20 years ago, Invisalign became the superhero of modern orthodontics. It rescued adults everywhere from the unsightly wires & brackets of traditional braces, replacing them with smooth, clear, plastic aligners.
Early on, Invisalign had a monopoly on the market, but soon after, competitors began to throw their hats in the ring. Today, at-home clear aligner brands like Smile Direct Club offer a convenient and more affordable treatment option for busy adults on a budget. That’s not to say that Invisalign didn’t adapt to the new competition, though—they created Invisalign Express to expand their offerings.
But how do Smile Direct Club’s clear aligners actually compare to the industry innovator’s speediest option, Invisalign Express? That’s the question we’re here to answer.
In this comparison review, we’ll put Smile Direct Club and Invisalign Express side by side to see how they stack up in terms of cost, treatment oversight, the customer experience, and more. By the time we’re finished, you’ll have a much clearer idea of which option lines up with your needs!
Spoiler | Smile Direct Club Wins
They’re easily more affordable and convenient, especially considering their SmileShops and Nighttime Aligners, and we think Smile Direct is a great option for any adult seeking home aligner treatment. Even though Smile Direct provides highly convenient treatment, there are other effective and affordable options. Do your due diligence by comparing all the top-rated providers before you roll with one.
4 Things They Have in Common
Invisalign Express and Smile Direct Club are two very different companies, but they do have similar products. It comes as no surprise, then, that they have a few things in common:
- Discreet: Both Invisalign Express and Smile Direct Club are far less noticeable than braces. Trade wires and brackets for clear aligners and that’s bound to happen. Some people find that they ‘lisp’ a little bit when they first start wearing the aligners, but most people adjust pretty quickly. Most users find that other people rarely (if ever) spot their aligners.
- Safe: We’re talking about the future of your smile here. But rest assured, both Invisalign Express and Smile Direct Club are safe ways to straighten your teeth. Both companies use similar technologies; Invisalign Express has a few add-ons that Smile Direct doesn’t, but the basic principle is the same. Both companies use safe, BPA-free plastic, and state-licensed dental professionals design your treatment.
- Convenient: If you ever talk to a friend who had braces back in the day, you’ll probably hear horror stories about avoiding popcorn or chewing gum, the pains of dislodging food from the wires, and other hassles. Clear aligners take these hassles down several notches. You’ll have to remove your aligners every time you eat or drink (excluding water), but you’ll get to eat all of your favorite foods. And cleaning your teeth is just as simple as ever, too. Just pop out your aligners to brush and floss, then reinsert them.
- Insurance coverage: Both Smile Direct and Invisalign Express may be covered by your insurance. If your plan includes orthodontic benefits, there’s a good chance you can receive partial coverage. Some general dental policies may cover your treatment, too. However, many insurance providers are more likely to cover in-office treatments like Invisalign Express than at-home ones like Smile Direct.
4 Ways They Differ
This wouldn’t be a comparison review if these two companies didn’t have a few differences, now, would it? Here are a few key differences between Smile Direct and Invisalign Express:
- Who can get treatment: Smile Direct can only treat mild to moderate cases of crowding and spacing. More extensive cases—like those caused by an overbite, underbite, or misshapen jaw—must be monitored in-person by an orthodontist. Invisalign Express can’t handle very extreme cases either, but they can take on a few more than Smile Direct thanks to their SmartForce attachments and in-person oversight.
- Cost: There is no one-size-fits-all price tag for Invisalign Express. That’s because your price depends on your orthodontist’s personal fees and the severity of your case. The more severe your case, the more it will cost. On average, most people will spend between $1,500 and $4,000. With Smile Direct, though, there are very few overhead costs, so your treatment may be more affordable: $2,050.
- One-on-one care: The biggest disadvantage of at-home aligner companies like Smile Direct is that you don’t actually meet in-person with an orthodontist. Like most at-home aligner companies, you don’t check in or communicate with your orthodontist much at all during treatment. With Invisalign Express though, you’ll have direct, in-person care from your orthodontist each time you visit the office.
