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Mail-Order Aligners vs. Invisalign: What You Need to Know

Smile Direct Club vs. Invisalign

Invisalign was the first clear aligner to hit the market over 20 years ago. In that time, they’ve continuously led the field in innovative invisible orthodontic care. Recently, new brands have cropped up offering direct-to-consumer invisible braces, which are mailed to the customer at home and does not require them to see a licensed orthodontist in-office.

Mail-order aligner brands offer the “convenience” of at-home DIY treatment – but how does it really stack up against patented Invisalign treatment by licensed orthodontists?

Read on to find out.

Are Mail-Order Aligner Brands Cheaper than Invisalign?

Actually, no. Mail-order aligner brands offer “complete” 6-month clear aligner treatment for around $2,000. But there’s a catch: that price doesn’t include necessary parts of treatment, including the cost of X-Rays, diagnostic records, extra aligners for refinements or more complex cases, attachments for aligner grip, or final retainers – not to mention direct, in-office supervision by a licensed orthodontist. And because only mild to moderate cases can be completed in 6 months, extra aligners may be needed to finish your treatment, which have to be paid for separately or risk producing unsatisfying results.

Some Invisalign providers offer a mild-to-moderate case treatment option for around $2400, which includes all aligners and retainers. The add-on costs required for effective treatment with mail-order aligners means you may end up paying much more than the original price tag.

Lower prices also mean lower quality materials: Mail-order aligners brands do not have access to patented Invisalign technology like SmartTrack™ plastic, so they use basic generic plastic for their clear aligners.

Finally, insurance options are limited for mail-order aligners – a small reimbursement, if any – whereas in-office Invisalign is more likely to be covered up-front, and a larger portion covered, since you see a licensed doctor during your office visit. This can make a significant difference in the cost of the aligners.

In sum, mail-order aligner brands are not actually cheaper than Invisalign: with all the extra costs necessary for effective treatment, less insurance coverage, and lower quality materials, the true difference in value becomes clear: you are paying more, for less. You will get more total value from in-office, doctor-supervised Invisalign treatment than from mail-order aligners, due to both the comprehensive care of Invisalign and the peace of mind gained from seeing and speaking with your doctor during visits.

Do Mail-Order Aligner Companies Use Invisalign?

No. Invisalign is a specific brand of clear aligner that can only be used by licensed orthodontists in an accredited office. Invisalign has a range of state-of-the-art materials patented for exclusive use with their treatment, including SmartTrack™ plastic, SmartForce™ attachments, and iTero® scanning. These trademarked tools are used only in partnership between licensed dental professionals and Invisalign, for patients being treated in-office. Mail-order brands use generic plastics and technology for their clear aligners.

Do Mail-Order Aligner Brands Take X-Rays?

No. X-Rays are a necessary part of orthodontic treatment, so in order to acquire x-Rays, mail-order aligner companies have customers pay out-of-pocket for x-Rays at their dentist’s office, at separate cost from their clear aligner treatment.

In contrast, patients being treated with Invisalign at an orthodontist’s office receive x-Rays as part of their included costs.

Does Insurance Cover Mail-Order or Invisalign Clear Aligners?

If your private insurance includes orthodontic coverage, then it should cover a substantial portion of your Invisalign treatment. The coverage will be up-front or monthly, and can be billed directly by the orthodontic office, saving you the time and hassle of negotiating with your insurance provider.

Conversely, because mail-order aligner brands do not offer direct supervision by a licensed orthodontist, nor in-office visits, and due to frequent consumer complaints regarding the effectiveness of the treatment, your insurance provider may decline coverage or cover a smaller portion of it.

Furthermore, the insurer will provide any coverage in the form of post-purchase reimbursement, for which you are responsible for claiming yourself. According to one mail-order brand, “you may be reimbursed after purchasing your aligners.”

As you can see, the difference in insurance coverage between Invisalign and mail-order brands is significant and can greatly impact the cost of your invisible braces treatment.

What is The Difference Between Mail-Order and Invisalign Clear Aligners?

There are many differences between the two treatments, especially the clear aligners: Invisalign aligners are made of patented SmartTrack™ plastic, which is specially designed for use with orthodontic aligners, for more predictable movement and faster, more reliable, results.

Mail-order aligners do not have access to this technology, so they rely on generic plastic, which can impact the effectiveness of the results. They may boast that their aligners are made with BPA-free plastic, but all aligner plastic is BPA-free, no matter the brand.

Can Mail-Order Aligners Treat the Same Conditions as Invisalign?

No. Mail-order aligners are limited in the orthodontic conditions treatable by their aligners. Without direct supervision by an orthodontist, they can only treat mild to moderate cases where the teeth do not require complex movements.

