You see them everywhere these days – ads from mail-order aligner companies. This Direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies promise to give you perfect teeth, without ever making you leave your house.
Of course, this sounds like a great idea. It’s convenient and appealing. Who wouldn’t want to slip their clear aligners on at home and then sit back on the couch? The idea of getting perfect teeth while watching Netflix is appealing.
Did you know that if you get your aligners through an orthodontist, you can still wear them while watching Netflix? Getting clear aligners through an orthodontist is not as inconvenient as it may seem.
While there are a few similarities between at-home aligners and being treated by an orthodontist, there are also many important differences. Differences that as professionals in orthodontic care we have to address.
If you have been thinking about ordering at-home aligners, we invite you to take a quick look at those differences. In the end, the decision of what treatment to choose is always up to you. We simply want to make sure all of our patients (and potential patients) have ALL the info to make the most informed decision.
Are Direct to Consumer Aligners Really More Convenient?
There are two reasons people tend to choose direct-to-consumer aligners: cost and convenience. What mail order companies don’t tell you is that the cost and convenience of their product are not that different from getting aligners at the orthodontist.
Let’s first take a look at the convenience of these two aligner treatments. Moreover, why the convenience offered by these companies does not factor in the importance of hands-on help and quality of care. Then we will get into the truth behind what they cost.
Convenience Isn’t Always Comprehensive
Let’s start where you will start – the consultation. With mail-order clear aligners you do your consultation online. The company provides you a set of questions to determine if you are a good candidate for their treatment plan.
Yes, you can do this at home. However, it does take time to complete. Moreover, these are a set of standardized questions. Standardized questions can’t effectively address every potential scenario a patient may present.
Moreover, everything they use to create your treatment plan is based only on what you say. They do not SEE your teeth! Without any x-rays or photos, they are unable to see if there are any underlying conditions.
Pre-treatment X-rays are a standard of care in orthodontics, per the American Association of Orthodontists and The American Board of Orthodontists. Unfortunately, most direct-to-consumer companies do not require them.
This is a concern because prior to getting orthodontic treatment (by an orthodontist) your teeth and gums must be cleared by a dentist or orthodontist. If you have problems like gingivitis, periodontitis, chipped teeth, or cavities, an orthodontist is going to send you back to a dentist or dental specialist to get these issues taken care of prior to starting orthodontic tooth movement. Orthodontic tooth movement with underlying dental diseases is a recipe for disaster.
When you go through a mail-order company, there is no one to check for these underlying issues. These programs are intended only for simple/minor adjustments. While many times a simple adjustment is all the patient needs braces for, there are many times when crooked teeth are due to a more serious condition. There are even more scenarios where the patient’s teeth appear to be a simple fix when in reality the correct plan is more involved. An in-person consultation with an orthodontist would reveal and educate the patient on these scenarios.
Invisalign Consultations are Comprehensive
When you decide to get Invisalign aligners through the orthodontist, it does require leaving the house. However, it will be a more comprehensive consultation. This can actually lead to a quicker overall treatment plan.
During your initial consultation, you’ll visit the orthodontist for x-rays, initial photos, and a diagnostic plan. Many orthodontists will even take a digital scan of your teeth during this visit!
Therefore, after that one visit, your treatment has already started. In contrast, with mail-order treatments you have to wait for several shipments before starting your treatment.
How Effective are Mail-Order Impression Kits?
Unlike going into the orthodontist’s office for your impressions or better yet a digital scan, direct-to-consumer companies will send you a kit in the mail. Using this kit, you take impressions of your teeth and then send them back.
While this initially seems more convenient, it can take more time. As mentioned above, your treatment plan begins on your first visit to the orthodontist. With an at-home treatment kit, you have to wait for the kit to be mailed to you, take the impressions, then mail the kit back. Then, you wait to get your aligner trays and hope you took the impressions correctly.
Who Creates an At-home Treatment Plan?
In addition, taking impressions at home presents potential problems. You are not a trained orthodontist who has taken (at least) hundreds of impressions of teeth. This is probably your first time taking impressions. Therefore, there is the possibility you may not fit the trays properly for the best impression to be captured.
Since your entire treatment plan is based on these impressions, there is the possibility that your treatment won’t be exactly what you need.
In contrast, when you see a trained orthodontist to get fitted for your clear aligners they know exactly what to do! Moreover, they know what to look for if an impression does not come out as needed (and can redo it right then). Also, most orthodontists use digital scanners so you can skip the impression altogether. Now that is convenient!
Not having a hands-on approach to gathering impressions is just the beginning.
Not All (in fact most) Direct to Consumer Professionals are Licensed Orthodontists
Even though mail-order companies advertise that a state-licensed dental professional will make your treatment plan, they are more likely than not a licensed orthodontist.
Most of the time the person checking your diagnostic report and providing your treatment is not an orthodontist. Instead, it’s anyone with a dental license willing to accept on average $50 USD per case to approve your case, regardless of their education and training in tooth movement. Therefore, out of all the money you pay a direct-to-consumer company, on average only $50 goes to the one person who is liable for your outcome.
