Lingual braces aren’t as well-known as traditional braces, and it’s not a big surprise why: they’re pretty hard to spot.
That’s because lingual braces are attached to the backs of the teeth, not the front. Of course, there’s a catch: lingual braces are more expensive than normal braces.
Lingual braces are just one way traditional braces have evolved over time, though. Other alternatives have popped up along the way. One of the latest developments is at-home clear aligners, which bring teeth straightening directly to your doorstep.
Can’t decide between lingual braces and at-home teeth aligners? We’ve got you covered. In this guide, we’ll outline the similarities and differences between lingual braces and at-home clear aligners. By the end, you’ll know which treatment is right for your smile.
In-Office vs. At-Home Treatment: An Overview
Lingual braces first appeared in the mid-70s when celebrities wanted a less-visible orthodontic treatment (but clear aligners hadn’t been created yet). At-home clear aligners are much newer; the first company appeared in 2014 as a convenient alternative to Invisalign treatments.
Lingual braces are fundamentally different from home aligners, and that’s what we’re here to discuss in full detail. But before we dig in, here’s a quick overview of the primary differences.
|Lingual Braces||At-Home Aligners|
|Treatment oversight: In-person appointments every 4-8 weeks of treatment||Treatment oversight: Remote check-ins via photo updates|
|Treatment length: 12 to 24 months||Treatment length: Ranges between 4 to 11 months, with most lasting 6 months|
|Cost: $5,000 to $7,000||Cost: Typically ranges between $1,145 and $2,300, with most hovering around $1,895|
|Treatable cases: Mild to severe (although severe cases of overbite may cause brackets to pop off, making normal braces better)||Treatable cases: Mild to moderate cosmetic cases only|
Before picking between these treatment methods, you need to understand how they stack up against each other. You need to make an informed decision about all things related to your smile.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Lingual Braces
Lingual braces have come a long way since their initial introduction. Now, they offer excellent treatment and certain key advantages:
- Treat severe cases: Lingual braces are almost as powerful as braces, so they can treat minor and severe cases alike. That said, people with severe overbites may not be good candidates for lingual braces since the position of the jawbone could make some of your brackets pop off.
- Hands-on oversight: You’ll attend in-person appointments every 4-8 weeks of your lingual braces treatment. There, your orthodontist can ensure your teeth are progressing as they should, and make any necessary tweaks to your treatment plan.
- Sturdiness: Lingual braces are sturdy. They stay put, and you don’t have to remember to put them in or take them out. Your treatment success hinges on constant force being exerted on your teeth, so braces that aren’t removable are helpful.
However, there are notable disadvantages to lingual braces, too:
- Expensive: In-office treatment methods always cost more than home aligners, but lingual braces generally cost even more than traditional braces. On average, the cost exceeds $5,000.
- Longer treatment timeline: Treatment with lingual braces is comparable to traditional braces, but if you’re in a rush to see your perfect smile, you’ll be disappointed in the average 12 to 24 month treatment speed of lingual braces.
- Office visits required: This isn’t a true negative per se (after all, orthodontist office visits make for powerful treatments), but if you have a busy social calendar, it can be challenging to stay on top of all the required appointments for lingual braces.
- Difficult to clean: It’s tough to brush around lingual braces, and it’s even tougher to floss effectively. If you struggle with dental hygiene to begin with, then lingual braces will only make life harder.
- Some foods off-limits: Just like with regular braces, you will have to avoid some foods that can damage your braces. Hard candy, caramels, and popcorn are a few examples.
- Speech difficulties: Since lingual braces are positioned on the back of your teeth, your tongue will rub against them when you speak. Most people deal with a slight lisp until the braces are removed. The tongue adjusts some, but it does take time.
Advantages and Disadvantages of At-Home Clear Aligners
Home clear aligners are pretty new to the orthodontic scene, but they have established themselves as a popular alternative to lingual braces. They’re just as discreet as lingual braces, but there are plenty of other advantages, too:
- Shorter treatment timeline: Most at-home clear aligners take 6 months to reach final results, which makes them almost twice as fast as lingual braces. Granted, home aligners only treat minor cases (which naturally take less time), but the company boasting the shortest treatment lengths, Byte, takes just 4 months.
- More affordable: Each aligner company has its own price point, but the average price hovers around $1,895. That’s several thousand dollars cheaper than braces. And for reference, the cheapest home aligner option costs just $1,145.
- No office visits: No time to go to the dentist? No worries. 100% of your treatment is administered remotely, so you can focus on living to the fullest.
- Minimal lisp: At-home aligners aren’t 100% lisp-free, but they don’t cause as much of a speech change as lingual braces. That’s because they’re a smooth surface as opposed to bumpy brackets and wires.
- Easy to clean: Cleaning your teeth is easy with home aligners. All you have to do is take them out, brush your teeth, clean the aligners themselves, and pop them back in your mouth. No wrangling around wires or brackets.
