Update: This review originally included Simlelove. As of July 2020, Smilelove has reportedly ceased all operations. The company received a backlash of customer complaints related to the quality of their aligners and customer service. Thus we recommend removing them from consideration and focusing on Candid and Smile Direct. For a full list of options, check out our overview of the cheapest teeth aligner brands.
Can at-home teeth aligners offered by companies like Candid and Smile Direct Club replace braces for straightening your teeth? Do they really offer similar results to orthodontic work, and at what discount? If your teeth have always been a bit crooked or you’ve noticed them shifting over time, read on to see which of these low-cost options could work best for you.
Some quick background on teeth aligners
It wasn’t long ago that heading to an orthodontist and shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for braces was the only real way to straighten teeth. This was often a multi-year investment that, for anyone who remembers wearing head-gear or bite-correcting bright rubber bands, involved a ton of pain and embarrassment.
But then dentists and orthodontists innovated by developing clear aligners that showed results faster than a mouth full of metal. Invisalign® grew exceedingly popular (and remains so!) as doctors lined up for certification courses and began selling the miracle of invisible braces to patients all around the world.
Today, a new wave of direct-to-consumer teeth alignment startups have emerged with an even cheaper, more convenient alternative to Invisalign. Before you get too excited, it’s worth looking into the pros and cons of these young upstarts, especially since deciding to straightening your teeth can have a potentially major impact on your life.
So who are the major players in the direct-to-consumer teeth alignment space, how do their offerings differ from invisalign, and is it all just too good to be true? Or does their recent popularity prove that they work?
Keep reading for an in-depth comparison of the three best known low-cost teeth aligners — Smilelove vs Candid vs Smile Direct Club. By the end, we hope you’ll have decided if this option is right for you and which brand makes the most sense.
How do Smilelove, Candid and Smile Direct Club compare to Invisalign and braces?
Despite modern innovations, many folks still choose to go to an orthodontist. That’s because braces are the best solution for mouths with complex tooth or jaw alignment issues. Going to the dentist for Invisalign or the orthodontist for braces offers an unparalleled level of personalization, including a high level of care from seasoned experts and the most accurate diagnosis via x-rays and other high-fidelity digital scans.
Orthodontists still are, and are likely to always be, the gold standard of tooth straightening and jaw alignment. Full stop. End of story.
But on the flip side, everyone has either experienced or heard about the hassle and expense of braces. Your insurance may cover a bit of the cost, but even in such circumstances, most patients still end up shelling out thousands of dollars.
In fact, the average outlay falls somewhere between $5,000 to $6,000. Given how long they take years to work, it’s a huge investment for a brighter smile, not to mention all the awkwardness associated with a mouth full of metal.
As a less conspicuous alternative, Invisalign’s® clear aligners help many adjust their teeth with less awkwardness. The cost is around the same as braces, although because it’s technically a dental treatment as opposed to orthodontic, insurance may cover more.
Invisalign still requires you to see a doctor in person to pick up aligners and consult a professional. Conservatively estimating that you’ll see the dentist once every 6-8 weeks, Invisalign still requires a ton of in-person visits, which can take a lot of time throughout the duration of treatment.
Here are some major pros of clear aligners in general vs braces:
- They’re not embarrassing or in the way. They’re clear, so people don’t even notice you’re wearing them, unlike braces that are impossible to hide (even the clear ones stick out like a sore thumb).
- You can remove your aligners when you need to (as long as you wear them enough to adjust the teeth). So when you’re going on a date, take them out. You can also take them out to clean your teeth, which is way better than tackling that piece of hot dog stuck in your braces.
- Aligners may be all you need to get similar results to braces. They can fix cosmetic or functional issues like crooked teeth, crowded teeth, spaces or gaps between teeth and other minor alignment problems.
- They work way faster than braces. You can have your new smile in six months or less whereas braces usually take years of discomfort and metal mouth.
So clear aligners definitely have major advantages compared to braces. But these days, there may be an even better option than Invisalign.
The recent emergence of direct-to-consumer clear aligners from companies like Smilelove, Candid and Smile Direct Club is revolutionizing the industry yet again. The main things that sets these brands apart from Invisalign and braces is the lower cost and the convenience.
The cost savings is substantial — typically thousands less than traditional options, and like Invisalign, your dental insurance might even help cover this option, or you might be able to use HSA and FSA accounts to pay for them. Best of all, you don’t have to spend all those hours in the dentist’s chair-staring at the ceiling, an activity most would do almost anything to avoid.
How do clear aligners work to straighten teeth?
Much like braces, Aligners work to gradually shift your teeth into the right placement. They can move crooked teeth and push everything into the right place so your top and bottom teeth are flush when you bite down.
Typically in the form of plastic mouthguards that envelop your teeth, clear aligners need to be worn for over 20 hours a day. They’re initially made to fit your current teeth, and then each subsequent aligner helps guide the movement of your teeth, much like how an orthodontist “tightens” braces to adjust their course.
Every two weeks or so you get a new set of mouthguards that puts slight pressure to slowly move your teeth into a new position. Another similarity to braces: you’re supposed to wear a retainer indefinitely at the end of the process to keep your teeth from moving out of alignment.
Smilelove vs Candid vs SmileDirectClub: Which aligners are best?
