Healthline senior editor Candice Abellon tried SmileDirect… kind of? Follow along in her journey to find her smile.
We’re here to talk about SmileDirectClub’s aligners, a competitively priced Invisalign alternative.
I’ll let you in on a secret: One of my baby teeth never left my mouth. Instead, it stayed put and the adult molar that should have pushed it out grew in sideways. More on this later. Did I actually wear SmileDirectClub’s version of invisible aligners? No and here’s why. Jump here for the tl;dr.
To learn more about what the process was like, keep scrolling.
The company, based in Nashville, Tennessee, offers some branded dental accessories and peripherals like teeth whitening and dental care products, but their main focus is teeth aligners sold direct to consumers.
What I liked about it
- It’s less expensive than Invisalign.
- It’s best for mild or moderate corrections, for people with healthy gums and teeth.
- Their sweet spot is what the company itself calls “the smile zone”, which is those front teeth that are visible when a person smiles.
- They have responsive customer service, with multiple ways to connect.
- Their services are limited to producing aligners.
- They cannot assess or provide support for gum or teeth health, or other things that need attention from an orthodontist.
- It’s not meant for severe alignment changes or complicated cases.
It’s not an X-ray scan. They use a CAD camera that’s shaped like a big wand to take images of your mouth and teeth. These images are stitched together in a matter of moments to create a 3D picture of your teeth. You can watch it come together on a screen in front of you.
The scanning process
I sat on a chair with the associate sitting in front of me, facing me. The scan doesn’t take very long and it doesn’t hurt, but it’s a bit awkward to have someone running this camera along the sides and tops of your gumline and teeth — top and bottom, front to back.
This is the same way scans are captured for Invisalign.
Get a scan in-person or take an impression at home
You can order an impression kit from the company online and they’ll mail it to you so you can send back a dental impression of your teeth. They also have physical locations where you can get a scan done in person for free; this is what I did.
As part of the intake or scanning step, I filled out a survey that asked about my teeth and dental health — questions like “Do you have periodontal disease? Yes or no.” The thing is, the answers to some of these questions do matter in terms of how effective an aligner treatment might be or what risks the treatment has for you.
One of the questions asked if I still had any baby teeth and which one(s) or in what location. I do have one but I don’t know what the tooth is called. Do I have periodontal disease, aka gum disease? I don’t know. I’m like the 42% of people in the United States who responded to a Delta Dental survey in 2018 who don’t see a dentist as often as we’d like to.
The associate who helped me and did the scan asked what my goals were and what I was looking for. One of my bottom front teeth is shifting back behind the other teeth. That’s what I’d like fixed. To their credit, neither of the associates who helped me made any promises whatsoever. They never said, “Yes, we can do that.” They also never said, I don’t think that will be possible. They emphasized the process — that the scans would go to a dentist or orthodontist for review and their recommendation.
SmileDirectClub has an app, which the store associates recommended I download, but you can do the assessment and follow-up process without using the app. I did need to register an account online using an email address.
Wait for the recommendation (aka, getting my results)
I received a standardized email addressed to me from a doctor with a link to a 3D rendering of my “treatment plan”.
My treatment plan consisted of showing me how my top teeth could be shifted over the course of 6 months. If I signed off on this plan and chose to pay for aligners, I’d get all the aligners I’d need upfront.
Get your aligners
You should receive all the aligners for your plan at once. It takes 4 to 5 weeks to receive them once you order them. You’ll need to register for an account on their website and register your aligners there. Throughout the “treatment plan” there are a few regular check-ins via email to send photos for a doctor to review alignment progress.
You may be able to get what SmileDirectClub calls “aligner touch-ups” if you need an adjustment during and after your treatment, if you do the above. So, if you need a new set or adjustment for fit, you might get this for free if you’ve been wearing your aligners, are registered, and responding to the photo requests.
They also have a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Use a retainer
After your treatment period is complete, just like with other types of braces, it’ll be time to wear a retainer to encourage the new positions your teeth are in. Retainers are a separate purchase from SmileDirectClub. Like their aligners, these are clear plastic retainers.
Q: What can happen if you shift your teeth using braces while you have gum disease, such as gingivitis?
Any kind of orthodontic treatment, including SmileDirectClub aligners, shifts teeth by applying pressure to them, so your teeth and gums need to be healthy in order to withstand the pressure. Braces also make oral hygiene more difficult. If your bone and gums are already inflamed, braces could compromise the integrity of your teeth and jawbone, making gum disease worse. If you are considering getting braces or other orthodontic treatment, it’s important that you visit a dentist or orthodontist first to ensure that your teeth and jaws are healthy enough to start treatment.
~ Dr. Jennifer Archibald, DDS, FRCD(C)Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
SmileDirectClub has two options for teeth straightening based on what you’re comfortable committing to: aligners worn only at night, or, aligners worn all day.
Both options cost the same amount: $2,050 for a single upfront payment, or, using the company’s financing plan, called SmilePay, you’re asked to make $89 monthly payments for 26 months with a $250 deposit. The annual percentage rate (APR) calculated into the financing option varies by state. (See SmileDirectClub.com/Pricing/APR-Financing.) So, you’re looking to pay at least $2,564 over time.
- SmileDirectClub Nighttime Aligners: Worn for half a day, or “over night”, these can do the job but you’ll have to wear them an average of 8 to 10 months.
