You’re probably already familiar with traditional metal braces. You might say I’m painfully familiar since I went through 5 years of adolescence with painful, unattractive metal brackets attached to my teeth. It was worth the pain, as I now have straight teeth. But if invisible braces had been an option in my youth, I would’ve begged my parents to get them instead.
If you didn’t have braces as a kid — or you find you want or need adjustments again — you might be a candidate for invisible braces.
Invisible braces, also known as clear aligners, slowly shift the position of your teeth over time, just like traditional metal braces. Made of clear plastic, aligners fit snugly around your teeth and are barely noticeable, compared with metal braces.
Because clear aligners are so inconspicuous, they’re especially popular with adults, who may feel self-conscious about metal braces that tend to be associated with childhood.
Most aligners are worn all day — at least 20 hours — and are removed only for eating and brushing. If you don’t want to wear your aligners in public, there are night-only options, which involve wearing them at night and while you sleep, for at least 10 hours.
- Price: $3,000–$7,000
- Typical treatment window: 6+ months
- Pros: Invisalign has been around for over 20 years. They don’t have DIY teeth molds.
- Cons: Invisalign is more expensive than other options on this list.
- Insurance: Ask your Invisalign doctor when booking your consultation, call your benefits manager at work, or call your insurance company to find out if your insurance is accepted.
Invisalign might be the most well-known maker of invisible braces. A doctor will make a 3-D model of your teeth by scanning them with a sophisticated camera, typically the iTero Element scanner. The aligners are made of medical-grade polyurethane resin and are custom-trimmed to fit your teeth and gums.
Invisalign brought the concept of clear aligners to the mainstream, and many people still think it’s the only option on the market. These aligners are well-reviewed, use high-quality materials, and achieve good results, but they’re significantly more expensive than other aligner options.
Best for comprehensive care
Your local orthodontist
- Price: $3,000–$8,000
- Typical treatment window: 6–12 months
- Pros: They offer access to prompt care for emergencies, issues, or questions. They also have more thorough exams and tests, like X-rays.
- Cons: Regular in-person checkups might be an extra cost, and they can be time-consuming and inconvenient.
- Insurance: Call the orthodontist’s office to find out if your insurance is accepted, or call your insurance company to find out if aligners are covered.
Working with a local orthodontist has many benefits: You can get regular in-person checkups (usually every 6 to 10 weeks) and a more thorough workup, including X-rays and photos. The process of getting aligners from a local orthodontist is similar to online and mail-order companies.
Everything is done in person. Your orthodontist can tell you whether aligners are right for your teeth and make other recommendations if not. Like most aligners, yours will likely be made out of a medical-grade plastic called polyurethane resin or may even be a well-known brand like Invisalign. Your orthodontist will also be able to make small adjustments to your teeth tray after it’s made for fit or comfort.
If you don’t have an orthodontist, check search engines and review sites, ask friends or family for recommendations, or ask a dentist for a referral.
- Price: $1,895–$3,336
- Typical treatment window: 3–4 months (day) or 5 months (night)
- Pros: Byte is cheaper than most other options and has a shorter average treatment time.
- Cons: The one-time payment is significantly cheaper than monthly plans, but it doesn’t include the protection plan like the monthly plans do.
- Insurance: Use this tool to find out if your dental insurance will cover part of the cost.
Byte offers the cheapest pricing and shortest treatment times of each company I researched. If you pick the all-day aligner plan without the protection plan, you’ll pay $1,895.
However, if you choose the at-night aligner plan with protection, your down payment will be $449, then 29 monthly fees of $99, for a total of $3,336. You’ll spread out your payments over 2-plus years, but you’ll still end up paying significantly more money.
The protection Plan costs $649 to $779 and includes 5 years of retainers, plus up to $2,000 in coverage for lost or stolen aligners.
To get started, purchase an impression kit, mail back your teeth impressions, and get your treatment plan. If you decide not to purchase a plan, the cost of the impression kit will be refunded.
Best for mild alignment
For these options, and any aligners or braces, it’s best if you know the health of your teeth and gums. Even better if you have had a check-up recently or have a dentist you’re working with who can offer advice and support for your specific teeth.
