Braces are the most powerful, proven method to straighten teeth — no matter how extreme the case. But they aren’t ideal for everyone.
If you’re an adult considering orthodontic treatment, you might hesitate to wear such a visible appliance. Luckily, there are lots of alternatives. A popular choice is online clear aligners. They’re practically invisible, comfortable, and even easier to adjust to than braces.
How do online clear aligners stack up against braces? In this guide, we’ll review and rank the best online alternatives to clear braces so you can focus on correcting your smile.
Traditional Braces Alternative #1: Byte
Byte is our favorite alternative to traditional braces. In fact, they’re our favorite at-home aligner company. And there’s a lot to love about them. Their claim to fame is their raw speed; the average treatment time lasts just three months. But speed isn’t the only reason we love them. They produce top-quality products and their Byte-for-Life guarantee ensures that you’ll love your new smile for the rest of your life.
Byte is quite different from traditional braces, however. Here are a few key ways they compare:
|What they have in common:||How they’re different:|
|Safety: Byte and traditional braces use vastly different technologies, but both are proven and effective. Braces use dental-grade stainless steel (usually) while Byte’s aligners use BPA-free plastics. Both Byte and traditional braces use state-licensed orthodontist to design their treatments.||Price: The average person spends $5,000 to $6,000 on braces, but the price can get as high as $10,000 for extremely complex cases. Byte, however, has an affordable, one-size-fits-all price of $1,895 ($2,295 for nighttime treatment).|
|Financing: The price points for Byte and traditional braces are different, but you can get financing for either option. Byte offers a payment plan of $83 per month provided you make a down payment of $349, and everyone qualifies no matter their credit score (note that nighttime financing is slightly different). With traditional braces, the financing plan you get will depend on your orthodontist’s arrangements. Most providers offer financing for treatment, although you might need to pass a credit check to qualify.||Visibility: With traditional braces, you’ll probably hear a lot of “Hey, you got braces!” for the first few weeks. That’s because braces are pretty visible (unless you keep your mouth shut for 18 months, which we don’t recommend). Byte’s clear aligners, however, are nearly invisible to others. Most people won’t be able to tell you’re wearing them.|
|Treatment designer: Traditional braces can only be installed by a qualified, licensed orthodontist. Some at-home aligners use mixed teams of dentists and orthodontists to design their treatment plans, but Byte sticks with orthodontists. This helps ensure top-notch treatment at all times.||Treatment speed: Byte is incredibly fast — their typical treatment lasts just three to four months (five to six for nighttime treatments). The timetable for traditional braces varies from one person to another, but most people will wear them from 18 months to 2 years.|
|Insurance coverage: Depending on your policy, you may be able to get insurance reimbursement for part of your treatment. Most providers are more likely to reimburse you for an in-person treatment method like traditional braces, but it is a possibility for both traditional braces and Byte. Check with your insurance provider for full details.||Daily Care: The biggest frustration many people have with braces is how difficult they can make brushing and flossing; wires and brackets are hard to work around! Certain foods are off limits, too. Byte doesn’t have those problems; you’ll need to wear your aligners nearly constantly, but you can take them out to eat and drink. Brushing and flossing are easy, too. Just pop out your aligners, clean up, and pop them back in. Byte even offers nighttime aligners that cut down your wear requirements to just 10 hours per night.|
Traditional braces are a good option, especially if your alignment concerns are complex. For example, if a misshapen jaw is causing your misalignment, then braces are probably the best path to better health. There are some conditions that only a metal appliance can fix.
That said, braces aren’t for everyone. They can be quite pricey, and if your case is minor, the hassle of the wires and brackets can feel like more trouble than it’s worth. That’s where Byte comes in. If you have a mild condition and you’re craving a speedier, cheaper option to invisible braces, look no further than Byte.
Traditional Braces Alternative #2: AlignerCo
For many people, the biggest barrier between themselves and the smile of their dreams is the cost of treatment. With traditional braces costing upwards of $5,000, many cannot make it fit within their budget.
