If you’ve always dreamed of having a perfectly straight smile, you’re in luck! There are more options than ever before to get the smile of your dreams.
For those looking for a straighter smile, veneers and clear aligners are great options: both can take your smile from spaced, overcrowded, or crooked to perfection—and both can do it safely and effectively.
But which is better: clear aligners or veneers? That’s actually a tricky question to answer. But in this guide, we’ll compare clear aligners and veneers on all their key differences: how they work, how much each treatment costs, how quickly you get results, and more. By the end, you’ll have a pretty good picture of which treatment is right for you!
How Clear Aligners Work
Clear aligners—brands like Invisalign, ClearCorrect, Byte, or Smile Direct Club—are a modern, discreet orthodontic treatment loved by teens and adults alike.
No matter which brand you choose, these aligners use clear plastic trays that are custom-fitted to your teeth. When you wear each tray, the plastic exerts constant, gentle pressure on your teeth, twisting or turning or pulling them into the ideal positions.
Most clear aligner patients will wear the same tray for 1 or 2 weeks, and then they move onto the next tray, which looks a bit more like their ideal smile. By the time you’ve completed your series of trays, you have a perfectly straight smile and well-aligned bite.
One intriguing fact about clear aligners, though: you may or may not have in-person appointments depending on the brand you choose. Some companies, like Invisalign and ClearCorrect, are only available in dentist’s offices, and you’ll have check-ups every 6 to 8 weeks. Others, like Byte and Candid, are classified as mail-order clear aligners.
These companies use teledentistry (a safe, vetted practice for certain aspects of oral care), so you’ll create your impressions (used to design your aligners) and wear your aligners all from the comfort of your home, no appointments needed.
How Veneers Work
Clear aligners cover and adjust the entire archway of teeth, but veneers can cover just as many teeth as you need them to—no more, no less. Veneers act like little caps or covers for teeth that are chipped, misshapen, or stained; they can also be used to close gaps or make teeth look like they aren’t crooked.
Veneers are only offered in-office at a local cosmetic dentist, primarily because your teeth need to be prepped for veneers. And “prepped” actually means that your dentist will shave down the enamel a tiny bit to make room for your veneers (but only on the teeth that will get veneers; the others stay as-is).
After that, your dentist takes an impression or scan of those teeth, which will be used to make a perfect fit for your veneers. Together, you and your dentist will pick out the right shade, size, and shape of veneer, too. Two things happen at once after that: your dentist sends the impressions or scans to a lab so your veneers can be made, and then they put temporary veneers on for you.
Once your veneers are manufactured, you go back to the dentist to have them installed. Once the veneers are on, you’ll have a smile with no gaps, no stains, and no cosmetic defects. And no one else will know you’re wearing veneers; only your dentist will be able to tell.
The gist? Clear aligners actually shift the positions of your teeth, while veneers use little porcelain shields to make it look like your teeth are in the right positions.
Clear Aligners vs. Veneers: Key differences
1.) Materials used
Clear aligner companies all use slightly different aligners, but the plastic they include is always a BPA-free blend that’s proven safe to use in dental applications. And plastic is the only true material you’ll put in your mouth for the entirety of treatment.
Veneers, however, use a variety of materials, partly depending on the veneer type you use. Porcelain veneers are the most popular choice for their resilience and how closely they resemble real teeth. But a more affordable choice is a composite resin veneer; composite resin is often used to fill cavities, so it’s another great choice. But on top of the veneer itself, the dentist will also use a bonding agent to adhere the veneer to your tooth.
All of the materials above are perfectly safe, but if you want to know exactly what’s going into your mouth, it’s important to note the materials for veneers and clear aligners.
2.) Treatment purpose
Veneers have a straightforward purpose: they cover up cosmetic imperfections, masking them from view. When used for orthodontic appearances, the veneers are placed and sized in such a way that they make it look as though there are no gaps or crooked teeth. They do not, however, fix the root cause of the imperfections. The only real dental “fix” provided by veneers is that they can provide a bit of structure and protection for enamel that’s already a bit chipped or damaged.
Clear aligners, however, address the problem of orthodontia at its source: the positions of the teeth within your jawbone. If you have any teeth that are overcrowded, spaced out, or twisted, the clear aligners will pull them all into the proper positions. The aligners can also help correct your bite, if needed.
Other people will see the same end result with either veneers or clear aligners, but the reason for that perfect smile varies depending on the method you choose.
3.) How quickly you see results
Technically, getting veneers is a multi-step process: your initial consultation, getting prepped for your veneers, and finally having them installed. But usually, there are only 2-3 weeks between that first consultation and the final product.
For such a dramatic transformation, veneers take very little time at all. And 2 or 3 appointments is a relatively small hassle. And to make matters even better, you’ll get temporary veneers after your first appointment, which gives you a nearly instant improvement.