- Financing: Both Smile Direct and Invisalign Express offer financing. Smile Direct approves every customer (regardless of credit score) for a down payment of $250 and then $89/month for 26 months. Invisalign’s financing is a bit different, as your orthodontist’s office will arrange the details of your payment plan.
The Rundown: How Invisalign Express and Smile Direct Stack Up
To say that Invisalign is the biggest clear aligner company is an understatement. They got their start in 1998 thanks to Align Technology, a dental supply manufacturer. For roughly a decade, they had a complete monopoly on the clear aligner scene. Even though at-home aligner companies have since popped up, Invisalign is still a household name. They partner with dentists around the world (more than 100,000 of them!), and as a result, they’ve served more than 12 million customers.
In terms of treatment, what really stands out about Invisalign is the wide variety of cases they can treat. They’re best known for Invisalign Full, which can treat just about any case. That’s thanks to their patented SmartForce attachments and the elastics and expanders that your orthodontist can add. Invisalign Express can’t use elaborate elastics and expanders, but they can use some SmartForce attachments.
Smile Direct Club was the first company to bring clear aligners directly to the customer, providing Invisalign-comparable treatment completely from home. In fact, for a while, Smile Direct’s aligners were provided by Invisalign. That’s not true anymore, but thanks to this previous partnership, Smile Direct was able to establish themselves as the biggest online clear aligner company in the industry.
Since their inception in 2014, Smile Direct has served more than 1.5 million customers. If you’re looking for the at-home option with the most brand power, look no further. Thanks to that brand power, Smile Direct can offer some options that many of their competitors can’t, including nighttime treatment and physical retail that offer scans to kickstart treatment.
|Invisalign Express||Smile Direct Club|
|Customers served||12+ million||1.5+ million|
|Claim to fame||First clear aligner company||Best brand power in the industry|
|No food restrictions?||✓||✓|
|No office visits?||✓|
|Covered by insurance (with orthodontic benefits)?||✓||✓|
|Personalized customer service?||✓|
|Free retainers?||Only with SmilePay|
|Price Tag?||Varies, most people pay between $1,500-$4,000||$2,050|
|Financing Available?||Varies office to office, may require a credit check||$250 down, then $89 for 26 months|
|Treatment Length?||3-6 months||6 months for all-day treatment, 10 months for nighttime only treatment|
|Start-Up Process?||In-person appointment with your Invisalign dentist or orthodontist||Impression kit or 3D scan at a Smile Shop|
Like what you see so far? We’re just getting started! Let’s dig in deeper to the details of treatment with Invisalign Express and Smile Direct Club.
At first glance, all aligners look pretty much the same. Which makes sense; after all—they’re all made of safe, BPA free plastic and gradually move your teeth into alignment. However, when you look a little closer; there are a few differences worth noting.
There are two ways to cut the top of an aligner: straight across, or scalloped to match the gumline. The straight cut overlaps with the gums, which allows the aligner to exert more force; but it also makes the trays a little more noticeable. The scalloped cut is a little more discreet, so it’s a tradeoff either way.
Some providers opt to make their aligners from clear, shiny plastic; while others use plastic with a slightly frosted appearance. This may sound a bit backwards, but shiny plastic is actually a little more noticeable than frosted plastic. This is because our teeth have a porous surface, so a matte aligner blends in better with our natural smile.
|Invisalign Express||Smile Direct Club|
|Manufacturer||Align Technology||Smile Direct Club|
|Aligner Cut||Scalloped, to match gumline||Straight cut|
|Aligner Transparency||Slightly frosted plastic||Slightly frosted plastic|
Smile Direct used to have their aligners manufactured by Align Technology too, actually, but recently pivoted to manufacturing their own instead. So far it seems like you can still expect the same high quality as before, but it’s still a bit early to know for sure.
We typically prefer straight cut aligners because of their power; but since Invisalign can incorporate SmartForce attachments, their scalloped aligners aren’t necessarily sacrificing force. All things considered, both of these aligners are discreet and will offer you a low profile treatment.
