A straighter smile in just six months: That's the claim that has overrun billboards and brick walls in big cities, promising busy people that they can fix crooked teeth and get the smile of their dreamsor conventional braces.
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 for misaligned teeth opting for a mail-order aligner.
In this guide, take a look at the different brands of invisible braces available, how they work, and whether you should see an orthodontist to talk about your teeth straightening needs before spending a couple thousand dollars on Invisalign-style tooth trays. Spoiler alert -- you should.
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 a month for 24 months
- Length: Average treatment is four to six months, but can be longer
- Insurance: In-network for UnitedHealthCare, Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Empire BlueCross BlueShield, and can check coverage for those with Cigna, Delta Dental, Humana, Met Life and others. Also 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 a 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 a 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 three 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 invisible aligner set.
- 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. Removable retainer bundle and 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 invisible braces. 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 treatment does offer some benefits.
For example, regularly seeing an orthodontist in person 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 with your Invisalign braces, such as a gap introduced by the aligners or gum erosion.
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 braces and 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. Unlike with lingual braces, you can take clear plastic aligners out to eat and brush your teeth, and you'll never cut the inside of your cheek on a sharp metal bracket (something all metal 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 a dentist or orthodontist analyzes it and creates your custom set of clear aligners based on an analysis of your teeth.
How long do you wear invisible braces?
Typically, you'll wear your invisible braces 20 to 22 hours a day, so you can expect to be wearing them while you're sleeping and for most of your waking hours. You can remove them for eating, brushing your teeth or flossing. Bonus: Since you can remove them for eating, unlike conventional braces, you won't have to avoid foods like popcorn or nuts.
So how long until you'll see results? Overall treatment time usually takes four to 18 months, but it will vary depending on your situation (if you have an overbite, crowding, large gaps, etc).
Who should get clear aligners?
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 must rely on photos to evaluate the health of supporting structures, such as your jawbone and gum tissue. Seeing an orthodontist in person allows the doctor to provide a more comprehensive evaluation of your teeth and mouth during your 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 with mail-order aligners and send you on your way, or they'll recommend other treatments to safely, healthfully achieve straight teeth and a proper bite.
Further reading for personal care
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.