Invisible Braces - Girl Smiling Into Mirror

SmileDirectClub vs. Invisalign: Which Is the Best Choice for Straighter Teeth?

By Kristen Fischer
Updated May 28, 2021

Key Takeaways

  • Aligners are invisible "trays" that slowly move your teeth like traditional braces.
  • Invisalign and SmileDirectClub provide invisible braces under the care of a dentist or orthodontist.
  • SmileDirectClub does not require in-office visits or bonded "buttons" to provide force.
  • Invisalign requires in-office checkups and tends to work better for more complex cases.

Getting straight teeth used to require metal braces, but clear teeth aligners have changed everything.

Several companies offer this dental service. There are two big providers: SmileDirectClub vs. Invisalign. How do they differ, and which one is better for your smile?

SmileDirectClub doesn't require visits to a doctor or orthodontist, and Invisalign involves regular in-person visits during treatment. Health editors investigated these invisible braces providers and the different teeth aligner experiences so you can see if there's a clear winner for you.

Aligners or Braces?

Before deciding if you should choose SmileDirectClub or Invisalign, you need to know the difference between braces and aligners. 

Braces require bonding metal brackets temporarily onto your teeth. A wire is fastened on to them and tightened regularly to correct bite or teeth placement. Aligners do the same, essentially, but are removable clear "trays" made of a plastic-like material. With aligners, the dentist creates a sequence of trays to optimize your smile, and you put in new trays as specified, which slowly move your teeth.

Once your teeth are in position and treatment is complete, your provider may recommend patients wear a retainer whether you have braces or aligners.

What's better: Braces or aligners? A 2019 BMC Oral Health study found both were effective at shifting the position of teeth. Clear aligners have been shown to be better at segmented teeth movement and require shorter treatment time; braces excelled at controlling teeth torque, the way teeth meet, and keeping teeth in place.

Not all dentists and orthodontists offer Invisalign, so you'll have to seek out an Invisalign specialist. You don't have to have a doctor to use SmileDirectClub.

SmileDirectClub and Invisalign: How They Work

To begin treatment for SmileDirectClub or Invisalign, the doctor must view your teeth as is and then devise a correction plan. They will get an impression of your mouth to assess the position of your teeth. 

With newer technology, a dentist can painlessly scan your teeth to create a digital 3-D model. With Invisalign, you'll need to visit the orthodontist to have an impression or impression scan, and you'll go back regularly so they can track your progress and distribute new aligners. 

SmileDirectClub has orthodontists and dentists to guide your plan, but you don't have to go into an office for care. To get impressions done, you go into one of the SmileShops for a complimentary scan or pay $29 for an at-home impression kit. SmileDirectClub mails you aligners to complete your treatment.

After your provider devises a treatment plan, the companies manufacture the aligners. Each aligner you use moves your teeth slightly to attain a specific goal. You wear the SmileDirectClub or Invisalign aligners for a set amount of time, and your smile eventually meets the treatment objective.

How Long Is Invisible Braces Treatment?

How many aligners you'll use and how long treatment will take depends on your individual needs. 

SmileDirectClub users can wear aligners 22 hours per day or opt for Nighttime Aligners™ that stay on 10 continuous hours while you sleep. On average, treatment takes four to six months with traditional aligners and 10 months with night aligners.

Treatment Steps for Invisalign

Before your dentist creates a specific plan for your teeth through digital scans, you will have an assessment to make sure Invisalign is the right treatment plan for you based on a number of factors:

  • The severity of your case
  • Your medical and dental history
  • Your age
  • Your commitment to make regular appointments
  • Your commitment to wear aligners for a certain amount of time

After an assessment and digital scans, your dentist creates a custom treatment plan, and you both decide on regular in-person checks to make sure your teeth are shifting and progressing appropriately.

Pros of Invisalign Treatment

  • Addresses mild to complex teeth and jaw problems, ranging from bite, gaps, spacing, and crowding issues
  • Access to a dentist or orthodontist who is familiar with your case and dental records
  • Regular appointments to monitor your treatment progress closely
  • More of a hands-on approach to treatment, which means the technical errors or imperfections that occur in at-home impression kits are less likely
  • Treatment usually doesn't take longer than traditional braces and may even be faster
  • Moves teeth gradually and more securely than SmileDirectClub aligners because of the secured buttons

Cons of Invisalign Treatment

  • Not a good fit for severe teeth correction
  • Not as invisible as SmileDirectClub aligners because of the secured buttons
  • More expensive than SmileDirectClub aligners

Treatment Steps for SmileDirectClub

A dentist or orthodontist will be assigned to you for your entire treatment plan, and they will be licensed where you live. First, you have an in-person scan at a SmileShop location, or you create an impression of your teeth through an at-home kit. Your doctor will then conduct an assessment remotely, including your medical and dental history, to outline a custom treatment plan. You will have regular remote check-ins with a dentist to monitor your progress.

