Clear aligners are intuitively appealing: they’re nearly invisible, but they can shift your teeth much like braces do. And there are a lot of different clear aligner options out there, too: Invisalign, ClearCorrect, SmileDirectClub, byte, and many more. Recently, at-home teeth aligners have emerged as a popular type of orthodontic treatment.
There’s a complication, though: there’s a bit of tension between home aligners and orthodontists and dentists. That’s because many dentists aren’t convinced that home aligners are a safe treatment method. And to be fair, that’s true for some people: some cases are too complicated to be treated by a remote treatment method.
Currently, dentists and orthodontists don’t sell home aligners like byte, Candid, and Smile Direct; they only offer options like Invisalign and ClearCorrect. That said, if you do go with home aligners, your dentist will have a small role in the process.
There is a possibility that dentists will start offering home aligners in the future, but for now, you’ll need to order them on your own. In this guide, we’ll cover the specifics of why home aligners aren’t offered by dentists and how that should affect your decision (if at all).
Looking For The Best Teeth Aligner? Make sure you’re getting the best price, customer support, and overall value. Many readers prefer comparing Byte (our favorite home clear aligner) to the two most well-known providers, CandidCo and Smile Direct Club:
The Appeal of At-Home Aligners
At-home aligners were first introduced by Smile Direct in 2014, and since then, they’ve gained a lot of traction in the orthodontic scene. That’s because there are plenty of advantages to clear aligners. For one thing, clear aligners are low-profile, and compared to braces, they’re pretty comfortable. You can pop them in and out of your mouth to eat, drink, and clean your teeth, which means you won’t have to avoid any of your favorite foods, either.
The advantages go a bit deeper than that, though. At-home aligners are administered remotely, so you’ll never have to visit an orthodontist or dentist’s office. No appointments means more time for your other priorities.
At-home clear aligners are also considerably cheaper than traditional orthodontic treatments. That’s because an orthodontist or dentist has overhead costs to cover, including their staff, their rent or mortgage, property insurance….you get the idea. It’s a long list. Your treatment bill will reflect those additional expenses. But with at-home aligners, the overhead costs are minimal, keeping your bill low, too.
However, as appealing as at-home treatment options are, they have some disadvantages. Here’s the biggest one: minimal orthodontist oversight. Since you won’t have regular check-ups, there won’t be an orthodontist checking in on your treatment progress.
Understandably, a lot of people crave orthodontist oversight during treatment, but they don’t want to lose the convenience of at-home aligners, either. And as a general rule, dentists and orthodontists prefer mid-treatment oversight, too.
Why Dentists Prefer In-Office Treatment
Dentists and orthodontists prefer to administer orthodontic treatment methods in-person in their offices. And as awesome as you are, it’s not just because they love your company.
Instead, dentists and orthodontists want to be able to track your treatment progress in-person. Everyone’s smile is unique, and that means you need a treatment that’s customized to your unique needs. Technically speaking, at-home aligners will send you aligners that are molded to your own teeth, but the treatment process isn’t custom. Everyone uses the same process with home aligners: wear each aligner for about two weeks, 22 hours per day, and then move on to the next one until you use all the aligners in your kit.
Some orthodontists and dentists aren’t comfortable with this process. To them, there is no “safety net” to adapt if something unforeseen happens mid-treatment. However, with in-office treatments, your orthodontist customizes and adapts your treatment as needed. If your teeth shift in an unusual way, your orthodontist can spot it long before it becomes a problem.
Some of the most popular in-office orthodontic treatments include braces, Invisalign, and ClearCorrect. But dentists and orthodontists don’t just randomly decide to offer these treatments. Braces can only be offered by orthodontists (they have the expertise required). And even Invisalign and ClearCorrect require special training. Dentists and orthodontists want to leverage their expertise to offer you top-notch treatments.
A Dentist’s Role in Home Aligner Treatment
Even though home aligners don’t have constant dentist supervision, dentists and orthodontists are still part of the treatment. For one thing, most home aligner companies ask patients to get a dental check-up before they begin orthodontic treatments. You need a clean bill of dental health before starting orthodontic treatments; impacted teeth, damaged roots, or cavities can throw off your treatment, so those issues need to be resolved first. Your dentist can take care of those for you.
Your pre-treatment screening isn’t the only way orthodontists and dentists get involved in at-home aligners, though. All of the at-home aligner companies we recommend use dentists and orthodontists to design their treatment plans. So even though an orthodontist won’t check your teeth in person, at least they’ll get your treatment started.