If you’re really looking for your treatment to fly under the radar, Smile Direct’s nighttime only treatment may be just your speed. You’ll spend most of your day without your aligners in, which is pretty much as discreet as treatment could possibly be.
Invisalign and Smile Direct both keep an eye on your treatment progress, but they each approach this in a different way. Which is only natural, since one is an in-person treatment option, and the other is entirely remote. Let’s take a look at the ways in which each of these providers go about overseeing your treatment.
|Invisalign Express||Smile Direct Club|
|Frequency of check-ins||Every 4-8 weeks||Every 90 days|
|Check-ins via||In person appointments throughout treatment||Photos sent via Smile Direct app|
|Treatment Length||3-6 months||6 months for all-day treatment, 10 months for nighttime only treatment|
|Customer Support||Availability will vary from office to office||Available via app, chat, email and phone. Smile Direct says their team is available 24/7|
With Invisalign Express, you’ll go to your orthodontist’s office for regular appointments—from step one to your post-treatment retainers. Your orthodontist will make sure your treatment is progressing normally. If anything seems off, your treatment provider will adjust your plan on the fly. This in-office expertise gets you individualized, prompt care.
However, frequent in-person appointments can be a strain for busy adults with limited free time. That’s where remote options like Smile Direct really shine. With simple photo check-ins every 90 days, Smile Direct’s treatment is much easier to incorporate into a packed schedule.
Outside of your appointments and photo check-ins, if an issue arises during your treatment; you’ll need to contact customer support.
Technically speaking, you can contact Invisalign directly via email. But the better approach is to get in touch with the orthodontist or dentist who’s overseeing your Express treatment. They’ll know the ins and outs of your case, so if you need a repair, a replacement, or a modification to your treatment, your local provider is the best way to get it.
Smile Direct, on the other hand, is completely remote. You’ll have to contact their customer support team any time you have a question or concern. You can reach them by phone, email, or webchat. They say that representatives are available via phone 24/7, but email queries can take closer to 24 hours to get a reply.
In general, the one-on-one oversight you get from your Invisalign Express provider leads to better customer support. That said, Smile Direct has shown improvement in their remote support, and they get the job done.
Bang For Your Buck
A million-dollar smile is exciting, but it shouldn’t cost you a million bucks. The overall price tag of each service matters, but it’s also important to consider what your money gets you. Every treatment option includes a few basic costs: the cost of starting your treatment, the cost of treatment itself, and the cost for post-treatment retainers. We’ll cover those here.
|Invisalign Express||Smile Direct Club|
|Startup Costs||Varies||$59 impression kit or free scan|
|Aligner Kit||No set sticker price, average cost between $1,500-$4,000||$2,050|
|Add-Ons||Varies||After your free whitening runs out, you have many whitening options to choose from. Prices range from $17-$75|
|Financing||Varies depending on your doctor, may require a credit check||$250 downpayment, then 26 monthly payments of $89|
|Insurance||Varies, but generally more insurance companies offer coverage for in-office treatments like Invisalign||Partners with many insurance companies, you can see if you have coverage on their online insurance page|
|Post-Treatment||Price determined by your provider; can be between $100-$300 per retainer set||$99 per retainer set|
To kick off your Invisalign Express treatment, you’ll have a consultation with your Invisalign dentist or orthodontist of choice. The cost of this consultation largely depends on your individual provider. Some orthodontists may offer it for free, and others will charge a nominal fee. It’s up to them.
Smile Direct offers two methods to begin your treatment. You can buy an impression kit for $59 to make molds of your teeth at home. However, some people find the impression process a bit tricky. To solve this problem, Smile Direct established 300+ physical SmileShops nationwide where you can get your teeth scanned for free. Customers really love the experience they have at the Shops, so if you live near one, it’s well worth it.
