orthodontist oversight: An orthodontist may design your treatment plan for you, but that’s pretty much all the orthodontist involvement you’ll get during treatment. The only exception to that is Candid, which offers Remote Monitoring. Essentially, you’ll use your smartphone and a special imaging device to take images of your teeth. Your orthodontist will review them, and if any changes are needed with your treatment, he or she will let you know.
- Minor cases only: Two factors prevent home aligners from treating severe cases. One: the orthodontist oversight (necessary to make nuanced, complicated teeth shifts) isn’t possible with home aligners. Two: aligner trays alone are only so powerful. If you want to exert force on the jaw itself, you’ll need add-ons to the trays (add-ons that home aligners don’t offer).
- Tough impression kits: With home aligners, you kick off your treatment by ordering an impression kit and making 3D molds of your teeth. It’s a tricky process, though, and some people find it hard to do on their own.
What About Invisalign?
Invisalign is the oldest and most well-known clear aligner treatment on the market. And that’s not surprising.
After all, Invisalign created clear aligners as we know them today. Without their technology, home clear aligners wouldn’t even exist, and braces would still be the only option.
On the surface, Invisalign looks a lot like home aligners. But there are plenty of differences between the two. For one thing, Invisalign costs more, and treatment requires more time. However, that extra time and money gets you a more powerful treatment.
That’s because Invisalign offers add-ons to their clear aligners, called SmartForce attachments. The attachments act like anchors for the aligner trays, allowing Invisalign to exert additional force on your teeth. Your orthodontist can also add in elastics, too. Because of that, Invisalign is nearly as powerful as braces.
In general, Invisalign is a great option for people who want discreet orthodontic treatment but their case is too severe for home aligners to handle.
Which Treatment Is Right For Me?
Honestly, we can’t give you a definitive answer. That’s because your smile is unique; what makes a good treatment for you won’t work for someone else, and vice versa.
There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a teeth straightening treatment: cost, treatment speed, orthodontist oversight, and much more.
And it’s only natural to prioritize some of those factors over others. For you, cost might be the top priority, or you’d really like to work with an orthodontist in-person. So you’ll have to decide for yourself.
In general, though, you should opt for braces (or even Invisalign) when you have a tougher case of misalignment or you want to work with an orthodontist directly. That said, for a lot of people, home aligners are a better, more affordable, more convenient choice.
Our Opinion & Recommendation
And in our opinion, home aligners can typically do the job faster and cheaper for most adults. Let’s be honest: most adults probably fall into the mild-to-moderate cosmetic range. And there are a lot of home aligners to choose from. Byte and AlignerCo are our two favorites, but we love them for different reasons:
Byte is our all-around favorite service. But what really stands out is their treatment speed; Byte treatment typically lasts just 3 months. They also offer both daytime and nighttime treatment options.
Last but not least, Byte offers a Byte-for-Life guarantee. If your teeth ever shift post-treatment (and you’ve worn your retainers as prescribed), then Byte will send you new aligners to get your smile back to perfection.
If you’ve read this guide and thought that the sticker prices listed here are a bit hefty, don’t worry. AlignerCo has you covered. They have the most affordable treatment kit in the entire industry: $1,195. And like Byte, they offer both daytime and nighttime treatments, so you get the same convenience, too.
Intrigued by Byte, AlignerCo, or home aligners in general? Check out our full comparison review of the Top 4 Home Clear Aligners.