- No foods off-limits: If you love popcorn, taffy, caramels, or other foods that are normally off-limits with most orthodontic treatments, then clear aligners have you covered. Since you can pop out your aligners whenever you eat, you won’t damage them, no matter what you eat.
Of course, there are disadvantages to at-home clear aligner treatment, too:
- Minimal treatment oversight: At-home treatments are usually pretty self directed. The main exception to that is Candid, which oversees your treatment using their CandidMonitoring system. Using a smartphone and a special imaging device, you’ll send progress photos for the Candid team to review.
- Minor cases only: Two factors prevent home aligners from treating severe cases. One: the orthodontist oversight (necessary to make nuanced, complicated teeth shifts) isn’t possible with home aligners. Two: aligner trays alone are only so powerful. If you want to exert force on the jaw itself, you’ll need add-ons to the trays (add-ons that home aligners don’t offer).
- Tough impression kits: With most at-home aligners, you kick off your treatment by ordering an impression kit and making 3D molds of your teeth. It’s a tricky process, though, and some people find it hard to do on their own.
What About Invisalign?
Invisalign is the originator of clear aligner treatment. Their technology is what brought this option to the masses, and all current companies base their own products off Invisalign’s design.
When you don’t dig too deep, Invisalign and at-home clear aligners seem like pretty much the same treatment. However, the differences between them are significant.
Invisalign costs thousands more than its mail-order counterparts. It also takes longer by at least 6 months on average. At the same time, it offers more powerful treatment, correcting even complex orthodontic concerns thanks to SmartForce attachments.
Overall, Invisalign is a great treatment when you have moderate to severe corrections to make. However, if you only need to close small gaps or add a little space, it’s more treatment than you need to pay for. To learn more about Invisalign, check out our complete review.
Which Treatment Is Right For Me?
There is no one treatment that is perfect for all people. Instead, look at this like a Goldilocks situation: you want to find the one that is just right for you.
When determining the right treatment for you, look at the key factors: cost, treatment length, and oversight. Then, decide which factors are more important for you.
In general, though, we think you should opt for lingual braces when you have a tougher case of misalignment but you don’t want the visibility of normal braces. That said, for a lot of people, home aligners are a better, more affordable, more convenient choice. But they’re only good for minor to moderate cases.
Lingual braces can treat tough cases of misalignment, but they don’t lose the advantage of near invisibility. But in our opinion, home aligners are a better option for most busy adults. They do the job quicker and have less impact on your bank account. And let’s be honest: most adults fall into the mild-to-moderate cosmetic range.
Ultimately, there are plenty of at-home clear aligner companies to work with. But Byte is our favorite, and we’ll tell you why.
Byte is our all-around favorite service, performing well in every category we look at. Their claim to fame is a 4-month treatment length and special nighttime aligners. On top of that, they back their service with a lifetime guarantee.
Intrigued by Byte, Candid, or home aligners in general? Check out our full comparison review of the Top 4 Home Clear Aligners.
Are lingual braces as good as regular braces at tooth alignment?
Overall, yes. There are some concerns that are too complex for them to address. However, these are rare.
Are lingual braces uncomfortable to wear?
They can be, and more than traditional braces. This is because their placement causes them to rub against the tongue a lot, which is quite sensitive. Over time, it toughens up, but until then, it can feel a bit raw from friction.
Why do lingual braces cost so much?
While their average price is about $5,000, they can run as high as $13,000. This is because they are custom made for the patient based on molds of their teeth. Most other braces systems are mass produced. Additionally, the work for your orthodontist is more involved, and they charge a premium for that.
Do mail-order aligner brands require X-rays?
Typically at-home clear aligner providers don’t require X-rays as part of their diagnostics. Usually companies accept photographs and impressions for their treatment planning. Some providers offer the option of 3D scans, so that you can skip the impression process altogether.
Are clear aligners actually invisible when in place?
They are not literally invisible. However, they get close to it. Certain aligner brands are less visible than others. If you want ones that offer maximum discretion, look for those that are frosted and textured and are scalloped along the gum line.
Can I eat or drink with aligners in place?
You can drink plain water with your aligners in, but everything else is off limits. Don’t worry; you won’t starve. With all-day aligners, you just remove them, then clean your teeth before putting them back in. With nighttime aligners, you cannot remove them during the daily 10 hours of wear, but you will still have 14 hours in the day where you can eat and drink.
How many hours each day are aligners worn?
With all-day aligners, at least 22 hours each day, but make it your goal to get as close to 24 hours as possible. With nighttime aligners, 10 consecutive hours.
Are at-home aligners safe?
Yes, they are considered to be safe. Of course, we encourage you to research any company before you buy, just as you would with any other large purchase.
Will insurance cover mail-order aligners?
Not always, but it is becoming more and more common for them to be covered. Companies like Byte work with most major insurance providers and will verify your coverage for you.
How can I make treatment more affordable?
If you are looking at lingual braces, talk to your provider about your options. If you want mail-order aligners, look for discounts. You can find these on the company websites, through their email lists, and on third-party sites.