Two major players in the clear aligner market are Invisalign and Smile Direct Club. But which one is right for you? To help you make your decision, we’ve compiled information on each company, their processes, their features, and their pros and cons. It’s time to find out which ones hold up: it’s Invisalign vs Smile Direct Club!
What Is Invisalign?
Invisalign is created by Align Technology, which was founded in 1997 by five working friends who sought to create better technology to straighten teeth. In 1999, this company was one of the invisible orthodontics industry’s pioneers by creating Invisalign, which grew quickly until it encompassed the creation of one million clear aligners by the year 2001.
Align Technology focuses on melding digital technology, shape engineering, customization on a mass scale, and orthodontic treatment. They have used a variety of methods, including 3D printing and software algorithms, in improving their treatment plans, based on data collected from their patients’ teeth.
Now, at its age, Invisalign has served more than 8 million patients, while Align Technology continues to create new technology in its materials, systems, and algorithms. The company provides care in over 90 countries, working with almost 100,000 dentists and orthodontists that receive special Invisalign training.
The Invisalign process begins with an online assessment to determine whether Invisalign is suitable for you. You will select your general age group and an image that best describes your teeth; examples of descriptions include “underbite”, “overbite”, “crossbite”, and “generally straight”.
Then, you will choose from a dropdown menu where you think you are in your teeth alignment journey. Finally, you enter your name, zip code, and contact details to determine whether you are within Invisalign’s area of service.
If you are deemed suitable for Invisalign, you will then go to meet up with an Invisalign-trained doctor that you find and book an appointment with through the website. This may be a dentist, orthodontist, or similar dental professional within your area. The doctor will use an iTero Element scanner, which is a registered technology of Invisalign that we’ll talk about in more detail later.
This scanner takes a 3D scan of your teeth digitally, allowing the dental professional to design a treatment plan customized to your specific needs. You will be able to get a preview of how your teeth are expected to look when your treatment is complete, too.
Once your aligners are ready, you will come to meet your assigned dental professional to pick them up. They will make sure that the aligners are properly fitted to your teeth, teach you how to use them, answer questions, and prepare you for the road ahead.
You will also meet the doctor in questions for check-ups in person, at the same time that you pick up your next set of aligners for the following stages. You will likely do this every 6 to 8 weeks, as and when you’re due to swap to new aligners. The total process is likely to take an average minimum of 6 months.
When the process is over and you’re done using aligners, you will be told to use retainers to keep your teeth in place. Invisalign will typically recommend their Vivera retainer, which is custom-made and, according to certain research, is 30% stronger than other similarly made retainers.
What Is Smile Direct Club?
Smile Direct Club was founded by two friends who met when they were 13 at summer camp: Alex Fenkell and Jordan Katzman. The two kept in touch and stayed friends over the years, and when they reminisced on Alex’s braces, they thought that there ought to be a way to get whiter, straighter teeth without the need for constrictive, wire-filled, metal braces.
The pair worked with Camelot Venture Group, which specializes in making things happen within industries that are highly regulated, with a goal to make orthodontics democratic. Smile Direct Club was founded in 2014 as an at-home clear aligner company, offering remote treatment.
Today, there are 391 SmileShop locations and over 6,300 workers employed under Smile Direct Club. In an ever-growing industry of at-home, doctor-directed “invisible” aligners, Smile Direct Club makes up 95% of its activity.
Smile Direct Process
Unlike with Invisalign, the Smile Direct Club’s process is one you can perform entirely from home.
For the first step, you take an assessment survey that checks whether you are suitable for the company’s treatment. The assessment determines whether or not you are a candidate for Smile Direct Club’s clear aligners.
The survey asks what you want the treatment for if you’ve had teeth alignment treatment before, and what your main concerns are. It also asks you to select images that appear similar to your teeth’s spacing and crowding. Finally, it asks for your zip code to ensure you’re within an area of their service, and for your email address to get back to you about your suitability.
If you are deemed suitable for Smile Direct Club aligners, you get to have your plan designed. Essentially, a 3D image has to be made of your teeth so that the dental team can properly design a plan for you, called a Smile Plan.
You have two options for getting this 3D image taken. The first option is for you to simply visit a Smile Shop, where capable professionals are able to take the scan for you in a more hassle-free and 100% free way. If you can’t make it to a Smile Shop, then you can have an at-home scan kit mailed to you for $49. With this kit, you make impressions of your teeth.
Whichever method you use, the scans will be used to make a 3D image and will then be sent to a licensed orthodontist or dentist. If, based on these scans, these medical professionals decide the aligners aren’t suitable for you, you’ll receive a full refund for the at-home scan kit, if you used it.
Assuming that the scans are fine, dentists will design the right treatment plan for you and create a series of aligners that are custom-made to slowly shift your teeth to the desired position. As soon as they are finished, they will be shipped to you. Then, you simply need to wear the right aligners as instructed (and, if you like, use “Bright On”, Smile Direct Club’s whitening product that you get a free week of). If you dislike your aligners or have a problem with them, you can return them within 30 days for a no-questions-asked refund.