- SmileDirectClub Fulltime Aligners: Worn all day, every day, the average user sees results in 4 to 6 months.
|One-time, upfront payment||SmilePay payment plan|
|$2,050||~$2,564 over time|
I knew going in that what I wanted to do was probably not possible without going to an oral surgeon first.
What I found interesting was that the email and the treatment plan shared with me digitally seemed scripted to really only address shifting those six, top front teeth that are in the “smile zone”. My initial question and goal wasn’t addressed at all in the email. At this point, I stopped engaging with the process.
There were follow-up emails, both standard ones with discounts to entice me and ones direct from an associate from the store I’d visited asking if I had any follow-up questions.
I just wasn’t a candidate for using plastic aligners on my bottom teeth and SmileDirectClub can’t do anything for me to change that; only an orthodontist or an oral surgeon can. So, if I ever have that orthodontia work done and get a green light from a dentist that my teeth and gums are healthy, then maybe I’ll consider clear plastic braces. Until then, I’m still smiling.
Each time I heard from or spoke to a person directly (whether in person, via chat, text, or email), the customer service was really good. At the retail location, the associates I spoke with were no-pressure and while they didn’t proactively discuss with me the possibility I wasn’t a candidate for aligners, they also didn’t make any promises.
I was clear at my in-person scan that I was interested in changing my lower teeth. The associate wrote this down on my form. They asked if I had any interest in straightening my upper teeth; I said maybe.
He asked if I had any plans to have orthodontic work done. I gave a vague noncommittal response. If I did have any orthodontic work while in the middle of my course of aligners he said I could come back and have a scan redone to make sure aligner-fit and progress would be the same.
For me, there were a couple places where the lack of personal touch fell down a bit during the process. It mostly has to do with some of the templated emails that I got after my scans and after I got results back from the dental professional who reviewed the scan.
The number of emails SmileDirectClub sends is cheerfully insistent.
Reputation and customer reviews
Across the internet, on review aggregator Trustpilot, SmileDirectClub has an average of 4.7 stars based on more than 28,000 reviews. SmileDirectClub is accredited with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which means they commit to responding to customer feedback in a timely manner. They have an A+ rating from the BBB and 3.2-star rating from over 1,000 customer reviews on the BBB website.
Traditional or conventional braces have the characteristic metal wire that runs along the front of the teeth and is affixed to the center of each tooth that’s being repositioned. You can often choose different colors for these brackets on the surface of your teeth. In some cases, braces are used with a palate expander, which does the work of gradually shifting the upper jaw. The cost of braces vary but may be partially or fully covered by insurance.
Sets of clear plastic trays are used like “invisible” braces to shift teeth over time. In this case, a tech or dentist scans your teeth to create a 3D model or makes a mold for an impression of your teeth and bite. Through modeling, each tray that’s printed has changes to encourage teeth to shift or rotate.
Byte is also a direct-to-consumer business selling plastic aligners using a dentist/orthodontist review of bite impressions that you can make at home.
One-time costs for Byte’s clear aligners that you wear all day start at $1,999. For Byte aligners only worn at night, the one-time payment is $2,399. Like SmileDirectClub, Byte offers a payment plan. Also like their competitor, Byte offers a bonus teeth whitening solution.
What sets Byte apart is what they call their HyperByte, a tool that vibrates your teeth, a process that Byte recommends as helpful along with aligners, to move teeth.
Invisalign costs may vary the most because they’re set by each doctor’s office that you get them through, and each dental practice may bundle the aligners with additional care and treatments.
The plus-side of this is you get in-person and other support from the dental team you choose to work with, that takes into account your health needs and dental anatomy. To understand what you’re paying for and any payment plan options, you’ll have to do a bit more work than with the Byte or SmileDirectClub options.
|Cost||starts at $2,050+||starts at $1,999+||starts at $3,000|
|Included||6 months of aligners and teeth whitening kit||aligners, 1 month of teeth whitening solution, vibration device||aligners and the support of your dentist/orthodontist|
|Insurance||may have partial coverage||might have reimbursement coverage||may be partially covered|
Are invisible aligners right for me?
Maybe. Like many things when it comes to health and shopping for solutions, the best way for you to know if SmileDirectClub or any aligners are right for you is to know what the health of your teeth and gums is. It helps if you’ve seen a dentist recently or can go to one with questions.
Can you eat with SmileDirectClub?
No, like other clear plastic aligners, you should take SmileDirectClub aligners out to eat, drink, or smoke. They also recommend brushing your teeth after eating, drinking, or smoking when you can — before putting aligner trays back in your mouth.
What are early or mild signs of gum disease?
Periodontitis also doesn’t show any symptoms until it becomes more advanced. Like gingivitis, periodontitis shows up as red and bleeding gums,
What is SmileDirectClub’s return policy?
SmileDirectClub states you can return your remaining unused aligners back to them and receive a refund within the first 30 days. You do have to pay for the shipping yourself.
Does SmileDirectClub take insurance?
Some insurance policies will cover some or all of the cost of aligners from SmileDirectClub. If you’re insured you might start with contacting your insurance company first.
SmileDirectClub offers a way to check your coverage for their aligners, which may be convenient. Know that this requires providing your email address and telephone number, and agreeing to potential marketing text messages and phone calls.
SmileDirectClub provides more affordable access to clear aligners but not the individualized support of a dental health professional. So, it’s really best to work with a dentist of your own, to help you know what’s right for you.