At-home aligners are — thankfully — much cheaper than traditional braces, and AlignerCo leads the charge. In fact, their system is roughly $4,000 cheaper than even the most affordable braces. But price isn’t the only criteria to look at. Let’s talk over some of the other key similarities and differences:
|What they have in common:||How they’re different:|
|Safety: Their materials might be different, but traditional braces and AlignerCo are both safe, reliable treatments. Braces typically are made of dental-grade stainless steel, while AlignerCo crafts their aligners from BPA-free plastic. Both options use state-licensed dental professionals to design their treatments.||Price: Traditional braces cost $5,000 to $7,500 on average, but the price can get as high as $10,000. AlignerCo has a budget-friendly price tag of $1,145 ($1,345 for nighttime treatment).|
|Financing: If you’re interested in payment plans, they’re available for both traditional braces and AlignerCo. If you choose braces, your treatment provider will determine the details of your financing plan. AlignerCo has two different plans: SmileFlex and SmileFlex Easy. SmileFlex requires a credit check; SmileFlex Easy swaps the credit check for a down payment. Either way, you’ll have 11-12 monthly payments starting at $95.||Visibility: Braces are tough to hide. Unless you take a vow of silence for 18 months (which we don’t recommend), people will notice that you’re wearing them. AlignerCo’s clear aligners, however, are nearly invisible to others. Most people won’t be able to tell you have them on.|
|Insurance coverage: Depending on your policy, you may be able to get insurance reimbursement for part of your treatment. Most providers are more open to covering in-person treatment methods like traditional braces, but it is a possibility for both traditional braces and AlignerCo. Check with your insurance provider for full details.||Treatment Speed: AlignerCo is not the fastest way to straighten teeth, with treatment times ranging between 4 to 6 months for daytime treatment and 8 to 12 months for nighttime treatment. (For reference, the industry’s average treatment speed is 6 months.) But compared to traditional braces, even AlignerCo is pretty fast. Treatment times with braces vary, but most people will wear them for 18 to 24 months.|
|Daily Care: Braces can make brushing and flossing pretty difficult; wires and brackets are hard to work around! You’ll need to avoid certain foods, too. AlignerCo reduces some of those hassles; since you can remove your aligners when you eat and drink (or wear them at night only if you opt for nighttime treatment), you can eat whatever you want. And brushing and flossing are just as easy as ever, too.|
Like all of the other alternatives we’ve listed in this guide, AlignerCo works best for patients whose cases are mild or moderate. They’re extremely budget-friendly, especially since there are two financing plans. You can access affordable care regardless of your credit.
Traditional braces may be pricier (and a bit harder to deal with), but they’re better equipped to handle tougher cases than AlignerCo. Plus, if you’re craving individualized attention and one-on-one care directly from your orthodontist, traditional braces are the way to go.
Traditional Braces Alternative #3: Candid
One of traditional braces’ biggest advantages is the fact that they’re administered in person at your local orthodontist’s office. This type of hands-on treatment is adaptable and versatile. If your treatment requires any modifications, your orthodontist can make them on the fly.
Most at-home aligners don’t have that flexibility. Your treatment is designed from the outset, and it doesn’t change. But that’s not true for Candid. Not too long ago, they introduced their CandidMonitoring program, which gives you virtual check-ins every 10 days. Essentially, you’ll use your smartphone and a special device to take images of your teeth. These aren’t quite as robust as an office visit, but it’s more oversight than other companies offer.