The problem here is that while an orthodontist has all of the training of a dentist, a dentist does not have the additional training of an orthodontist. Orthodontists have an additional 2-3 years of training in the biology and biomechanics of tooth movement.
A general dentist does not have the expertise in tooth movement. Therefore, it is possible (and likely) that these services are not overseen by a qualified orthodontist.
Invisalign Treatment Plan vs At-Home Treatment Plan
One of the biggest differences between a mail-order treatment plan and an in-office aligner treatment is checkups.
Direct-to-consumer companies advertise that they are better because you don’t have the “inconvenience” of going in for regular check-ups. What this really means is that – you will likely never see a licensed professional during your treatment!
How Long is the Treatment for Direct-to-Consumer Aligners?
DTC companies also advertise that their treatment is faster. Often offering results in 4 to 6 months. In some very minor cases, this might be the case. Unfortunately, for most people getting straight teeth is not a quick fix. To advertise it as such is dangerous.
Correcting misaligned teeth is a slow process. It takes time to align your bite and straighten your teeth. The ligaments and bones need time to shift around your teeth.
It is also a process that needs to be closely monitored. If this adjustment is not done the right way, you can do serious damage to your teeth. In fact, it can result in irreparable damage.
There is such a concern for promoting these quick fixes that the American Association of Orthodontics issued a warning around this, “The risks associated with ‘do it yourself’ orthodontics can, and should be, avoided.”
How Long is the Invisalign Treatment?
Essentially, all companies use similar types of plastic aligner technology. Therefore, it is concerning that direct-to-consumer aligners advertise working in half the amount of time.
Invisalign treatment takes about 12 to 18 months depending on your chief concern. This is the same amount of time traditional braces take as well. Clear aligners are doing the same thing as metal/clear braces – moving teeth through bones and ligaments. There is not a safe way to make this faster.
Clear aligners might be more convenient though! Yes, this includes clear aligners from the orthodontist. Getting them professionally fitted may even be more convenient than you knew.
Many orthodontists now offer virtual check-ups for Invisalign treatment. We do this here at Reagin Orthodontics!
Therefore, after your first initial visit, you can do some of your visits from the comfort of your home. You get the best of both worlds. Convenience and professional care!
Even if you choose not to do virtual visits, a patient usually only needs to go in for a check-up every 12 weeks. That is only 4 visits in a year!
During these visits, your orthodontist will assess if you need new aligners. They will also check your overall dental health. Two important things that you do not have regular access to with at-home companies.
Remember, regular check-ups are not a bad thing. They are essential for proper treatment!
Are At-Home Aligners Really Cheaper?
Direct-to-consumer companies that make at-home clear aligners make it seem like the cost of their treatment saves patients a lot of money. However, the price is not drastically different. Especially, if you compare apples to apples.
DTC treatment is by nature, limited orthodontic treatment, however, their ads compare full orthodontic treatment fees to their limited orthodontic fees. This is misleading at best and the national advertising agency has asked one leading DTC brand to stop this false advertising (to no avail).
When you compare limited orthodontic fees at an orthodontic office to DTC fees, the fees may not exactly match up, but the DTC fees are not nearly 60% less as they claim. In the end, you get what you pay for.
Most direct-to-consumer treatments are between $2,100 and $2,900. Advertisements will make clients think it is only $2,050. However, that is if it is paid all at once.
While this company does offer payment plans, it raises the price. In the end, the price is almost $2,600! Keep in mind that this price is only for simple teeth straightening treatment.
If you have a more complex condition, not only will you not get the proper treatment – the treatment may not work. In the end, you could end up paying for something without results. You might end up paying an orthodontist to correct your condition after paying a DTC company.
How Much is Invisalign Treatment?
You may be surprised to learn that limited clear aligner treatment through the orthodontist is not that much more than limited clear aligner treatment through a DTC company! In fact, MOST orthodontists can give you better results at (or near) the same cost as mail-order companies.
Keep in mind, that this is only for simple fixes. If a patient requires additional treatment then the price can increase. However, since many underlying concerns are related to dental health they are covered by insurance.
Moreover, many orthodontists also offer payment plans and financing options.
Does Insurance Cover At-Home Aligners?
Mail-order companies advertise that their treatment is often covered by insurance. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many insurance companies do not cover orthodontic treatment that is not supervised.
Moreover, trying to get insurance on board for at-home treatment is often a hassle. It can also take a lot of extra time. More time that takes away from moving closer to your new smile!
In contrast, when you go through an orthodontist, insurance almost always covers your treatment. Even better, the insurance companies already know how to work with the office to get things properly billed. This saves you a lot of time!
Overview of Invisalign vs At-home aligners
The simple fact is that orthodontic care, just like any medical care, is not a one size fits all. So, while mail-order clear aligners and in-office aligners use the same basic align technology, only one tailors that technology to each individual patient through a proper diagnostic exam and oversight.
If you are interested in getting clear aligners, but undecided on which brand is best for you, let’s chat! We would love to have you schedule a complimentary consultation with us to come in and talk about a plan that fits YOU!