The most well-known manufacturer of clear aligners is Invisalign. A doctor (usually a dentist) examines your teeth and outsources most of the treatment plan and all of the aligner manufacturing to Invisalign.
Now you can take an impression of your teeth at home and get clear aligners mailed directly to you (DIY teeth straightening).
Then there are tech-enabled orthodontists who lead and plan your treatment with the convenience of mobile check-ins at home (disclaimer: that’s what we do here at Uniform Teeth).
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between these options.
Many adults have had previous orthodontic treatment and don’t want to pay thousands of dollars to repeat this process. Treatment for DIY teeth straightening costs 70% less than Invisalign — which is sometimes upwards of $7,000. DIY companies make orthodontic treatment financially feasible for a wider range of individuals.
Sadly, because DIY teeth straightening is not necessarily being monitored by a board-certified dentist or orthodontist, it is not uncommon for patients to have their bite unpleasantly changed. Many patients seek in-person professional orthodontic treatment after experiencing DIY aligners. This adds additional cost.
Tech-enabled orthodontists offer a slightly more expensive option to DIY clear aligners. Using a combination of advanced technology and orthodontic expertise, this style of treatment allows you to combine mobile check-ins via an app and in-person visits with the doctor. Treatment is up to half the cost of Invisalign because you aren’t paying for global marketing budgets and corporate overhead!
DIY teeth straightening at home is convenient because you never have to book a single appointment to visit a doctor. The aligners, when they are ready, are mailed directly to you and can be worn straight away.
Invisalign usually requires you to have an appointment every eight weeks to ensure the treatment is progressing as planned.
In the tech-enabled treatment model, you only need to see the orthodontist in person two or three times throughout the entire treatment. Much of the check-ins are done virtually via an app through a combination of pictures and messaging.
Who plans your treatment?
DIY teeth straightening use gummy dental impressions to fabricate clear aligners, which is not nearly as precise as a 3D scan. Some DIY companies also hire lab technicians to design and supervise treatment plans. The technicians have minimal training in dental care and most are located outside of the United States.
Invisalign works slightly differently. A general dentist or orthodontist takes a scan of your teeth and works with Invisalign to plan your treatment and manufacture the aligners. In order to be an Invisalign-certified provider the doctor only needs to attend a four-hour course.
In the newest style of orthodontic treatment, all patients get treated by board-certified orthodontists. The orthodontist takes a 3D scan of your teeth and a 3D x-ray of your entire head to get the most precise representation of your teeth and jaw when designing your treatment plan.
There is a good reason why orthodontists must attend a 2-3 year residency program to predictably and safely move your teeth. It’s no easy task! Having an orthodontist regularly check-in with you is critical for safety and efficiency.
Because DIY clear aligners require you to take impressions of your teeth at home, the quality and accuracy of those impressions can vary greatly. If the impression isn’t up to snuff, the company will ask you to send in another impression. This back and forth exchange can add weeks to the treatment time.
In the case of Invisalign, usually a general dentist works with an Invisalign lab technician via a platform called ClinCheck. The communication between the dentist and the lab technician can cause the treatment time to elongate considerably. Also, because Invisalign doesn’t require a 3D x-ray (only a scan), they can’t see the roots of your teeth. Visibility of your roots is really important because roots are what actually move your teeth.
In a tech-enabled orthodontic model, treatment time is the shortest — around 6-8 months for cases where only moderate changes to the bite and tooth position are necessary. How is this possible? By combining your 3D scan with your 3D x-ray, orthodontists can form the most accurate treatment plan and make the best-fitting aligners. The precision of these images allows less room for errors and makes the treatment time considerably shorter. Also, because you are being monitored by an orthodontist, your treatment is much more efficient.
Can all patients be treated?
Most folks don’t qualify for DIY teeth straightening. Only certain mild cases of teeth straightening are eligible. Again, this is because they don’t take precise 3D images and there isn’t a board-certified orthodontist monitoring the treatments.
Invisalign works mostly with general dentists so they can accept slightly more complicated cases. But because the doctor isn’t always an orthodontist and not all clinicians use 3D imaging, Invisalign won’t work for more severe teeth movements.
For patients who want to be certain about their treatment, going with a board-certified orthodontist who specializes in 3D imaging and clear aligners, is the best option. These doctors can tackle cases ranging from mild to severe. They are trained to work with all levels of complexity, achieving movements that used to only be possible with traditional, fixed braces.
If you want to learn more about DIY treatments vs Invisalign and tech-enabled, orthodontist-led treatments, read more here, from the American Association of Orthodontists.