A million-dollar smile is great and all, but what about getting one as an adult?
No one past their teen years wants to deal with the “brace face” life (or relive it if the effects of their braces have worn off).
Thankfully, home clear aligners make it possible to straighten your teeth from the convenience of your house. No braces, no wires, no office visits.
These clear aligners have become a popular alternative to braces. Why? They’re much cheaper than braces and Invisalign. They’re also much more convenient.
There are a few popular home clear aligner companies on the market today, including Candid and Smile Direct. In this comparison review, we’ll help you decide which of these two services is the better option for your unique circumstances.
Spoiler | Candid Wins
We highly recommend Candid. They offer high-quality aligners at a reasonable price.
5 Things They Have in Common
For the bulk of this review, we’ll talk about the ways Candid 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 Candid and Smile Direct go much deeper than that:
1) Affordability: Money is always an issue, right? Thankfully, both Candid 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, which can cost about $5,000 (and sometimes thousands more). Candid and Smile Direct are both less than $2,500.
2) Flexible Financing: Even though Candid and Smile Direct are both affordable, $2,000+ is still a lot to pay up front. Smile Direct doesn’t require a credit check (there’s a downpayment instead), while Candid offers a bit more flexibility with their financing terms. One option is powered by Affirm, and the other is backed by Allegro.
3) Discreet: Candid and Smile Direct use slightly different aligners, but you’d hardly know by looking at them. In fact, when they’re in, either company’s aligners are practically invisible.
4) Safe: We get it. Home dentistry (also called teledentistry) sounds a bit sketchy. But in reality, it isn’t. Both Candid 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 a personalized series of aligners. Basically, they’ve taken the technology Invisalign perfected and brought it to the comfort of your home.
5) Insurance Coverage: Candid 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 offer coverage. Candid recommends that you ask your insurance provider if they will reimburse you, and if so, Candid will send the claim to them directly. Candid is currently in-network with Anthem Blue Cross, Aetna, Anthem BlueCross BlueShield, Empire BlueCross, and Empire BlueCross BlueShield.
That covers the main similarities. For the remainder of this review, we’ll dig into the differences so you can pick the clear aligner company 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:
|Founded: 2017||Founded: 2014|
|Customers served: Tens of thousands||Customers served: 750,000+|
|Company focus: Perfecting at-home aligner treatment with their CandidMonitoring program||Company focus: Making dental care more accessible to the estimated 80% of Americans who need it|
Smile Direct dwarfs its competitors when it comes to customer volume. Honestly, only Invisalign has served more clients. But for as young (relatively speaking) as Candid is, they’ve served an impressive customer base, too. If you’re hoping to work with the most well-established brand in the industry, go with Smile Direct. If that’s not as big a deal to you, Candid still boasts a good reputation (and we only expect it to improve).
Smile Direct is the biggest aligner company in the entire industry, but Candid is second. Smile Direct has sheer numbers on their side, but Candid’s customer support has a better rapport with reviewers online (which we’ll cover in more detail later).
With both Candid and SmileDirect, you’ll get access to a qualified dental team; a group of professionals will create a treatment plan for you based on your impressions or scans, if you decide to visit a SmileShop or Studio. By wearing your aligners, you’ll make your way to the smile of your dreams.
But how the actual treatment process goes will look a bit different from one company to the next. With Smile Direct, your treatment is entirely self-directed. It’s up to you to follow your treatment plan to the letter.
Candid is similar, but they add on one other perk: CandidMonitoring. Basically, using your smartphone and a special imaging device, you’ll have virtual check-ins with your orthodontist. If things look good, he or she might tell you to move on to your next aligner ahead of schedule. And if there’s anything off (rare), you’ll get early intervention to get you back on track before anything becomes a real issue.
So long story short, you get convenient orthodontics with both Smile Direct and Candid. Candid just gives you a bit more orthodontist involvement throughout the process.