That said, orthodontist oversight is just one factor to consider. Here are several other important ways Candid and braces compare:
|What they have in common:||How they’re different:|
|Safety: Candid and traditional braces use vastly different technologies, but both are proven and effective. Most braces are made from dental-grade stainless steel and Candid’s aligners use BPA-free plastics. And both Candid and traditional braces use state-licensed orthodontists to design their treatments.||Price: The average person spends $5,000 to $7,500 on braces, but sometimes it can run $10,000 or more. Candid, however, has an affordable price of $2,400.|
|Financing: There’s a big gap between the price points for Candid and traditional braces, but financing is available for both. Candid has a financing plan requiring a down payment and another with a more extensive credit check (but as low as 0% APR!). With traditional braces, your financing plan will depend on your orthodontist’s arrangements. Most providers offer financing for treatment. With either option, you’ll likely need to pass a credit check to qualify.||Visibility: Braces aren’t shy. They make themselves known whenever you open your mouth. Candid’s clear aligners, however, are nearly invisible to others. Most people won’t be able to tell you have them on.|
|Treatment oversight: With traditional braces, you’ll have regular check-ins with your orthodontist at their office. Normally, at-home aligner companies don’t have oversight, but thanks to their Remote Monitoring program, Candid strikes a nice balance between the convenience of home treatment and orthodontist oversight.||Treatment speed: Candid is not the fastest at-home aligner company, but they are much faster than braces; the average treatment lasts 6 months. In contrast, most people will wear their braces for 18 to 24 months.|
|Insurance coverage: Depending on your policy, you may be able to get insurance reimbursement for part of your treatment. Some providers prefer in-person treatment methods like traditional braces, but it is a possibility for both. Check with your insurance provider for full details.||Daily Care: The biggest frustration many people have with braces is the fact that brushing and flossing are difficult; wires and brackets can be a struggle to work around! Certain foods must be avoided as well. Candid doesn’t present the same problems. You’ll need to wear your aligners nearly constantly, but you can take them out to eat and drink. Brushing and flossing are just as simple: pop out your aligners, clean up, and pop them back in.|
You might hesitate to jump into treatment with traditional braces, but that’s not to say braces don’t have their place. If your case is more severe or if your jawbone needs adjustments in addition to your teeth positions, then braces are the way to go. At-home clear aligners can’t fix more than mild to moderate crowding and spacing concerns.
Candid isn’t our top choice for at-home aligners, but they’re still a great all-around option with no glaring issues. If you want a company that strikes a nice balance between the convenience of at-home treatment and more extensive oversight, then look no further than Candid.
Traditional Braces Alternative #4: SmileDirectClub
Braces have been around for hundreds of years. By comparison, at-home aligners are the new kid on the block. They first appeared on the scene in 2014, all thanks to SmileDirectClub.
Because they were the first to bring clear aligners directly to the consumer, SmileDirectClub won a large part of the at-home aligner market. As the biggest company, SmileDirectClub can offer some unique perks. For one thing, SmileDirectClub offers nighttime aligners. And for another, their SmileShops allow customers to have scans taken of their teeth for free.
Aside from the SmileShops, however, SmileDirectClub’s treatment isn’t administered in person like traditional braces. Here are a few other important ways SmileDirectClub compares to traditional braces:
|What they have in common:||How they’re different:|
|Safety: Even though they use different technologies, SmileDirectClub and braces are proven and effective. SmileDirectClub’s aligners are made from BPA-free plastic, while most braces use dental-grade stainless steel. And both SmileDirectClub and traditional braces use state-licensed dental professionals to design their treatments.||Price: Braces typically cost between $5,000 and $7,500, but the price can run more than $10,000 if your case is complex. SmileDirectClub costs just $1,950 for their all-day system.|
|Financing: The price points for SmileDirectClub and traditional braces are different, but financing is available for either option. SmileDirectClub offers every customer a payment plan of $89 per month provided you make a down payment of $250, no matter your credit. Financing plans for braces depend on your orthodontist’s policies. Most providers offer financing for treatment, although you may need to pass a credit check to qualify.||Visibility: When you get braces, people will notice. You’ll probably get some surprised comments. And that’s because braces are difficult to hide. SmileDirectClub’s clear aligners, however, are nearly invisible to others. Most people won’t be able to tell that you’re wearing them.|
|Insurance coverage: Depending on your policy, you may be able to get insurance reimbursement for part of your treatment. Some providers are more open to covering in-person treatments like traditional braces, but it is a possibility for both traditional braces and SmileDirectClub. Check with your insurance provider for full details.||Treatment speed: Compared to other at-home aligners, SmileDirectClub has an average treatment speed of 6 months (or 10 months for nighttime treatment). The timetable for traditional braces varies from one person to another, but most people will wear them from 18 months to 2 years.|
|Daily Care: The biggest frustration most people have with braces is that wires and brackets are hard to work around! You have to relearn how to brush and floss. Certain foods are restricted, too. You won’t have the same problems with SmileDirectClub. Sure, you’ll need to wear your aligners nearly constantly, but you can take them out to eat and drink, as well as brush and floss. SmileDirectClub even offers nighttime aligners that cut down your wear requirements to just 10 hours per night.|
SmileDirectClub isn’t our top-ranked at-home aligner service, but they’re near the top of the list for many shoppers. That’s not too surprising since they’ve made such a big name for themselves. In general, if you need an affordable option that’s relatively quick (or flexible if you want nighttime treatment), then SmileDirectClub is a good choice.