This means you can:

  • Log in to your account for reminders and to see how the doctor is tracking your progress
  • Schedule video check-ins, regular virtual visits, or real-time chats
  • Contact the dental care team directly whenever you need to through the video chat

You can track your progress online and see how many days of treatment time you have remaining, how many aligners are left in your plan, and what percentage of the way through treatment you are, as well as an "ETA" on your new smile, which can be really motivating.

Pros of SmileDirectClub Treatment

  • Notably more affordable than Invisalign and traditional braces
  • No in-person appointments to keep track of and take up your time
  • Thorough process with access to detailed information, in-depth articles, and a booklet to answer your questions
  • Fast treatments (average wear time is six months)
  • All-in-one kit includes all of the trays for your treatment plan, which is convenient
  • Whitening treatment is also available as a bonus buy
  • Clear retainers don't have visible buttons like Invisalign, so they aren't as noticeable

Cons of SmileDirectClub Treatment

  • Not a good fit for moderate to severe teeth correction
  • Limited to minor issues with spacing and teeth orientation
  • Not a hands-on approach to treatment since communication is remote
  • Risk of technical errors and imperfections with DIY teeth impressions that can affect the accuracy of your aligners
  • Aligners don't have attached buttons to keep them in place, which can lead to improper shifting

Invisalign vs. SmileDirectClub: Buttons or Not? 

One of the things many people don't realize about Invisalign is that it may require you to have buttons or anchors attached to your teeth, which add force to shift your teeth when you wear them. 

For Invisalign treatment, the doctor attaches a tooth-colored composite bonding during an office visit, which is painless. They look like little bumps on your teeth, and they may come in different shapes. All your teeth may not have them; it depends on your custom needs. At the end of treatment, the doctor will gently drill them off, which isn't painful, but most people don't appreciate the extra drill time. 

SmileDirectClub doesn't use buttons. This may be more visually appealing, but without these buttons to secure the aligners in place, you may experience improper shifting.

Invisalign Costs vs. SmileDirectClub Costs

SmileDirectClub costs

  • For the entire treatment, you pay $1,950 or  make monthly payments at $89 a month for 24 months (with a $250 deposit).
  • They accept health saving accounts (HSAs), flexible saving accounts (FSAs), and CareCredit. 
  • Insurance may cover part of the fee. According to the website, UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Cigna have SmileDirectClub in their networks. 
  • For follow-up care, SmileDirectClub generally recommends wearing aligners at night after treatment to avoid further teeth movement. You can purchase them for $99.

Invisalign costs

  • The website doesn't share an exact price on treatment, as it varies based on each patient. Sample fees range from about $3,000 to $7,000.
  • Patients may also be able to use HSAs or FSAs. Dentists and orthodontists may offer payment plans, depending on the practice. 
  • Insurance may cover Invisalign at least in part, as many dental insurance plans cover invisible braces the same as traditional braces. 
  • For follow-up care, Invisalign generally recommends wearing aligners at night after treatment to avoid further teeth movement. The company doesn't list a price on its website.

Benefits of Teeth Straightening

Using invisible braces to improve your smile goes beyond just looking good. Having straight teeth can:

  • Reduce stress on the jaw
  • Prevent wear and tear such as grinding and chipping
  • Lower risk of decay 
  • Improve gum health 
  • Enhance self-esteem 
  • Develop speech
  • Enable chewing
  • Decrease jaw pain 
  • Prepare your mouth for implants

Choosing Aligners: SmileDirectClub vs. Invisalign

When investigating, you're likely to stumble on some mixed reviews. Kaiser Health News (KHN) reports SmileDirectClub has come under fire for marketing, customer service, and safety. Some experts have cautioned that the lack of in-person oversight could harm patients. 

In 2019, the American Dental Association (ADA) filed federal complaints that SmileDirectClub evaded the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prescription requirement. Invisible braces are designated by the FDA as a Class II medical device that requires a prescription. SmileDirectClub responded in 2020 saying there was no active FDA investigation and that it was in FDA compliance. Both companies have received 510(k) authorization, which governs the medical devices. Despite these controversies, people have had positive and negative experiences with each company. 

If you have mild teeth straightening needs and you're trying to decide if SmileDirectClub or Invisalign is right for your teeth, you're going to have to find a balance between price, convenience, and expertise that works for you. Invisalign and SmileDirectClub aren't the only providers of clear aligners, so you may want to look into other brands (such as Byte or Candid) if you're considering invisible braces. 

Kristen Fisher is a copywriter, journalist, and author from the Jersey shore. She has contributed to Prevention, Healthline, HealthDay, FitPregnancy, Parents, Woman's Day, SheKnows, and Writer's Digest.