Clear aligners, however, will take a bit more patience. Patients can expect to wear aligners anywhere from 3 months to 24 months, but the typical case falls between an average of 6 to 12 months. Granted, everyone’s case is different, and how long you’ll wear aligners largely depends on how much work your teeth need. If you have small gaps or minimal crowding, you’ll have fewer aligners. Tougher cases take more time.
But no matter how many aligners you need, you won’t start to notice your improving smile right away. Most people start to see a difference in 3-4 weeks, with the final product taking a bit longer. The plus side? As long as you wear your aligners faithfully, you’ll make constant, steady progress. And wearing your retainers ensures that your results last forever.
4.) Treatment candidacy
Let’s be clear: not everyone is a good candidate for clear aligners, and not everyone is a good candidate for veneers. If you have underlying issues like gum disease, cavities, or long-term damage, those problems should be addressed before you pursue a cosmetic improvement to your smile.
But just because you’re not a good candidate for clear aligners doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get veneers, and vice versa. Candidacy largely has to do with your overall oral health and exactly what you’re trying to correct. For example, if you have a substantial gap due to a missing tooth, a veneer or aligners might not be the best choice; typically an implant is a better option.
But if you have a small amount of crowding and you tend to grind your teeth while you sleep, clear aligners might be better than veneers. That said, if you have a substantially chipped tooth, clear aligners might not be as effective (keep in mind that clear aligners can sometimes shift veneers, so you may actually be able to use both to create the perfect smile).
When in doubt, ask your dentist. They will be able to give you the best advice regarding your smile’s needs.
Money is always an issue, right? And it’s a substantial investment with either veneers or clear aligners. But how big that investment is depends on a couple different factors.
For example, the cost of clear aligners varies depending on what brand you use. If you use an in-office method like Invisalign, then you’ll probably pay somewhere between $3,000 and $8,000. The average case falls close to $5,000, since you pay a fee depending on the severity of your case and the number of aligners you need. But if you opt for clear aligners from a remote company like Byte, you’ll pay a one-size-fits-all fee—regardless of how many aligners you need. At-home aligner companies usually charge closer to $2,000 (with variance across brands).
Veneers can also get pretty pricey. It’s impossible for us to give a perfect price point for them, since every dentist charges a different price. The cost also varies based on the type you choose; porcelain veneers are the most expensive. Average costs fall close to $1,000 (but can get as high as $2,500).
But here’s the thing: that’s a per tooth estimated cost. So if you need more than two or three veneers, it’s probably well worth your time and money to actually correct your crooked teeth with clear aligners. That’s especially true if you’re only using aligners or veneers for orthodontic purposes (and not to adapt the appearance of the shape or shade of your teeth).
6.) Ongoing maintenance
Both veneers and clear aligners have a little bit of ongoing maintenance, but how much? That’s different. Clear aligners don’t require too much maintenance; as soon as you finish your treatment regimen, you’ll receive retainers.
In general, you’ll wear the retainers all day for a few weeks (or months, in some cases), and then switch to wearing retainers at night indefinitely. If you do that faithfully, your teeth will stay put.
Veneers, however, require a bit more maintenance. In general, you’ll find that most people’s veneers last for 10-15 years (depending on which type they use). Veneers are also prone to chipping and breaking, especially if you grind your teeth or routinely chew on hard foods (or non-food materials). But even if you care for your veneers flawlessly, they won’t last forever. They will require periodic repairs, and eventually, full replacement. That means you’ll pay that $1,000+ per veneer expense all over again.
The Verdict: Which is Better?
Honestly, veneers and clear aligners aren’t necessarily better than each other; it ultimately depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with treatment.
In general, for people with healthy smiles (i.e., no significant chips, cavities, etc.) who want a straighter smile, we recommend going with clear aligners. That fixes the problem instead of masks it, and many times, clear aligners will also help your bite.
If you want whitening, too, at-home or dentist-offered bleaching kits may help you accomplish both goals without the expense of veneers. A lot of dentists will also strongly advocate for clear aligners because they do not require your teeth to be shaved down, as veneers do. In general, the longer you can preserve your enamel, the better.
But if you only want to fix one or two teeth, veneers may be a better option. They’re especially good if you have a single tooth or pair of teeth that’s crooked or chipped. And as an added plus, you get quicker results that still last a long time.
Ultimately, we recommend chatting with your dentist about your smile goals—and get a routine dental checkup before you proceed with any form of treatment. That way, you’ll know exactly where your oral health stands and the exact steps you need to take to make it even better.
Hopefully, this guide has given you a little insight into how clear aligners and veneers work and helped you get a better feel for which best suits your needs. We wish you the best of luck as you pursue the smile of your dreams!