No one likes to play the waiting game, and that’s fair. Waiting is hard. Unfortunately, waiting is part of the game when it comes to orthodontic treatment. That’s especially true for braces and Invisalign; it’s not uncommon for people to wear braces or clear aligners for as long as two years.
For a lot of people, though, there’s an alternative: at-home clear aligners. Home aligners hold a lot of advantages over in-office treatments (there are trade-offs, of course), but one of the biggest advantages is treatment length. In-office treatments usually take longer than 12 months, but home aligner treatments typically take around 6 months. That said, every case is different, so we can’t guarantee that your treatment will last 6 months if you go with at-home aligners.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what treatment timelines look like with at-home aligners. We’ll also cover the different factors that can influence your treatment length. By the end, you’ll have a clearer picture of how long your treatment might last with at-home aligners. Ultimately, your treatment designer is the only one who can tell you how long your treatment should last, but this guide should help give you a better idea.
A Typical Treatment Timeline
No two treatment methods are exactly the same, but they all follow the same general structure. You start by taking impressions or scans of your teeth. Once that’s done, your chosen aligner company will create a treatment plan for you to approve, and if you give it the thumbs-up, they’ll manufacture your aligners and ship them to you. Then there’s the bulk of your treatment: wearing your aligners. Here’s a brief look at what you can expect with each step:
There are two ways to kick off your treatment: order an impression kit or visit a retail location to have digital scans taken of your teeth. Of the two, visiting a retail location is cheaper, easier, and faster, but not all providers offer this option. If you visit one of Smile Direct Club’s Smile Shops, for example, a representative will take digital scans of your teeth. Consultations are free, and they usually last about 30 minutes. The scans get sent directly to the treatment designers, so there’s no need to wait on the postman and shipping delays.
The other option, impression kits, takes a little longer. For one thing, you have to wait on shipping both ways (from the company to you and again when you send it back), which can take 5-7 business days each direction. Then, of course, there’s the time it takes to actually take your impressions. Usually, you can finish them up in an hour or less.
Manufacturing and Shipping
Once you’ve completed your impressions or scans, the dentists and orthodontists at your chosen company get started designing your treatment. They’ll give you an opportunity to review it, and once you give them the go-ahead, they’ll start manufacturing your aligners.
How long it takes to manufacture your aligners depends on a variety of factors. First, each company has their own timeline for manufacturing. For example, Byte promises to have your aligners to you about 4-6 weeks after completing the impression kit (provided you don’t delay in sending it back). Plus, if you need a lot of aligners, they may take more time to manufacture than someone who only needs a small set.
Last but not least, there’s the time it will take for your treatment bundle to arrive on your doorstep. Shipping times are largely dependent on where you live and, of course, the quality of your local shipping carriers. On average, your treatment kit arrives 5-7 days after it leaves the manufacturing facility.
No two aligner companies are exactly alike, so their treatment lengths vary, too. But the bigger factor to consider is your own smile: tougher cases will require more aligners, and as a result, they’ll take longer to treat. To complete your treatment, you’ll need to wear each aligner in your kit from start to finish.
Usually, you’ll need to wear each aligner in your kit 22 hours per day for a total of two weeks. When you follow this wear schedule for the entire set, your aligner treatment time totals to about six months. However, that’s just the industry average. Depending on what company you choose, your treatment time could last between 4 to 11 months.
How Do Home Aligners Work so Fast?
At-home aligners usually offer much shorter treatment lengths than in-office methods like Invisalign or braces. For instance, Invisalign treatment typically lasts 12 to 18 months, but the average home aligner treatment lasts just 6 months. Why such a large discrepancy?
Well for one thing, home aligners can only treat mild and moderate cases of cosmetic misalignments. Naturally, milder cases don’t require as long to correct as tough issues like severe crossbite or overjet. In-office methods tackle tougher cases on a regular basis, so it’s understandable that their average treatments last longer.
Beyond that, though, there are a couple differences in home aligners themselves that can impact the speed of your treatment. In fact, how the aligner is cut affects the amount of force your aligners can exert on your force. Some companies use aligners that are scallop-cut to match your gum line. Those types of aligners are slightly less visible, but they aren’t as strong.
On the other hand, some companies create aligners that are straight-cut with a line of plastic overlapping the gums. That extra plastic acts as an anchor, allowing the aligners to pull harder on your teeth. That makes your treatment a little quicker.
Factors that Affect Treatment Length
On average, home teeth aligners can correct cases of misalignment in 6 months. But averages are just averages, and each person’s case will be different. Several different factors affect how quickly (or slowly) your treatment will go:
- Condition severity: Home teeth aligners can treat mild to moderate cosmetic cases only, but cases that are classified as “moderate” will inevitably take longer. Think of it this way: if you only need to close a small gap between your two front teeth, your treatment will be quick. Multiple, wider gaps require more time.
- Consistent daily wear: A successful home aligner treatment hinges on the fact that you wear your aligners for the prescribed amount of time. Usually, that means you’ll wear your aligners for roughly 22 hours per day (unless you get nighttime-only aligners). If you don’t wear them as prescribed, though, your treatment will take even longer than expected.
- Dental hygiene: If you want your treatment to go by quickly, you’ll need to maintain good dental habits. Brushing and flossing and cleaning your aligners are all necessary to keep your teeth and gums healthy. If you encountered cavities or gum disease during treatment, you’d need to pause your treatment until those issues were corrected.
- Technology: Most aligner companies are pretty straightforward: you get your aligners and wear them nearly constantly until your treatment is complete. That said, sophisticated dental appliances, like the HyperByte system sold by Byte, can shorten your treatment when you use them. (You should only use them as recommended by your care provider, though).
- Daytime or nighttime treatment: Daytime treatment methods—the industry’s standard offering—are typically faster than nighttime treatments. That’s understandable, too; daytime treatments require 22 hours of wear, and nighttime treatments require 10. That slows down the total treatment time. For example, if you use Byte’s daytime treatment method, your treatment will probably last 4 months. But with Byte-At-Night, you can reasonably expect a 5-month treatment.
Before you officially begin treatment, you’ll receive an estimate of how long your treatment will take. If you follow your treatment regimen and care for your teeth while you’re wearing your aligners, your treatment should match that estimate.
Which Company Works The Fastest?
At-home aligners are generally pretty quick (especially compared to in-office methods), but some at-home aligners offer faster treatment methods than others. And that’s for a variety of reasons, including the shape and strength of the aligners themselves, how long you wear them, additional technology, and so on. That being said, there’s one clear winner when it comes to treatment length, and that’s Byte.
Byte has the shortest treatment lengths in the industry, plain and simple. Their average treatment lasts just four months. That’s nearly half the time of some of their competitors. Byte owes their short treatment times to their HyperByte system. This system sends gentle vibrations through your teeth and into your jawbone, helping to move your teeth into their new positions a little faster. Those vibrations typically cut down on your discomfort, too.
Byte is one of the few companies to offer both daytime and nighttime treatment options. You use the HyperByte system with either method, though, so you still have a speedy treatment option in Byte At-Night. In fact, Byte At-Night treatment lasts roughly 5 months. That’s even shorter than the industry’s average for daytime treatment.
Treatment length aside, there are plenty of other things we love about Byte; they’re our favorite at-home aligner. To learn more about why we love them, check out our full review.