Every 90 days, the medical professional assigned to you will check in and guide you along, making sure the treatment is working and giving you advice and assistance where needed. These check-ins will be done remotely, no office visits needed. Once the treatment is done, you check with your assigned dentist or orthodontist and then purchase retainers that you’ll wear at night.
1. Performed By Professionals
Both Invisalign and Smile Direct Club work with professionals, such as dentists, orthodontists, and registered dental assistants, to formulate treatment plans and ensure that patients receive medically sound care.
It is worth noting that Invisalign often refers to the professionals they work with as “doctors”, while Smile Direct Club specifies that they work with dentists and orthodontists. However, Invisalign also provides special training to the dental professionals who are within their network.
A small difference here is that Smile Direct Club assigns your dentist to you based on your location, while Invisalign helps you find the doctors in their network that are near to you via their website. However, this difference is mainly negligible.
2. Time Span
Both companies estimate that treatment plans last for an average of 6 months, with a typical maximum treatment time of 18 months and a typical minimum treatment time of 3 months.
Though treatment plans can vary significantly depending on what you want to do, it’s probably safe to say that your treatment will last for the same amount of time regardless of which company you choose to go to.
3. Financing Methods
Though their prices are very different, both Invisalign and Smile Direct Club offer similar methods for financing your plan.
The most direct financing method is via monthly plans. Invisalign’s pricing varies by case and their monthly plans – which involve a deposit and a 24-month repayment policy – are customized in amount. Smile Direct Club offers the same format – a deposit ($250) and a 24-month repayment policy ($85/month).
The second method is through an insurance plan. In the same way that a dental insurance plan may cover traditional alignment methods like braces, some will also cover clear aligners. With Invisalign, as you will have to find a doctor yourself, you should ask them about the types of insurance they accept. Invisalign offers up to $3,500 in coverage. With Smile Direct Club, you simply need to check if your dental plan will cover the treatment. The latter does not take direct payment but will provide forms for you to file to get reimbursed.
Finally, a third way to pay is via a flexible savings account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). These use your tax-free (pre-tax) dollars to cover the alignment treatment. For both Invisalign and Smile Direct Club, you can pay with your FSA or HSA debit card, or if you don’t have a card, simply contact them with details about your account.
4. General Process
Both companies require similar steps to their processes. First, you take an online assessment that determines your fit for the product. Then, you have your teeth scanned to create a digital image. Next, if you’re a good fit, a dental professional designs a custom plan for you.
You will then receive your aligners and wear them for most of the day as instructed. They are clear, require cleaning, and need to be replaced every 6-8 weeks or so. You have regular check-ins with your doctor, and then once the treatment plan is done, you purchase retainers that you change every six months and wear at night.
The largest difference between Invisalign and Smile Direct Club is their pricing. In fact, the main selling point for many players in the clear aligners industry is that they cost less than Invisalign!
Invisalign’s prices vary depending on your case and the severity of it. You can expect to pay anywhere between $3,000 and $8,000, with higher prices being for more severe cases. Monthly payment plans are available and can be customized to you. After your treatment, you will likely pay for retainers, and Vivera retainers range from $400 to $1000 for four sets of them.
Smile Direct Club offers a flat price of $1895, or $85 per month for 24 months with a direct deposit of $250. You pay for at-home impression scan kits ($49) and for retainers (99 per set, needed once every 6 months). This is significantly less expensive than Invisalign’s pricing system
There’s no denying that Invisalign is a technological innovator in the clear aligner industry. As such, their technology has plenty of research behind it, which is shared liberally across its website. Their scientific claims are backed by real science, which adds a degree of credibility to them.
On the other hand, Smile Direct Club harnesses technology in a different way – to allow everything to be done digitally and remotely. We’ll touch on that more shortly!
3. Type of Teeth Correction
Invisalign is designed to virtually “replace” braces on a large scale, and it’s more intensive, which allows it to provide treatment for more severe and complex cases. This means that if your teeth alignment issues are advanced, you will likely be able to receive treatment from Invisalign.
On the other hand, Smile Direct Club specializes in mild-to-moderate misalignment cases. People with more severe issues may not be able to receive treatment here. With that being said, this specialization contributes to Smile Direct Club’s lower price, so if you have very mild teeth alignment issues, you may find it to offer more value for money.
4. Remote Treatment Possibility
Invisalign does not offer remote treatment. They require in-person, face-to-face doctor visits for scans, check-ups, and aligner pick-ups. This guarantees that a professional will be taking your scan correctly, but adds a degree of hassle to the treatment for those who can’t make it to meetings like this.
On the flip side, Smile Direct Club can be done completely remotely. Everything can be shipped back and forth, and monitoring can be done online. This allows for better convenience, but it does mean that you will have to make sure you get the first impressions for your teeth right in the at-home kit and that you provide your dentist with the correct information.
5. Treatment Options
Invisalign offers a number of different treatment options. It offers the standard adult clear aligners, but it also provides services for children and teenagers.