No two smiles are exactly alike. So, regardless of what company you choose, 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 Candid and Smile Direct:
- Candid: 6 months average (but they promise no longer than 11 months)
- Smile Direct: 4 to 6 months for standard treatment, 10 months for nighttime-only
Candid only offers traditional daytime treatment, and their speed is on par with Smile Direct’s daytime option. In fact, both of these companies meet the industry average.
That said, with Candid, there is a chance that you’ll be able to move on to your next aligner a little sooner than expected (if your teeth respond well to treatment). This could speed up your treatment by a few weeks.
A word of caution, though: you should never move on to your next aligner without the go-ahead from your orthodontist. Moving on too soon can do more harm than good. Your orthodontist can judge when it’s safe to do so.
Pricing & Features
Let’s talk about bang for your buck. In this section, we’ll dig into the pricing details for impression kits, treatment, and whitening from Candid and Smile Direct.
With any home clear aligner company, you’ll kick off your treatment by taking impressions of your teeth. Most companies require that you use an at-home impression kit. However, a few companies, including Smile Direct and Candid, maintain retail locations where you can get free teeth scans that take the place of impressions.
Here’s how the impression kit prices stack up:
- Candid, FREE or $95: Candid has 30+ retail locations called Candid Studios. If you visit one, you can skip the impression kit and have images taken of your teeth for free. If you don’t live near a store, you’ll have to buy the kit instead. It includes everything you’ll need to create your impressions, including putty, trays, a mouth spreader, and, of course, a prepaid shipping label. If $95 gives you sticker shock, keep in mind that Candid sometimes runs sales on the kit. We’ve seen it priced in the $30 range before.
- Smile Direct, FREE or $59: One of Smile Direct’s biggest edges over the competition is their 300+ SmileShops, hundreds of more locations than Candid. 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 Candid 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. If you are a candidate, though, you’ll pay the kit price regardless of whether or not you decide to proceed.
Once you complete your impressions, Candid or Smile Direct will create a treatment plan for you. 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 outlining the base prices for each service.
- Candid, $2,400: Candid doesn’t run sales too frequently, and technically speaking, they’re the most expensive at-home aligner company on the market. That said, we think they’re the most expensive for a good reason: their extra cost covers their CandidMonitoring program. And as an added plus, Candid also includes all of the aligners you’ll need to straighten your smile and your first set of post-treatment retainers.
- Smile Direct, $1,950: With Smile Direct, the price you see is also (usually) the price you get. Like Candid, they include all the aligners you’ll need to treat your smile. Post-treatment aligners are available at an additional cost ($99).
Can’t pay all at once? Both services offer financing. Smile Direct requires a downpayment, but Candid has a couple different options.
- Candid, $2,400 and up (varies): If you have a good credit score, then odds are you can get financing with Affirm. Customers with really great credit scores could get terms as favorable as $0 down with 0% APR; others will work out different terms with Affirm. Not fond of (or don’t qualify for) Affirm’s financing? Allegro offers a simpler pay-as-you-go plan: most customers make a $299 downpayment and 36 monthly payments of $79 (a few will pay more dollars per month if you buy Zoom Whitening).
- Smile Direct, $2,386: Smile Direct has a 100% approval rate, so your credit score doesn’t matter. To kick off financing, they require a fairly standard down payment of $250. After that, you’ll pay $89 per month for 24 months.
Both Candid 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:
- Candid, $25: 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. If you run out, you can buy a replacement bottle for $25.
- Smile Direct, $40-45: Like Candid, 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 (note that the 12-month supply doesn’t include the LED light; if you need an LED replacement, you can get one for $22).
Candid and Smile Direct have pretty different price points (excluding their retail locations). We think Candid’s larger price tag is well worth it, but of the two, Smile Direct is definitely more affordable.