Mail-order aligners also cannot use attachments, small holds that are attached to certain teeth to give the aligners better grip. Invisalign attachments help align even complex cases, but without them, mail-order aligners aligners are limited in their effectiveness. Thus, Invisalign can treat many more kinds of cases, as well as more serious cases, than mail-order clear aligners.

How Long Do Mail-Order Aligners Take to Straighten Teeth?

While many mail-order aligner brands boast results in 6 months, this is not necessarily the case. Only mild to moderate conditions can be straightened within 6 months; more complex conditions may take much longer.

And without direct supervision by a licensed orthodontist, it can be difficult to assess how long a case may take to finish treatment. If issues arise, they may not be noticed at first, which can cause delays to treatment or in some cases cause damage to the teeth.

Are Mail-Order Aligners Faster Than Invisalign?

No. Mail-order brands market their aligner treatment by saying “results in 6 months.” But this is only true for some cases. More complex cases will take longer than 6 months, and may require many more aligners than are included in the original price.

Invisalign can achieve results in 6 months, but also treats complex cases faster, by using newer, patented technology optimized for precision movement and effective results. Furthermore, mild cases could be treated faster than 6 months with Invisalign or braces.

Are Mail-Order Aligners Faster Than Braces?

No, this treatment is not faster than metal or ceramic braces. Braces offer some of the fastest and most effective treatment methods: the robust appliance used in braces treatment can safely move your teeth faster than most other treatment methods, including at-home clear aligners. Furthermore, braces can treat more complex cases than mail-order invisible braces, including high canines, severe crowding, or complex cross-bites.

Are Mail-Order Clear Aligners Better Than Invisalign?

No. Mail-order aligners can treat fewer kinds of dental conditions, rely on older technology, and cover less in the cost of treatment than Invisalign. Many consumers have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau about their mail-order aligner treatment, after it failed to straighten their teeth or in some cases permanently damaged their teeth.

The American Association of Orthodontists, the American Dental Association, and most orthodontists recommend Invisalign over mail-order aligners, and the AAO has even issued an advisory warning against using these at-home treatments which don't offer direct doctor supervision. 

Do Orthodontists Recommend Mail-Order Aligners?

The American Association of Orthodontists has specifically cautioned against mail-order clear aligner treatment. Mail-order aligner brands lack direct, in-office supervision by a licensed orthodontist. Nearly 2,600 complaints have been filed by consumers against the leading mail-order aligner brand for lack of proper results. Due to growing concern over this issue, the American Association of Orthodontists has issued an advisory warning about the dangers of mail-order orthodontic care.

The AAO urges caution regarding at-home treatment, where your case is supervised by a doctor that you have never met and whose credentials you do not know, and who can consult with you only virtually. Teeth are not virtual – treating them virtually can have serious consequences. Some virtual consultations are acceptable over the course of treatment, if the doctor is able to do regular in-office visits as well. In-office supervision by a doctor, and use of important in-office equipment like x-rays, is critical to properly aligning teeth.

The American Association of Orthodontists is the largest professional orthodontic organization in the U.S., and their recommendations are followed by orthodontists nationwide.

Can Mail-Order Aligners Mess Up Your Bite?

Yes – over 2,600 unhappy customers have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau due to poor results with mail-order aligners. Some customers saw no improvements at all, where others saw their conditions worsen due to wearing the aligners, as well as other problems like tooth damage or chipping, gum damage, or serious pain.

Without direct supervision by a licensed orthodontist, it may take a long time for a customer to realize their aligners aren’t working properly, and by then there may already be permanent damage to the teeth and gums. Because of these risks, the American Association of Orthodontists has issued an advisory warning against using mail-order aligner brands to straighten teeth.

Should I Get Invisalign or Mail-Order Aligners?

Whichever orthodontic treatment you choose, make sure you are making an informed decision about where you are getting your teeth straightened. Orthodontic care is an investment – don’t waste money on a treatment that doesn’t work or doesn’t last!

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends you seek treatment from a licensed orthodontist: whether braces or Invisalign, you’ll have access to industry-leading equipment and technology, and the direct supervision of an experienced, licensed orthodontist, who will closely monitor your progress for precise, safe, and effective results.

The AAO has also issued an advisory warning regarding mail-order aligners, due to nearly 2,600 complaints filed against the leading brand of mail-order aligners for ineffective or damaging results. While the price tag and the quick treatment time can sound appealing, it’s important to see what’s behind the curtain: you are paying more for less, and likely will not be finished in only 6 months.

For results you can trust, and technology that delivers, it’s best to go to a licensed orthodontist.

Stay Smiling for a Lifetime with Safe & Effective Orthodontic Care

Now you know the full comparison between mail-order aligners and Invisalign. It’s important to be informed before choosing an orthodontic treatment: we hope this FAQ has helped you understand the true differences between Invisalign and generic mail-order aligners.

Stay safe, and stay smiling!