The actual cost of Invisalign Express largely depends on your dentist’s or orthodontist’s fees and how much treatment you need to perfect your smile. Your orthodontist or dentist will give you a full quote before beginning treatment.
Once you agree to treatment, Smile Direct will send you your full aligner kit, from Step 1 to your last aligner. They also throw in free whitening. Compared to other home aligner companies, Smile Direct’s price is pretty average.
Like everything else with Invisalign Express, your cost for post-treatment retainers will largely depend on what your orthodontist or dentist charges. The average prices we’ve seen for Invisalign Full are between $100-300 (and they’re probably similar for Express), but you may end up paying more or less.
Smile Direct charges $99 for your first set of post-treatment retainers for your teeth once you finish using your aligner kit. That’s a big plus, since you’ll need it to keep your newly-perfected smile in position for a lifetime. However, the retainers don’t last forever. Whenever you need a replacement (we recommend every six months), you should order another.
Smile Direct’s price is set in stone, but it’s hard to say a definitive price for Invisalign Express. In some cases, Invisalign Express is cheaper than Smile Direct, especially if you only need the 5-aligner set. But most people need 7 or 10 aligners, so it often ends up being slightly more expensive.
Office Visits—Are They Worth The Extra Cost?
Regular office visits are the biggest difference between in-office treatments like Invisalign Express and at-home ones like Smile Direct Club. As part of your Invisalign Express treatment, you’ll need to visit your dentist or orthodontist every few weeks so they can evaluate your progress, add attachments, and make timeline adjustments if necessary.
And while this helps ensure safe, effective treatment, it also makes Invisalign Express less affordable and convenient. Office visits are the primary reason in-office treatments are more expensive. Your dentist’s time, equipment and resources aren’t free, after all. Plus, fitting regular appointments into your busy schedule (and potentially taking time off work) isn’t ideal. The fully-remote service you’ll get from at-home treatments is much more convenient, and without office visit costs, much cheaper too.
Of course it’s important to ensure you choose a company with high quality and low prices, but it’s equally important to find a company that you’ll enjoy working with for the duration of your treatment. Here, we’ll explore the customer experience when you choose Invisalign and Smile Direct Club.
In the age of Amazon and other Internet retailers, online shopping is pretty common. But savvy shoppers are careful to read online reviews before clicking “Buy.” This is especially important for Smile Direct, which you can only purchase online. Your orthodontist can give a professional opinion on Invisalign, but it is still nice to hear the opinions of others who’ve used the system.
You could dig through online reviews yourself, but we know your time is valuable to you, so we’ve made it easy. We’ve given a brief summary of the top customer likes and dislikes for both Invisalign and Smile Direct. (A quick note, though: most of the Invisalign related-reviews are for Invisalign Full, but the products are inherently the same, so it’s still worth noting here).
|Invisalign Express||Smile Direct|
|Top Loves||Teen-friendly usage; much more comfortable than braces (for customers who’ve had both); ability to eat anything||SmileShops are convenient and the staff is friendly; convenient reminders to switch out aligners; affordable|
|Top Complaints||Some aligners wore out too quickly; SmartForce attachments can come loose; basically as pricey as braces||Delayed shipments; received wrong aligners; requesting re-evaluations is tedious and difficult|
Smile Direct and Invisalign have relatively positive reviews. Smile Direct’s score is a little lower, though; we think that’s mostly due to a rough patch they experienced in 2017. That year, they grew so quickly that their customer service department couldn’t keep up, and they got a big pile of negative reviews as a result. They’ve made big improvements since then.
Invisalign Express has mostly positive reviews; we’ve found that, across the board, people tend to prefer in-office treatments.
No one wants a purchase to go wrong, regardless of whether it’s a big or small one. And when it comes to your teeth, your satisfaction is critical.
That said, the exact warranty you’ll get will depend on your individual provider. Some will replace a SmartForce attachment for free, some will charge you for new aligners if you lose one, and others don’t have any sort of warranty policy. You’ll have to ask your orthodontist or dentist to know for sure.
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.
