Nowadays, mail-order clear aligner services like Byte and Smile Direct Club make the process of straightening your teeth not only discreet, but also affordable. On average, these home-based clear aligners cost around 1/3 as much as Invisalign.
Still, how do you choose between all the options on the market today? That’s what we’re here to help out with. In this comparison review, we’ll help you decide between two of the most popular clear aligner services: Smile Direct Club and Byte.
5 Things They Have in Common
For the bulk of this review, we’ll talk about the ways Byte 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 Byte and Smile Direct go much deeper than that:
1) Affordability: Money is always an issue, right? Thankfully, both Byte and Smile Direct are relatively affordable. Sure, they have their own price points (more on this later), but they’re both thousands of dollars cheaper than braces or Invisalign. Those methods can cost about $5,000, while Byte and Smile Direct are both close to $2,000.
2) Flexible Financing: Even though Byte and Smile Direct are both affordable, we understand that you might not have $2,000 stashed under your bed. Thankfully, both companies offer financing with a 100% approval rate, no credit check necessary. As long as you can make the initial down payment, you can get your treatment started.
3) Discreet: Byte and Smile Direct both use slightly different aligners, but you’d hardly know by looking at them. In fact, when most people wear one of the clear aligners, they’re practically invisible.
4) Safe: We get it. Home dentistry (also called teledentistry) sounds a bit sketchy. But in reality, it isn’t. Both Byte 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 straight to your doorstep.
5) Insurance Coverage: Byte and Smile Direct both accept FSA and HSA accounts, and your insurance may cover part of your treatment, too. Smile Direct works directly with UnitedHealthcare and Aetna, but some other providers may also be included. Byte runs a free coverage check for you; by providing your insurance information, they’ll do the legwork for you to see if you’ll get reimbursement or not.
That mostly 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:
|Byte||Smile Direct Club|
|Founded: 2018||Founded: 2014|
|Company focus: Correcting smiles in record time (half the industry average) thanks to their HyperByte technology||Company focus: Make dental care more accessible to the estimated 80% of Americans who need it|
Smile Direct is the biggest aligner company in the entire industry; that’s no secret. In terms of sheer volume, Byte can’t really compete on that front. That said, they’ve grown a lot in the short time they’ve been on the market. For being “the new kid on the block,” Byte has an impressive customer volume.
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.
Byte and Smile Direct each have their own treatment methods:
|Byte||Smile Direct Club|
|Treatment designers: A team comprised only of orthodontists||Treatment designers: A mixed team of orthodontists and dentists|
|Aligner manufacturer: Currently unknown||Aligner manufacturer: Currently done in-house, so unnamed. Formerly Align Technology.|
The manufacturer of your aligners is important. A trusted manufacturer will ensure that their products are consistent and high-quality. We’d like to know who makes Byte’s aligners. After all, the manufacturer says a lot about the quality of the aligner itself.
That said, the individual who designs your treatment is even more important. Let’s be fair: licensed dentists have well-rounded professional training, including in 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 oversee your case, Byte ensures that your treatment will be safe and top-quality. With Smile Direct, you lack that guarantee. A dentist might oversee your case instead. This could be a bit of a risk, especially if your case is more severe than others.
No two smiles are exactly alike. So, regardless of what company you choose for treatment, your treatment could be longer or shorter than someone else’s. Your treatment speed largely depends on the severity of your crowding or spacing.
That said, each company’s product affects your treatment speed as well. Here are the average treatment times for Byte and Smile Direct:
- Byte: 3 months for daytime treatment, 4-6 months for nighttime-only treatment
- Smile Direct: 6 months for daytime treatment, 10 for nighttime-only treatment
Both Smile Direct and Byte offer the flexibility of nighttime-only treatment, but Byte is much faster for both methods. Smile Direct’s treatment speed isn’t bad, though; they match the industry average. However, Byte blows the competition out of the water with their HyperByte. This little device uses tiny, rapid vibrations to gently move your teeth to their final destination. It’s an integral part of both Byte’s daytime and nighttime treatment regimens.
Pricing & Features
Let’s talk about bang for your buck. In this section, we’ll dig into the details about the pricing details for impression kits, treatment, and whitening from Byte and Smile Direct.
With any home aligner company, you’ll kick off your treatment by taking impressions of your teeth. Most companies require you to use an at-home impression kit. However, a few companies, including Smile Direct, maintain retail locations that make the impression kit more convenient.
Here’s how the kit prices stack up:
- Byte, $95: Byte’s kit includes everything you need to take your impressions at home, including trays, putty, and, of course, a prepaid shipping label. If $95 gives you sticker shock, keep in mind that Byte sometimes runs sales on the kit.
- Smile Direct, FREE or $59: One of Smile Direct’s biggest edges over the competition is their SmileShops; they have hundreds of locations across the country. 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 Byte 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 for 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, Byte 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 will be the same. Let’s start out by discussing the base prices for each service.