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 the customer service from both services ourselves, and here’s how the two compare:
|Contact methods: Phone, email, webchat, social media, & video call (occasionally)||Contact methods: Phone, email, social media|
|Hours: Daily from 9 a.m to 7 p.m. EST||Hours: “Customer Care Available 24/7” (per their website)|
|Speed: Traditional methods like email and phone usually get a same-day response; social media queries can take 24 hours||Speed: Hit-or-miss; phone gets a same-day response (occasional hold times); email delay up to 24 hours|
|Friendliness: Receptive, knowledgeable, & professional||Friendliness: Professional & upbeat|
|Takeaway: Candid’s customer support isn’t perfect, but most of the time, you’ll get prompt responses from helpful, friendly representatives.||Takeaway: Smile Direct’s customer support is adequate, but there’s some room for improvement. And they’re working on it.|
Smile Direct definitely has room to improve in the customer service department, but we’re glad to see the improvements they’ve already made. 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 of online reviews).
Candid’s customer support isn’t perfect, but it’s much better, especially in terms of responsiveness. Most people won’t wait around as long for a response from Candid.
Ease of Getting Started
Ease is the name of the game when it comes to at-home clear aligner treatment. But not all aligner companies use the same process. Some are a bit easier than others.
The same goes for Candid and Smile Direct. These two home clear aligner companies are the giants of the industry. As a result, they’ve established such a presence that they can maintain brick-and-mortar retail locations, too. Visiting a SmileShop or a Candid Studio is the easiest way to get started. The staff at both companies receive rave customer reviews. Each appointment is free and lasts roughly 20-30 minutes.
If you don’t live near a Candid Studio or SmileShop, you can order an impression kit instead. The kits from both companies are pretty comparable.
What if I get it wrong?
Impression kits are a tad tricky, so don’t panic if you mess up. If your 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 Candid or Smile Direct’s customer support. They’ll get started on sending another kit your way. Smile Direct promises that they’ll refund the cost of the replacement kit when you purchase your aligners.
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 Candid and Smile Direct.
|Top loves: excellent customer service, in-studio and remotely; CandidMonitoring keeps things on track; convenient, effective treatment||Top loves: Friendly customer support; very affordable; convenient to treat at home|
|Top complaints: Requests for refinements are a hassle; a little more discomfort than other aligners; emails can get spammy||Top complaints: billing mix-ups; sometimes aligners break; requesting re-evaluations is tedious|
|Average score: 4.2/5||Average score: 4/5|
Like we mentioned earlier, customer reviews indicate that Smile Direct had some rough patches in customer service around 2017. And while they’re not perfect just yet, they have made some improvements. The most common complaint they still receive has to do with treatment re-evaluations. That is concerning, but that’s the biggest drawback to any home aligners, no matter what company you choose. Making amendments remotely is more challenging than in person.
All told, Candid has slightly better reviews across the board. The ratio of positives-to-negatives is more favorable, and the negatives the customers express are less concerning than Smile Direct’s. Yes, people say that the aligners cause some discomfort, but that’s somewhat unavoidable.
Refund Policies & Satisfaction Guarantees
As with any purchase, there’s always the nagging question: what if it doesn’t work out? Candid and Smile Direct both have very individualized approaches for refunds and satisfaction guarantees.
Candid’s Satisfaction Guarantee
Candid has only one true refund policy—you’ll get your money back on the impression kit if you’re not a candidate for treatment. Other than that, your payment is final. However, Candid does want to ensure that you’re satisfied. If you reach the end of your treatment and you’re not satisfied with the results, you can request a correction.
Unlike some companies, Candid does not charge you for any corrections to your treatment. They’ll cover the cost of additional aligners. However, that no-cost guarantee only applies if you wear your aligners as prescribed and check in with your orthodontist when you’re told to. Plus, you must request the refinement within 30 days of completing treatment. If you don’t, you can still get an adjustment, but you’ll have to pay for it.
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.
Best Alternatives to Candid and Smile Direct Club
Candid and Smile Direct are just two of many home aligner companies on the market today. And they’re good options, too. But there are other great options you should consider.