- Price: $1,950–$2,386
- Typical treatment window: 4–6 months
- Pros: Pay in one lump sum ($1,950) or monthly ($250 deposit, $89 per month, $2,386 total). Take impressions with in-store scan or an at-home kit.
- Cons: You’ll need to wear a retainer after completing treatment to ensure your teeth don’t move back; this is typical. A retainer is an additional $99, and SmileDirectClub recommends replacing it every 6 months. This extra (and ongoing) cost makes it a con.
- Insurance: Use this tool to find out if your dental insurance will cover part of the cost.
To get started with SmileDirectClub, you’ll need an impression of your teeth. You can get an in-person scan at one of their SmileShops, or mail in an impression kit you do at home. They turn these impressions into a 3-D model of your teeth, which a state-licensed dentist or orthodontist through SmileDirectClub will review, and then approve your treatment plan.
You can choose to wear your aligners 22 hours a day, or wear nighttime aligners for 10 hours per night. The aligners are made out of BPA-free plastic.
- Price: $2,400 one-time payment or $3,143 (36 monthly payments of $79 and $299 down payment)
- Typical treatment window: 6 months
- Pros: In-person consults and at-home starter kits are available. Candid has regular sales (for example, the Labor Day sale is $250 off aligners or $75 off the $95 starter kit).
- Cons: Founded in 2017, this relatively new company doesn’t yet have a long track record, and isn’t as well-known or trusted as older, more established brands.
- Insurance: Save up to $,1300 with in-network insurance; click here for details.
Candid provides options for many parts of the getting-your-aligners process. You can purchase your aligners with one $2,400 payment or spread out your payments over 3 years (though you’ll pay $3,143 total if you do it that way).
They also offer regular sales, so if you’re in no hurry, hold out for deals around Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. They also let you choose either an in-person consultation with a doctor or a tooth impression kit for use at home. The aligners are made of a BPA-free, phthalate-free thermoplastic that is stain-resistant.
Do invisible braces work?
Yes! Invisible aligners have been around for 20 years, with some studies done, especially on Invisalign, during that time.
How do invisible aligners work? What do they do?
Invisible aligners slowly shift your teeth over time. You’ll get a set of multiple aligners, wearing each one for 7 to 14 days, and then graduating to the next size. The aligners are custom-made for your teeth and designed to slowly shift your teeth into a more desirable alignment.
How much do invisible braces cost?
Prices range from approximately $1,800 to $8,000. However, dental insurance or funds from a flexible savings account or health savings account may cover part of the cost.
How many months or years do you wear invisible braces?
Average treatment times range from about 3 months to 1 year. This time will vary based on your needs and how well you follow your treatment plan.
How many hours a day do you wear invisible braces?
For daytime aligners, you’ll need wear them for 20 to 22 hours a day. For night-only aligners, the requirement is about 10 hours a day. For daytime aligners, you only remove them to eat food, drink anything other than water, and brush or floss your teeth.
Who are invisible braces right for?
Aligners are best for people with mild to moderate spacing and crowding issues.
For more complicated cases, traditional metal braces are recommended.
For any kinds of braces, the time after the treatment period or after your braces are taken off is actually the most important. To keep your teeth in their new positions, you’ll likely need to wear a retainer for some portion of the day in the years after. Many people find this easier to do with plastic aligners since the retainer is the same as the aligner trays.
How can I know if they’ll work for me?
By asking your dentist or orthodontist, completing a risk-free consultation or impression kit from one of the above companies, and talking to co-workers, acquaintances, or friends who have used them.
Invisible aligners are a great option for people looking to straighten their teeth without traditional metal braces.
No matter which option you choose, you’re committing to daily use for 3 to 12 months, and the use of a retainer in the months after that. Make sure you’re ready for this daily commitment and that you trust the doctor and company you’re working with.
If you’re not sure which aligner option to go with, take advantage of risk-free trials. Schedule a few consultations, submit a few teeth impression kits, and pick the company that best fits your budget, your orthodontic needs, and your peace of mind. Good luck, and may your smile shine through.
Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she’s not having a wobbly-baby-deer day, she’s hiking with her corgi, Vincent. Learn more about her on her website.