Invisalign vs. Braces

Invisalign vs. Braces: Which Is Best for Your Smile?

By Sheila Olson
Updated May 28, 2021

Key takeaways

  • Invisalign offers clear, removable aligners that move your teeth slowly over time.
  • Invisible aligners are less visible, more comfortable, and make it easier to maintain your dental hygiene than traditional metal braces.
  • Clear aligners are a great choice for many people, but they may not be an option for complex orthodontic issues.

When it comes to options for improving your smile, Invisalign is one of the most well-known names as an alternative to traditional braces. Since its founding in 1997, Invisalign has helped over 9 million people feel more confident about their smiles.

While invisible braces are gaining popularity, they aren't the best option for everyone. Your treatment plan, budget, and personality are all factors to consider before you decide. 

Your choice of orthodontist makes a difference too. Not all orthodontists offer Invisalign, and there's a wide range of experience and qualifications among those that do. 

If you're trying to decide between braces and Invisalign, here's what you need to know to help you choose.

What are invisible braces?

Invisible braces are custom-made, removable plastic aligners you wear over your teeth. Most treatment plans require you to wear the aligners for 22 hours a day, although a few companies offer nighttime-only options. You remove the aligners to eat and clean your teeth. 

Some companies, such as Byte and SmileDirectClub, offer at-home treatment plans that don't require in-person supervision by an orthodontist. 

Others, such as Invisalign, are available only from a licensed dentist or orthodontist and require regular in-person visits to check your progress and exchange your aligner trays. 

Most invisible braces are designed for mild to moderate cosmetic issues that can be corrected in less than a year. Invisalign is one of the few clear aligners that treat more complex orthodontic problems. 

Advantages of Invisalign vs. braces

The main advantage of Invisalign over braces is that clear aligners are barely noticeable. If you're concerned about maintaining your professional appearance at work, Invisalign transforms your smile without the bulky metal brackets and wires of traditional braces. 

Here are other advantages of choosing Invisalign over traditional braces:

  • More comfortable: Invisalign aligners fit smoothly and snugly over your teeth. You don't have to deal with sharp metal edges or wires to poke tender tissues. Invisalign gently repositions your teeth without the discomfort associated with traditional braces.
  • Eat whatever you want: Because you remove your Invisalign aligners when you eat, you don't need to avoid foods that can damage traditional braces.
  • Better oral hygiene: With removable aligners, it's easy to maintain your normal brushing and flossing routine. Invisalign lowers your risk of cavities and gum disease compared to traditional braces.
  • Shorter treatment time: Invisalign treatment usually takes between six months and two years to complete, although complex issues may take longer. Most people wear traditional braces for one to three years. 

Disadvantages of Invisalign vs. braces

Although Invisalign can treat more complex problems than most other clear aligners, the brand isn't suitable for all orthodontic issues. Traditional braces may be your only option for severely misaligned teeth. 

Other disadvantages of Invisalign over traditional braces include:

  • Compliance: Because Invisalign can be removed, you have to be disciplined about following your doctor's recommendations. If you're not committed to wearing your aligners a full 22 hours per day, you won't get your desired results.
  • Risk of loss or damage: Removing your aligners to eat can be inconvenient and increases the possibility that you'll accidentally lose or damage them.
  • May not be suitable for children: Although Invisalign offers an early treatment system for younger children, many orthodontists only recommend Invisalign for more mature teens. Older children are typically more disciplined about wearing the aligners as directed. 

Advantages of braces vs. Invisalign

Traditional braces are the time-tested gold standard in orthodontic care. They have a long track record of reliable results with even the most complex orthodontic problems. Depending on your specific issue, braces may be your only option for achieving long-lasting results. 