The first unique treatment option is Invisalign First, which is referred to as Phase 1 treatment. It is made for growing kids in order to provide a wide range of teeth alignment solutions through comfortable clear aligners. It is for children from ages 6 to 10 who still have baby teeth. Orthodontists are able to predict and see certain problems in the dental structure of kids at this age and apply aligner treatment that will prevent or slow the development of these issues.
The second type of treatment is designed for tweens and teens and is called the mandibular advancement feature. It helps to fix an overbite, straightening the teeth with the use of precision wings that slowly and steadily move a teen’s lower jaw to the desired, straight position. This improves the chin appearance and overall bite.
Smile Direct Club offers standard adult clear aligner treatment, but it also offers a special night wear aligner treatment called Nighttime Clear Aligner therapy. It requires the wearing of your clear aligners for 10 consecutive hours per night. This means less invasive treatment overall, but it does also mean that the treatment can take longer. This is Smile Direct Club’s only alternative treatment option.
6. Company Scale
Invisalign is a “giant” of a company that has been around for a long time. Meanwhile, though Smile Direct Club has taken over much of the industry that it is in, it is still much newer. Invisalign’s scale allows it to finance its further research into orthodontics.
This is not to say that Smile Direct Club is “less favorable” purely because of its lack of “experience” in the industry – but it does mean different experiences for patients, and it can mean that Invisalign has more science to back it up than Smile Direct Club.
7. Health and Safety
Smile Direct Club specifies that its products are BPA-free. This specification is not provided in Invisalign’s information. However, these differences may balance out thanks to Invisalign’s research-backed technology.
Additional Perks of Invisalign
The main perks of Invisalign lie in its technology. Let’s break them all down one by one:
1. ITero Element Scanner
This scanner is a 3D digital scanner that provides a quick and easy look into your teeth, without the need for any uncomfortable impression-taking methods. It takes 6,000 images in a single second for extra effectiveness.
2. ClinCheck Software
This software is based on data from more than 8 million patients. It runs an algorithm that allows dental professionals to determine the exact best plan for you. Plus, you get a preview of the end result of your treatment, so you know what to expect.
3. SmartTrack Material
This is the material that Invisalign aligners are made from, a blend of the materials research indicates work best. It is gentle, comfortable, and has very good control over your teeth and their movements. It is also said to reduce treatment time by 50%.
4. SmartForce Attachments
These tiny little attachments are shapes that are part of the aligners, designed to be tooth-colored and discreet. They are used for more complex cases and facilitate very precise, controlled, and complicated teeth movements.
Additional Perks of Smile Direct Club
There is one additional perk of Smile Direct Club worth noting: its Bright On brightening product, which comes free with a set of aligners. It is a premium system that is meant to be used twice daily for a week in the mornings and evenings.
To use Bright On, you take the pen, open it, twist the bottom until gel begins to appear on the brush, and apply it to the front teeth (bottom and top) in a circular motion. You should do this after brushing and not after flossing, and try to keep it on teeth, not gums. The gel should be left for 5 minutes if you don’t use the LED accelerator light.
If you use the LED accelerator light, leave the Bright On on your teeth for 10 minutes instead. This accelerator light uses a blue LED light to activate the Bright On. It is used by plugging the light into your phone, placing it in the mouth, and wearing it for a maximum of 10 minutes.
Whichever way you use it, it is safe to swallow a little and is soy-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, and vegan. Once done, spit out the gel, which should have formed a foam. Wait 20 minutes before drinking, eating, or rinsing, and avoiding staining foods and drinks for the next 24 hours.
Bright On comes with your aligners – a one-week supply, which consists of 4 pens. Each pen has enough in it to be applied 4 times. Results are said to last for a total of 90 days. If your LED light is defective, you can receive an exchange or refund.
Pros and Cons
- In-person treatment means you are always well-supervised by experts
- Can treat a very wide variety of teeth alignment issues
- Offers treatment for people of all ages
- From a reputable company with many years of experience in the field
- Backed by real science and research
- Uses plenty of modern, innovative technology
- Has lots of accessories
- Notably high price
- Doesn’t specify the kinds of doctors they work with
- Doesn’t specify that their products are BPA-free
Smile Direct Club
- Highly affordable price
- Only works with licensed dentists and orthodontists
- All treatment can be done completely remotely if needed
- Offers nighttime treatment for those who need it
- One of the leading companies within its market
- BPA-free products
- Comes with free whitening products
- Doesn’t treat severe issues
- Doesn’t have as many years of experience
- Limited treatment options
So, which is better when you pin Invisalign vs Smile Direct Club? The truth is that, with such similar concepts between them, it really depends on your specific needs.
If you require detailed, complex teeth alignment, have the cash to spare and want the benefit that comes with years of pioneering experience and research-backed tech, Invisalign may be the best way to go.
But if you’re seeking mild-to-moderate alignment treatment at an affordable cost in a convenient and remote manner, Smile Direct Club may be a better choice for you.
At the end of the day, these two clear aligner companies have something to offer different demographics. Only you know for sure which one will provide the options you need!