Additionally, Smile Direct offers free aligner touch-ups for life after treatment. If your teeth ever shift out of alignment—even years down the line—Smile Direct will provide you with new aligners for free. To keep your end of the bargain, you’ll just need to stay on top of wearing and replacing your aftercare retainers.
Teeth can be a little stubborn, and it’s possible you might end up needing more aligner trays than your treatment plan originally accounted for. These extra aligners are called refinements.
With Invisalign Express, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be dissatisfied with your treatment. That’s mostly because your orthodontist or dentist will be able to make small adjustments throughout the process. If there are any issues, your dentist will spot them before they become major problems, keeping your treatment on track and ensuring your satisfaction. If you’re curious about a specific refinements policy; be sure to inquire at your initial consultation.
Smile Direct covers the cost of refinements through their Club Warranty. If you’re not totally satisfied with the results at the end of the treatment, you 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 aligner plan to a T, and submit any request for re-evaluation within 30 days of finishing treatment.
Best Alternatives to Invisalign Express and Smile Direct?
Invisalign Express and Smile Direct are both great options, so if you choose either one, you’ll get excellent service. However, Invisalign and Smile Direct aren’t the only good clear aligner companies.
We also recommend checking out Byte. They’re our top-ranked home aligner company. They leverage excellent value with an equally good product, plus they’re about the same price as Smile Direct. And more importantly, unlike Smile Direct, Byte either matches or exceeds Invisalign Express’ treatment speed. Their treatment wraps up in as few as 4 months. Or, if wearing aligners for 22+ hours per day isn’t a good fit for your lifestyle, Byte’s nighttime-only treatment is a convenient alternative.
Alternatively, if you’re interested in the convenience of at-home aligners, but want the frequent treatment oversight you’d receive with an in-person option, look no further than Candid. They’re our #2 ranked at-home provider, and for good reason. They offer quality, effective treatment with robust oversight all at a reasonable price.
Which is the Best Clear Aligner for You?
Let’s be clear: Invisalign Express and Smile Direct are both good options. However, what works for one person may not be what’s best for you. Here are some general guidelines for who should choose Invisalign and who should opt for Smile Direct:
- Choose Smile Direct If: You want the convenience of at-home treatment at an affordable price, or you only want to wear your aligners at night.
- Choose Invisalign Express If: Your case is pretty minor but you still want the security of having a professional handle your treatment in-person.
Invisalign Express is a great option if you simply feel more comfortable with in-person care. But overall, we have to give the nod to Smile Direct.
Final Verdict: Smile Direct Club Wins!
They’re easily more affordable and convenient, especially considering their SmileShops and Nighttime Aligners, and we think Smile Direct is a great option for any adult seeking home aligner treatment.
Even though Smile Direct provides highly convenient treatment, there are other effective and affordable options. Do your due diligence by comparing all the top-rated providers before you roll with one.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does either company offer discounts?
Invisalign Express doesn’t really offer discounts in the traditional sense. However, your individual provider may give you benefits or perks as part of your treatment. Smile Direct, on the other hand, will occasionally run discounts for as much as $150 off their aligners. They also provide year-round discounts for students, teachers, and military members.
Which provider is more customer-focused?
Technically speaking, Invisalign Express is more customer-focused. After all, you’ll work directly with an orthodontist or dentist, getting individualized attention along the way. That said, Smile Direct maintains a responsive and helpful customer service team, but they handle everything remotely.
How exactly does at-home teeth alignment work?
At-home aligner kits like the one from Smile Direct borrow the technology Invisalign perfected. When you send in your impressions, Smile Direct uses those molds and advanced software to create a treatment plan for you. That technology can predict exactly how your teeth will move when you switch to the next aligner in your kit. Using each new aligner as a step in the process, Smile Direct gradually moves your teeth from their initial positions to their final destination.
Is there an age requirement for using either Invisalign Express or Smile Direct?
Invisalign Express is a good option for teens and adults. There’s no explicit age requirement for Invisalign Express; your individual provider can make the call. With Smile Direct, patients must be at least 12 years old. Both companies must receive parental consent before treating a minor.