Candid and Smile Direct are both great companies, but they’re not our top picks. Our absolute fave is Byte. At $1,895 (or $2,295 for nighttime), Byte’s basic aligner kit is relatively affordable. But what’s better: Byte is the fastest company on the market. Their average treatment lasts just 3-4 months. You can also skip the hassle of wearing your aligners for 22 hours each day with Byte At-Night. And last but not least, Byte has a fantastic Byte-for-Life guarantee.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for the most affordable option, check out AlignerCo. At just $1,145, they’re the most budget-friendly method and our #2 pick behind Byte. You won’t get a lot of bells and whistles, but you will get the smile of your dreams at a fraction of the cost. And like Byte, they also offer nighttime treatment, but it doesn’t cost nearly as much. AlignerCo’s NightOnly program will run you $1,345.
Which is the Best Clear Aligner for You?
When it all comes down to it, Candid 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 Candid. Smile Direct is not a bad service in any sense. But Candid’s refund policy and excellent treatment procedure give them the edge.
- Choose Candid if: you want to take advantage of the at-home alternative that best mimics in-office treatment.
- Choose Smile Direct if: you want the confidence that comes from working with a well-established brand. Smile Direct has served more than 750,000 thousand customers, so they’ve probably already seen a case just like yours.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does either company offer discounts?
Technically, both services offer discounts. For example, both Candid and Smile Direct have referral programs. And while we’re writing this, Candid is running a sale for $300 off their aligners. But that sale won’t last too long. With both Smile Direct and Candid, you’ll have to jump on sales while they’re available.
Which company is more customer focused?
Candid is a bit more customer-centric than Smile Direct. For one thing, Candid’s customer care team is more consistent across different platforms (i.e. in the studio, over the phone, via email, etc.) than Smile Direct. Practically speaking, though, Candid also has a lower customer volume, which 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 as Invisalign. This starts with your impressions; based on those impressions, a dental professional designs a series of clear trays that gently and gradually move your teeth to their final destination.
How do Candid 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 that help secure them. These devices have to be attached in-office by a qualified orthodontist. Home aligners don’t use attachments, which allows you to complete your entire treatment at home but also restricts the conditions they can treat.
How do these home aligners compare to AlignerCo and Byte?
AlignerCo and Byte are pretty similar to both Candid and Smile Direct. Byte has the fastest treatment times on the market, just 3 months on average. AlignerCo, however, takes the prize for the industry’s most affordable aligner kit; their price is just $1,145, but they don’t sacrifice quality to their price, either. Candid, however, is the only company to offer extensive orthodontist oversight throughout the treatment process.
Is there an age requirement for using either Candid or Smile Direct?
With both Candid 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). With Smile Direct, patients must be at least 12 years old. Candid will treat ages 13 to 17 (and 18+, of course) provided all the baby teeth are gone. With either service, minors must have parental consent to receive treatment.
We also recommend that you account for your wisdom teeth, too. If you need them removed, you should do that before treatment.
Does either service give free whitening treatment?
Candid includes one free bottle of their whitening treatment with your aligner kit. You can use it during your treatment. A replacement bottle costs $25. Smile Direct also includes free whitening with their aligner treatments, and you can use it in conjunction with your aligners. Their replacement kits cost $40-45, depending on the size you choose.
Can I use Candid 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. Candid does not currently ship internationally. Do they have any plans to add international shipping? Their response: “Never say never, but not right now.”
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 when you’re talking.
If I lose my aligners during or after treatment, do I have to pay for new ones?
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. Subsequent replacements will cost you $99, though.
Candid works similarly; you should contact support right away. They’ll evaluate if you can move onto your next aligner ahead of schedule, or if you need to purchase a replacement. Replacements with Candid also cost $99.
Can I drink coffee when using Candid or Smile Direct?
You can, but you shouldn’t. Aligners from Candid 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?
Candid 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; Candid includes the first set for free. With either company, however, you’ll need to purchase new post-treatment retainers occasionally because they do wear out over time.