Other reasons to consider braces over Invisalign include:

  • Consistent results: Because braces are bonded to your teeth, they work round-the-clock to gently reposition them. Results don't depend on your compliance in wearing them like they do with clear aligners.
  • Choose any orthodontist: All orthodontists are experts in traditional braces, so you can choose any in your area you like. However, not all orthodontists offer treatment with Invisalign.
  • "Invisible" options: If you're not a candidate for Invisalign, you still have less visible options for traditional braces. Lingual braces, for example, are placed on the back of the teeth so they're virtually undetectable. Ceramic braces are made of tooth-colored resins to look more natural. 

Disadvantages of braces vs. Invisalign

Most people who consider Invisalign do so because they don't like the appearance of traditional braces. Even though ceramic braces are less obvious, they are still quite noticeable. Lingual braces are virtually invisible, but they may interfere with your speech. Invisalign is the most comfortable and discreet option for improving your smile. 

Other disadvantages of braces include:

  • Difficult to maintain dental hygiene: Braces can trap bacteria leading to damaged enamel, cavities, and gum disease. If you aren't conscientious about cleaning your teeth, you could end treatment with discolorations and permanent white spots from weakened enamel. 
  • Dietary restrictions: Most orthodontists recommend that you avoid hard and sticky foods like candies, nuts, and gum if you wear braces. You may also find that certain foods like steak and corn on the cob are hard to eat and get stuck in your braces.
  • Pain and discomfort: Many people experience pain and tenderness when they first get braces and after each orthodontist adjustment. Some also struggle with irritation inside the mouth where tissues rub against the brackets.
  • Regular orthodontist visits: You'll need to have in-person visits with your orthodontist every month or six weeks. This can interfere with work and school schedules. 

Cost of Invisalign vs. braces

The cost of Invisalign varies, but most people spend between $3,000 and $5,000 for treatment. Invisalign is the most expensive option for clear aligners, but it can treat problems that other aligners can't. 

Treatment with traditional braces typically costs between $3,000 and $7,000, which is comparable to Invisalign costs. 

You may have additional costs for post-treatment care with Invisalign. Most orthodontists recommend retainers to maintain your results. These aren't usually included in the cost of treatment and may add several hundred dollars to your total cost. 

Dental insurers usually treat Invisalign the same as traditional braces. In other words, if your plan pays for orthodontic treatment, it will most likely cover Invisalign. However, most insurers won't pay for cosmetic orthodontic treatment. If you're getting braces simply to improve your appearance, you'll probably have to pay the full cost yourself. 

The bottom line

If you're a candidate for invisible aligners, the choice between Invisalign and braces comes down to personal preferences. If the inconvenience and appearance of traditional braces are keeping you from improving your smile, Invisalign is a great alternative. 

Your orthodontist is your best source of information when it comes to Invisalign vs. other treatment options. Discuss your options thoroughly, and don't be afraid to ask questions. 

Remember that not all orthodontists offer treatment with Invisalign, and there is a wide range of experience and skill among those who do. Find out how many patients your doctor has treated with Invisalign and get a quote before agreeing to treatment. It's perfectly acceptable to compare prices for Invisalign treatment. Don't forget to ask about additional expenses and follow-up care. 

Frequently asked questions

Is Invisalign faster than braces?

Most of the time, treatment with Invisalign is shorter than traditional braces. In some cases, it can take as little as six months. However, if you have more complex issues, Invisalign treatment can take two years or longer. 

Treatment with traditional braces usually takes between one and three years. 

Which is better, Invisalign or braces?

It's impossible to say that one is better than the other for every person. Some people aren't good candidates for Invisalign. 

However, if you're looking for a relatively fast, simple, and discreet way to improve your smile, Invisalign may be the ideal solution. 

Does Invisalign cost less than braces?

Treatment with Invisalign costs about the same as braces. However, the total costs for Invisalign can be higher than the cost of braces if your doctor recommends adjusting your treatment plan midway through treatment. You may also pay more for retainers and aftercare with Invisalign. 

Sheila Olson has over two decades of experience writing about Medicare, health, and personal finance. Her work has been featured on sites such as Investopedia, The Motley Fool, and Boomer Benefits. Sheila holds a MPH (Master of Public Health) from Northern Arizona University.