Some at-home aligner companies are making an effort to increase their orthodontist involvement, too. For example, AlignerCo has you send in photos to review on a regular basis. Your treatment supervisor will send you a message if there’s anything ‘off’ about your treatment. Candid takes it a step further with their Remote Monitoring program. You’ll have more frequent and thorough check-ins with the Candid care team thanks to your smartphone and a special imaging device.
Potential Future Developments
At-home aligners are a pretty new industry, and one of the cool things about new industries is that they grow and improve rapidly. And with some at-home aligner companies, there are plans to improve how dentists and orthodontists get involved during treatment.
For example, Smile Direct recently announced a pilot program to sell their aligners directly to dentists; right now they only sell directly to the customer. Similarly, byte unveiled a new initiative, bytePro. This program won’t just bring aligners directly to dentists. Patients can also ask to have their own orthodontist or dentist supervise their aligner treatment, help with impressions, and more. And to help out dentists and orthodontists, byte will pair up potential patients with local professionals for post-treatment care. Basically, they create a mutually beneficial relationship between patients and local dentists and sell their own aligners. It’s a win-win.
Or at least, it will be once it goes live. Both programs from Smile Direct and byte are still in the works. We don’t know exactly what they’ll look like in practice. In theory, these updated programs will strike a nice balance between in-person oversight and the convenience of at-home clear aligners. But as they say, the proof is in the pudding…and the pudding isn’t here yet. So stay tuned! We’ll update this guide as those programs go live.
How to Choose an Aligner Treatment
So which aligner treatment method should you choose? Honestly, that’s a pretty complicated question. Everyone’s smile is unique, and what treatment works best for someone else won’t be ideal for you.
First, it’s important to note what home aligners and in-office aligners can and can’t do. In general, at-home aligners can only treat mild to moderate cases. Candid is the exception to this, as they are able to treat more complex conditions than their at-home competitors, but we’ll get into that more later. Severe conditions will not be able to be treated by at-home aligners, and are best treated with an in-office option like Invisalign.
And even though orthodontic oversight (or lack thereof) is important, it’s not the only thing that differentiates between different treatment options. Here are some important things to consider when you’re picking an aligner:
- Treatment speed: How long does the typical treatment take? 3 months? 6? 12? If you’re in a rush, you might prefer at-home treatments, which are typically quicker.
- Treatable cases: At-home aligners can only treat mild to moderate cosmetic cases, but in-office methods can handle even the toughest cases. If your case is tougher, you might not be a good candidate for at-home treatment.
- Price range: How much are you willing to spend on your orthodontic treatment? There is a big price range: $1,145 to $8,000 (or more). At-home treatments are much cheaper, and Invisalign and other in-office treatment methods tend to be on the pricier side.
- Customer service: With in-office treatment methods, you have pretty good control over your own customer service. If you don’t like your dentist’s bedside manner, you can just pick another one. But for at-home aligners, you’ll find that some companies have better customer service than others.
And this list certainly isn’t exhaustive. There are other factors to consider, too. You’ll have to consider your own treatment priorities. And if there’s a company that you find yourself drawn to, go for it!
Understandably, we love at-home aligners. In our opinion, they’re a great option for people who want a convenient treatment method that won’t break the bank. And let’s face it: a lot of adults fall into the “mild to moderate” range, so home aligners are a good fit.
Here are our top 3 faves:
- Byte: Byte is our all-around favorite service, and they perform well in every category. 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. To get all the details on our top-ranked home aligner, read our full byte review.
- Candid: If you’re uncomfortable with the minimal orthodontist oversight available from most home aligners, Candid provides a good solution: Remote Monitoring. As a Candid patient, you’ll have regular virtual check-ins with your orthodontist. That orthodontist reviews your progress, checks for any issues, and if possible, gives you the go-ahead to move on to your next aligner. Intrigued? Check out our full Candid review.
- AlignerCo: If you’re looking for an affordable treatment option, then look no further than AlignerCo. Their treatment kit costs far less than other home aligners and even less than braces: $1,145. They also have regular treatment check-ins to help keep you on track. For more information about AlignerCo, check out our full review.
The disadvantage of at-home aligners is that they don’t offer a ton of orthodontist oversight. (Candid is the biggest exception to this). If in-person oversight is a concern for you, you’ll want to stick with methods like Invisalign or ClearCorrect.
But if you’re drawn to at-home aligners, don’t let it scare you that you can’t buy them at your dentist’s office. At-home aligners are a safe, effective treatment option. And if you use them, you’ll be well on your way to your perfect smile.