Rightly or wrongly, Americans perceive people with straight teeth as more attractive, successful, and employable than those without, according to studies. Hence, an investment into treatments for teeth straightening has the potential to really pay off in the long run. One such treatment that has been gaining significant traction is the use of clear teeth aligners.

A clear teeth aligner is a removable tray made of plastic that is almost completely invisible when worn. The device is custom-tailored to fit your teeth, as it is 3D printed based on your dental scan. You wear one set of trays between 20 and 22 hours per day (depending on the maker) for two weeks before replacing it with a slightly different device that's the next in the series.

This slight change in sequential aligners gradually shifts your teeth to produce a straight smile. The treatment period can last anywhere between four months and three years.

Woman smiling while holding clear teeth aligner.

Image source: Getty Images.

What are the advantages of teeth aligners?

There are many advantages to clear teeth aligners. Patients can remove the device whenever for eating, drinking, brushing their teeth, and flossing. Clear teeth aligners don't have edges or wires (unlike traditional braces) that can harm the gums or make chewing unpleasant. Patients see rapid improvement within a matter of weeks. 

Clear aligners are part of the growing teledentistry industry and are more affordable alternatives to conventional braces. Clear teeth aligners are recommended for adults, and not children.

What companies provide clear teeth aligners?

There are two notable brands leading the clear teeth aligner market: SmileDirectClub (SDC -7.14%) and Align Technology (ALGN -3.33%)

SmileDirectClub uses a direct-to-consumer model and potential users can visit a SmileShop to have a 3D image of their teeth taken or take a simple doctor-directed home impression. The full treatment is overseen by a state-licensed dentist or orthodontist using its teledentistry platform and the average plan takes four to six months with the patient wearing the aligners 22 hours per day.

Align Technology provides Invisalign clear aligners for patients whose dentists or orthodontists prescribe it for teeth alignment. The average Invisalign treatment is 12 to 18 months wearing them between and 20 and 22 hours per day. Patients visit their doctor once every four to six weeks for check-ups on progress.

How much do teeth aligners cost?

Clear teeth aligners can cost between $1,749 to $7,000 for a full treatment. Insurance covers anywhere between $1,100 to $3,500 of the cost. Luckily, there are payment options available starting from $66 per month to $99 per month. With all that in mind, clear teeth aligners are still generally cheaper than conventional braces, which can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 total.

If patients have an FSA or HSA account, both SmileDirect and Align accept funds from those tax-advantaged accounts.

What are the risks involved?

There are certain disadvantages to using clear teeth aligners. Firstly, the device cannot treat certain complex misalignments in the teeth and is limited to adjusting simple or tipping movements on a 2D level (left or right, back or forth, but not up or down). Secondly, patient compliance can become an issue, as clear teeth aligners can be removed at any time. If the patient doesn't spend enough time wearing them, then treatment costs could go up significantly due to delays.

At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. If you are looking for a fast, convenient, and cost-effective way of achieving a great smile, clear teeth aligners are probably a good option. On the other hand, if your teeth require complex re-alignment or you think you will have significant concerns during your treatment process, then getting braces at an orthodontic practice or dentist office is probably the right way to go.