- Byte, $1,895, or $2,295 for Byte At-Night: Byte creates a nice blend of value and affordability with their kit. You’ll get everything you need to straighten your teeth and keep them that way, including the HyperByte device and post-treatment retainers. Bought separately, the HyperByte costs a whopping $699, so you get a lot of value for your money.
- Smile Direct, $1,950: With Smile Direct, the price you see is usually the price you get. Like Byte, they include all the aligners you’ll need to treat your smile. However, their post-treatment aligners are available at an additional cost ($99).
Byte and Smile Direct may have the same sticker price, but with Byte, you technically get more for your money thanks to the HyperByte and the included post-treatment retainers.
Can’t pay all at once? Thankfully, both services offer financing. And as long as you pay the down payment, there’s a 100% approval rate.
- Byte, $2,756, or $3,320 for Byte At-Night: Bytepay automatically approves every customer for financing. When you select Bytepay at checkout, you’ll make a $349 down payment. After that, you’ll make a monthly payment of $83 for 29 months. If you choose Byte’s nighttime plan instead, you’ll make a $449 down payment followed by $99/month for 29 months.
- Smile Direct, $2,386: Smile Direct also has a 100% approval rate, so your credit score doesn’t matter. To kick off your financing plan, they require a fairly standard down payment of $250. After that, you’ll pay $89 per month for 24 months.
Both Byte and Smile Direct provide free whitening treatments with the purchase of aligner treatment. If you want to purchase additional whitening kits, you’ll need to shell out a little extra cash:
- Byte, $30: The first bottle is included in your aligner kit for free. It’s safe to use during your treatment; in fact, it doubles as a cleanser for your aligners and a breath freshener. If you run out, you can buy a replacement bottle for $30.
- Smile Direct, $40-74: Like Byte, 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.
On the surface, Smile Direct and Byte have similar prices. Smile Direct’s prices are fair, but Byte gives you more bang for your buck thanks to their HyperByte device and post-treatment retainers.
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:
|Byte||Smile Direct Club|
|Contact methods: Phone, email, & social media||Contact methods: Phone, email, & social media|
|Hours: 8 a.m to 6 p.m. PST||Hours: “Customer Care Available 24/7” (per their website)|
|Speed: Phone usually gets a same-day response; social media and email queries can take 24 hours||Speed: Hit-or-miss; phone calls get a same-day response (but possible hold times); email delay up to 24 hours|
|Friendliness: Receptive, knowledgeable, individualized, & professional||Friendliness: Professional & upbeat|
|Takeaway: Byte puts their customers at the center of all they do. They’re prompt, responsive, and extremely helpful. Plus, Byte gives every customer a personal advisor.||Takeaway: In the past, Smile Direct had some mixed feedback about their customer support. However, it seems they’re working to improve this issue.|
Smile Direct definitely has room to improve in the customer service department, but we’re glad to see the improvements they’ve made already. For perspective, Smile Direct experienced near-explosive growth in 2017 and their service department couldn’t quite keep up (you’ll see more complaints from 2017 than any other year on online reviews).
In contrast, Byte’s customer support is much better. They give individualized attention to each customer. That’s probably why so many people mention their representative by name in their online reviews. For being such a young company, Byte is off to a great start.
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.
The same goes for Byte and Smile Direct, and Smile Direct takes the win here. Thanks to their SmileShops, it’s fairly easy to get your treatment started. Customers love how friendly the staff are at these shops, and the care professionals there handle all the difficult parts of taking impressions.
Byte doesn’t have retail locations. If you’d rather use Byte (or you don’t live near a SmileShop), you’ll need to order an impression kit and complete the process from home. Thankfully, Byte makes up for their lack of physical locations with video call “impression sessions,” where an assistant will help walk you through the process to guarantee success.
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 Byte or Smile Direct and they’ll send another kit your way. Smile Direct promises that they’ll refund the cost of the replacement kit when you purchase your aligners. Byte, on the other hand, won’t charge you anything except the price of shipping. You also have enough supplies to make two impressions per kit, so you can mess up once and still have another go at it.
For many shoppers, customer reviews can make or break your purchase 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 Byte and Smile Direct.
|Byte||Smile Direct Club|
|Top loves: excellent customer service (even mentioning representatives by name); visible results within a couple weeks; easy to use||Top loves: SmileShops are convenient and the staff is friendly; convenient reminders to switch out aligners; affordable|
|Top complaints: no shipping to North Carolina; guarantee on impression kit does not apply to bite issues||Top complaints: delayed shipments; receiving wrong aligners; requesting re-evaluations is tedious and difficult|
|Average score: 4.7/5||Average score: 4/5|
Smile Direct had some rough patches with their reviews around 2017. And while they’re not perfect just yet, they have made some improvements. The most common complaint they still get concern re-evaluations for treatment. That isn’t ideal, but it’s the biggest drawback to any home aligners, no matter which company you choose. Making amendments remotely is more challenging than in person.