Can I use Invisalign or Smile Direct if I live outside the USA?
Invisalign Express is available in over 90 countries thanks to their provider network of more than 100,000 dentists and orthodontists. Similarly, you can use Smile Direct if you live in Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, or Australia.
How do I know whether at-home or in-office treatment is right for me?
Unless your case is very severe, you’re probably a good candidate for at-home aligner treatment through Smile Direct. You can also take a preliminary assessment on Smile Direct’s website. Their impression kit is the only way to know for sure if you are a candidate, and thankfully, there’s no risk. If you purchase an impression kit and it turns out that you’re not a good candidate for treatment, Smile Direct will refund you the cost of the impression kit.
Will either of these clear aligners make me talk funny?
Most clear aligner users find that their aligners are practically imperceptible to others, even during conversation. That said, some people find that they may speak with a slight lisp when they’re first adjusting to their aligners. After a couple days, this feeling usually goes away.
If I lose my aligners during or after treatment, do I have to pay for new ones?
Smile Direct will replace a set of lost or broken aligners for free, but you’ll need to pay for subsequent replacements (the price will be determined by their dental team). Replacements will take a few weeks to ship, so they recommend wearing your previous aligner to keep your teeth from shifting too far back. Invisalign Express, however, depends on your individual provider. Your dentist or orthodontist should be your go-to if you lose an aligner. You’ll likely need to pay for a new one, but how much depends on the policies your provider has in place.
Can I drink coffee when using Invisalign Express or Smile Direct?
You can, but you shouldn’t. Aligners from Smile Direct and Invisalign Express are fairly resilient, but coffee is good at creating stains. Drinking coffee with your aligners in—or any beverage besides water, for that matter—puts you at the risk of staining them.
Are there any hidden costs?
Neither Smile Direct nor Invisalign Express has a whole lot of hidden costs. There will be costs if you lose an aligner, but that’s an added expense that you can prevent. One cost you might not be expecting is post-treatment retainers. Both companies require you to purchase your first set of retainers, but the cost varies.
Are at-home aligners as effective as in-office treatment?
In most mild and moderate cases, yes. Thanks to the tested technologies used by remote treatment companies like Smile Direct, your aligners will match your teeth as well as they would with Invisalign Express. That said, there are exceptions. Some people’s teeth may not shift as well as predicted. Other people might not follow the prescribed treatment perfectly. These cases tend not to be as effective.
If you do choose an at-home aligner company for your treatment, you should be careful to follow your treatment plan extra carefully. And in the off chance that something seems “off,” you should contact customer support right away. The sooner you correct a minor issue, the more effective your whole treatment process will be.
Which is easier: at-home or in-office aligner treatment?
Once you get past the impression kits, we think it’s a little easier to use at-home aligner treatments. That’s simply because you never have to schedule, remember, or travel to appointments; you’ll get an email or text notification that it’s time to move on to your next aligner instead. For many busy adults, it’s easier to complete all of the steps at home.
Can I still use Invisalign Express if I’m not a candidate for Smile Direct?
Maybe, but it’s tough to say. Both Invisalign Express and Smile Direct are mostly limited to minor cosmetic cases. Invisalign Express can add SmartForce attachments to your treatment regimen, allowing for more nuanced movements. So a case that’s slightly beyond what Smile Direct can handle might be treatable with Invisalign Express.
If Invisalign Express isn’t an option but you still want clear aligner treatment, then you should look into Invisalign Full.
Why is Invisalign Express sometimes more expensive and sometimes less expensive than Smile Direct?
The price point for Invisalign Express depends on the number of aligners you buy (plus any attachments you need). Additionally, you’ll have to account for your individual provider’s fees. That’s why, if you only need five aligners, your price point might be cheaper than Smile Direct. But if you need ten, it could be more. Smile Direct, on the other hand, has a one-size-fits-all price point, regardless of how many aligners you need.