However, SmileDirectClub is fairly limited in the types of cases they can handle. Extremely complicated cases? They’re a no-go for SmileDirectClub. Traditional braces can tackle these cases. So if your teeth need a little extra help, we recommend that you book a consultation with your local orthodontist.
Which Traditional Braces Alternative Should You Choose?
We get it: making a decision between so many great options can get pretty overwhelming. However, all of these companies are dependable, and you can confidently trust them with your smile.
Still, there are some we love more than most, and Byte and AlignerCo are at the top of our list. Byte is great for speedy treatment that is guaranteed, while AlignerCo lets you straighten your smile for less. For more information about our favorites, check out our in-depth reviews of Byte and AlignerCo.
How can I know if I am suited to mail-order aligner treatment?
When you complete the impressions or get a 3D scan, these are sent to the evaluators at the company you are working with. They will assess them and determine if you can be treated with their system. If not, they will let you know and typically refund any money spent on the impression kit or scans.
Are there certain conditions that will make me ineligible for at-home treatment?
If your orthodontic concerns are more severe than mild to moderate crowding and spacing, you will not be able to use mail-order aligners. Other conditions that can prevent or delay treatment include:
- Having wisdom teeth that need to be removed.
- Having had teeth removed in the last two months.
- Missing too many teeth.
- Having certain types of cosmetic dental work.
How do I choose between an impression kit and a scan if I want at-home treatment?
Not all companies offer both options, so you may not have a choice. If you do, choose scans if a location is close and you aren’t up for doing impressions yourself. Choose DIY impressions if scanning locations are too far away or you just prefer to handle it on your own.
What happens if I mess up my impressions?
This varies by company, but most will send you a new impression kit free of charge. Also, if they offer video support, we suggest you use it if you didn’t the first time around.
Will a licensed dentist or orthodontist plan my treatment?
If you choose traditional braces, yes. With at-home aligners, most companies do have dentists or orthodontists planning their treatments. However, some will have unlicensed technicians performing the work. Do your research before ordering a kit.
Are my teeth going to hurt during treatment?
With both braces and aligners, your teeth will be slightly sore after you start treatment and then after each adjustment or aligner switch. Braces tend to cause more discomfort since they also irritate the soft tissues of the mouth.
Do I need to have any office visits as part of treatment?
With braces, yes. Treatment must be closely monitored and the braces adjusted. With at-home aligners, there are no office visits that are a mandatory part of treatment. However, you should continue to see your general dentist every six months.
Can I use my HSA or FSA funds to pay for straightening my teeth?
This will vary depending on the type of treatment you choose and if it is classified as cosmetic. Speak with your administrator before starting treatment.
My treatment is done but I am not totally happy with my results. What can I do?
If you used traditional braces, talk to your dentist or orthodontist. If you straightened your teeth with at-home aligners, contact the company to see what they can do to help. Many will create a few more aligners to get your smile to where you want it to be.
Why are at-home aligners cheaper than braces?
There are a few reasons:
- The materials are cheaper.
- There are no office visits.
- The overhead costs are lower.
- Treatment wraps up in less time.
- Braces are typically used for more complex treatment.