Smile Direct may be improving, but Byte definitely comes out on top in the customer reviews department. An overwhelming majority of Byte’s reviews are positive, and the few negative reviews they have are due to the limitations of home treatment, not the company itself. We attribute much of Byte’s success to their personal care assistants.
Refund Policies & Satisfaction Guarantees
As with any purchase, there’s always the nagging question: what if it doesn’t work out? Byte and Smile Direct both have very individualized approaches for refunds and satisfaction guarantees.
The “Byte-for-Life Guarantee”
Strictly speaking, Byte has only one refund policy: their impression kit. If you’re not a candidate for treatment, you’ll be refunded for the impression kit. However, Byte stands by their product with their “Byte for Life” guarantee.
This guarantee is essentially a lifetime warranty. If your teeth ever shift after treatment, even years down the road, Byte will send you new aligners to correct it. Similarly, if you reach the end of your treatment and you’re not satisfied, you can request a re-evaluation. As long as you follow your prescribed treatment plan, Byte will make adjustments to achieve the results you’re after.
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 the 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 Home Aligner for You?
When it all comes down to it, Byte and Smile Direct are both good options. But at the end of the day, you can only pick one.
If you want our honest opinion, we prefer Byte. Smile Direct is not a bad service in any sense. But Byte is our favorite service across the board. We love their lifetime guarantee, their treatment efficiency, and their excellent customer service.
- Choose Byte if: you want to perfect your smile ASAP with top-quality customer service. Byte is twice as fast as all of the other companies on the market and offer personalized customer support.
- 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 kits offer discounts?
Technically, both services offer discounts. Neither service offers run-of-the-mill discounts extremely frequently, though. Smile Direct has a referral program along with discounts for students, teachers, and military members. Likewise, Byte offers discounts for military, students, and first responders.
Are Byte and Smile Direct legit?
Your mom warned you about things that sound too good to be true, right? Thankfully home aligner companies like Byte 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 invest those savings in measures that ensure treatment quality.
Which home aligner is more customer-focused?
Byte is a bit more customer-centric than Smile Direct in a couple of different ways. They assign a personal care assistant to each customer. Plus, Byte has a smaller customer base that allows them to give more attention to each individual.
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; a dental professional analyzes those impressions to design a series of clear trays that gently and gradually move your teeth to their final destination.
How do Byte and Smile Direct compare to Invisalign?
They’re distant cousins, really. Invisalign pioneered the clear aligner alternative to traditional braces. However, Invisalign adds one aspect to the aligners: devices affixed to your teeth to secure the aligners. Those devices have to be attached in-office by a qualified orthodontist. Home aligners don’t use those, allowing you to complete your entire treatment at home.
How do these home aligners compare to AlignerCo and Candid?
Smile Direct and Byte are pretty similar to both Candid and AlignerCo. Strictly speaking, AlignerCo is the most affordable option on the market (by hundreds of dollars). Candid pairs their high-quality products and great customer service with social impact through a partnership with Smile Train.
Is there an age requirement for using either Byte or Smile Direct?
With both Byte and Smile Direct, you must have all permanent teeth present to begin treatment (you don’t want to dump thousands into teeth that will just fall out, anyway). Both Byte and Smile Direct require their patients to be at least 12 years old. Minors must have parental consent to receive treatment.
Does either service offer free whitening treatment?
Byte includes one free bottle of their whitening treatment with your aligners, and you can use it simultaneously with the aligner treatment. during your treatment. A replacement bottle costs $30. Smile Direct also includes free whitening with their aligner treatments, and you can use it in conjunction with your aligners. Both companies also sell additional whitening kits if you want to keep that smile shining.
Do Byte and Smile Direct have aggressive upsells?
Thankfully, no. Both companies “bait 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 a condition like overbite or underbite is the cause of your teeth’s misalignment, then clear aligners likely won’t 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.
Will either of these home aligners make me talk less funny?
Most people take a few days to adjust to the feeling of aligners—after all, there’s a foreign object in your mouth—but very few experience long-lasting issues. The average observer can’t detect that you’re wearing aligners, even while talking.
If I lose my aligners during or after treatment, do I have to pay for new ones?
Byte will send you a replacement aligner for $99. Smile Direct will send you one for $50. With either, though, you should wear your previous aligner to keep your teeth from shifting too far back.
Can I drink coffee when using Byte or Smile Direct?
You can, but you shouldn’t. Aligners from Byte 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?
Byte doesn’t really have any hidden costs. What you see is what you get. Smile Direct does have one unadvertised cost, but it isn’t exactly hidden. You’ll need to pay $99 for post-treatment retainers; Byte includes the first set for free. With either company, however, you’ll need to purchase new post-treatment retainers occasionally. They do wear out over time.