Straight teeth in just six months: That’s the claim that has overrun billboards and brick walls in big cities, promising busy people that they can get the smile of their dreams.
If that sounds too good to be true, it might be — for some people. While invisible braces certainly work for many people, the rise in popularity and the promise of convenience has people who really need traditional orthodontic treatment opting for mail-order aligners.
In this guide, take a look at the different brands of invisible braces available, how they work, and whether you should really see an orthodontist before spending a couple thousand dollars on Invisalign-style tooth trays.
What are invisible braces?
“Invisible braces” is the common vernacular for what’s really called “clear aligners.” It’s also common for people to refer to all clear aligners as Invisalign, which is a brand name that has become a common term, like Windex and Kleenex.
Invisible braces do the same thing as traditional metal braces — slowly adjust teeth to straighten them and fix bite problems — except they’re clear, made of plastic and are removable. You can take them off to eat and brush your teeth, and you’ll never cut the inside of your cheek on a sharp metal bracket (something all braces-wearers know too well).
Most direct-to-consumer clear aligners involve a mail-order impression kit. You send the impression kit back to the company, where dentists or orthodontists analyze it and create your custom set of clear aligners based on its analysis of your teeth.
Where to get mail-order clear aligners
In a world where you can, take a and even , it should come as no surprise that several mail-order invisible braces companies now exist. Here are five places to get clear aligners without visiting an orthodontist.
- Cost: $1,950 or $89/month for 24 months
- Length: six to 18 months
- Insurance: Accepts FSA, HSA and CareCredit
- Method: Get a 3D teeth analysis at a brick-and-mortar “SmileShop” or get the impression kit sent to your home.
- Cost: $2,400 or $99/month for 24 months
- Length: six to 11 months
- Insurance: Accepts FSA, HSA and insurances that have an orthodontic benefit with code D8040 for remote treatment.
- Method: Visit an in-person Candid Studio to get fit for your aligners or order the $95 starter kit to take your impressions — fully refundable if the team of orthodontists decides that you’re not a good candidate for clear aligners.
- Cost: $1,895 or $83/month for 24 months
- Length: Five months on average. You can opt for the Hyperbyte — a vibrational frequency tool that supposedly pushes your teeth into place faster — for an average treatment time of 3 months.
- Insurance: Accepts FSA, HSA, CareCredit and eligible dental insurances.
- Method: Purchase the impression kit (fully refundable if you’re not a good candidate), ship your impressions back and wait for Byte to ship your aligners.
- Cost: $1,895 (no payment plans)
- Length: six to eight months
- Insurance: Accepts HSA and FSA; check with your insurance company about code D8040.
- Method: Order your kit, ship your impressions back for review, and wait for your aligners to come in the mail. Retainers and a whitening kit are also included.
- Cost: $1,749 or payment plan options with Affirm
- Length: three to 18 months
- Insurance: Accepts FSA and eligible insurance.
- Method: Take an online assessment, complete an impression kit at home, and get your aligners mailed to your door.
What about Invisalign?
You might be wondering why Invisalign, arguably the most popular provider of clear aligners, isn’t on this list. That’s because Invisalign isn’t a direct-to-consumer company, so you must go through an orthodontist to get fitted for and treated with Invisalign. You also have to attend periodic check-up appointments at your orthodontist’s office with Invisalign.
Those are drawbacks if you’re looking purely for mail-order clear aligners that allow you to complete treatment at home, but the Invisalign route does offer some benefits.
For example, regularly seeing an orthodontist ensures that your clear aligners are working like they’re supposed to and that you’re on track for straighter teeth. Your orthodontist can also check for any new issues that arise, such as a gap introduced by the aligners or gum erosion.
Who should get clear aligners?
Speaking of seeing an orthodontist, clear aligners aren’t for everyone and they can’t treat everything. Most clear aligners can treat overbite, underbite, crossbite, open bite, small gaps and crowded teeth to a certain extent.
If you have a severe case of any of these conditions, such as a gap wider than two millimeters, your orthodontist might recommend traditional braces. Other situations where clear aligners might not be right for you include:
- Tooth rotation: If your tooth is rotated because of crowding, clear aligners may not be able to rotate the tooth into the right position.
- Intrusion: Clear aligners can’t fix a tooth that is jammed into the jawbone.
- Extrusion: A tooth that sits high on the bone and is taller than other teeth can’t be fixed with invisible braces.
- Misshapen teeth: If you have teeth that are rounded, pointy or pegged, clear aligners may not fit them properly.
- Midline movement: If your teeth don’t match the imaginary line that bisects your face (your midline), clear aligners may not correct the discrepancy if it’s more than two millimeters on either side.
If you have any of the above conditions, it’s best to see an orthodontist before trying any brand of clear aligners. Even if you don’t have (or don’t think you have) any of these orthodontic complications, it’s still worth seeing a professional before starting treatment. An orthodontist can spot issues that you cannot, and so it’s best to be evaluated in-person before using at-home aligners.
You may have a now-unnoticeable condition that could be aggravated by clear aligners; something that only a trained specialist would be able to inform you of at an in-person appointment. For instance, the orthodontists making your mail-order clear aligners can’t see and evaluate the health of supporting structures, such as your jawbone and gum tissue. They also can’t see underlying gum disease, which can be exacerbated by any form of orthodontic treatment.
“Better safe than sorry” definitely rings true when talking about the long-term health of your pearly whites: Either your orthodontist will say you’re good to go and send you on your way, or they’ll recommend other treatments to safely, healthfully achieve straight teeth and a proper bite.