On the surface, these three direct-to-consumer clear aligners aren’t so different. Each one sends you aligners in the mail without the need for dentist visits, and the prices are almost identical. They all work in the same way (gently moving your teeth by wearing them for hours every day) within the same general time frame of up to 6 months. All three companies throw in premium teeth whitening as a bonus to make your smile POP at the end of the process.
Considering the similarities, how does one choose where to invest? The answer will come down to the small details, including branding. Ultimately, we think this will be a personal decision based on your own preferences. But we’ve outlined the differences below so you can make the most informed choice. Use this chart to compare Smilelove vs Candid vs Smile Direct Club quickly. (FYI in case you didn’t see the note at the top, Smilelove is no longer in business — use this chart to compare Candid vs SDC)
Best Low-Cost Clear Teeth Aligners
|Cost of Aligners||$1895||$1900||$1895 (minus $100 with code AFF100)|
|Cost of Starter Kit||Free at-home starter kit, or in-person studio visit in Murray, Utah||Free at studio, or $95 for at-home starter kit (minus 65% with code NEWYOU65)||Free at studio, or $49 for at-home starter kit (minus 50% with code AFF100)|
|Cost of Retainer||Included with $1895 bundle||Not specified||$99|
|Time Spent Each Day||22 hours||Not specified||22 hours for regular aligners or 10 hours for nighttime aligners|
|Time Frame of Optimal Results||6 months||6 months||6 months for regular aligners or 10 months for nighttime aligners|
|Refund Policy||Full refund if you don’t like the preview||Full refund if the doctors say you’re not a fit||Full refund within 30 days|
|Review by Professional||Licensed orthodontist||Licensed orthodontist||Licensed dentist or orthodontist|
|Website||Update: Smilelove is no longer in business (as of 7/20). Check out NewSmile (more detail below).|
Low-Cost Teeth Aligner Comparison
They all see pretty similar, right? Let’s take an even closer look at those details to hopefully further distinguish each brand. Since Smilelove is no longer in business, we chose to highlight another brand called NewSmile that, like Smilelove, operates in Canada in addition to the US. And we also review Byte and Candid here in case you want to see how Candid compares to another well-known player.
A Smilelove Alternative: Smile Club's Clear Aligners
Before Smilelove went belly-up, members of their executive team in Canada left to found a rival aligner startup of their own called NewSmile. Building on lessons at Smilelove, NewSmile operates a similar model — teeth aligners in the mail without visiting the orthodontist, but their 4.7/5 stars overall rating indicates that they’ve learned a thing or two about making customers happy.
All-in their aligners costs $1999, and include a free retainer to keep your teeth straight post alignment. Get a bonus by using code TOPFINDEAL for free whitening foam for a month. (Woohoo!)
With so few aligner operating north of the border, NewSmile is a great pick in general, but especially for Canadian shoppers struggling to find other quality options.
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Candid's Invisible Aligners
One of the things that sets Candid apart most is their alternative option to get a free scan in one of their studios located all around the U.S. You can pay $95 to get the at-home starter kit (get 65% OFF here) and do the impression yourself, or schedule a studio visit to get started for free. Up to you.
The main pro of Candid is that they are clear about using a licensed orthodontist to review your impressions and customize your aligners. Orthodontists are the top specialists in tooth and jaw alignment so you’ll get the best expertise here.
SmileDirectClub, on the other hand, may only have a less-specialized dentist review your impression. Like the other treatment providers, the process takes about six months on average, and you’ll wear the aligners most of the time (like 22 hours a day at first).
What’s inside the Candid teeth aligner kit?
The Candid kit comes with a guide, a stretcher, chews, whitening foam, a tool to help remove the devices from your mouth, and, of course, the aligners.
How much do Candid aligners cost?
Candid costs $1,900 (or you can get it financed for $88 per month), it’s price is in line with Smilelove and Smile Direct Club, which are both $1,895. They are much more affordable than traditional teeth aligners like Invisalign, which can cost over $5000. And, Candid’s in-home starter kit is $95 – you can use the code below to save 65% off of that. So overall, the price is reasonable vs the competition like Smile Direct Club.
Teeth Aligners from Smile Direct Club
Having just recently IPO’d, Smile Direct Club is arguably the most established of the three low-cost teeth aligner companies. If you don’t mind waiting longer for your straighter teeth, SmileDirectClub has the option of nighttime aligners worn for 10 hours vs the daytime version that requires 22 hours. Nighttime aligners take up to 10 months to work while the daytime ones work in up to 6 months, but this could be a more convenient option for anyone who craves even greater discretion.
Like Candid, Smile Direct Club can give you a free scan at a studio instead of paying for the starter impression kit, but it does charge extra for the starter kit and the retainer. (You can get 50% OFF impression kits here or book a free SmileShop visit and get $100 off clear aligners with code AFF100.) Ultimately, it’s a brand you can trust that’s loved by thousands of happy customers.
What’s in a Smile Direct Club kit?
The Smile Direct Club kit comes with lip balm (an nice addition!), a stretcher, an aligner remover, whitening pens, a case and the aligners.
Smile Direct Club vs Candid
Both Smile Direct Club and Candid offer at home teeth straightening — but key differences include the cost, how many months it will take to see results and the refund policy. Candid will cost you $88 a month, or $1,900 for the typical treatment, while Smile Direct Club is $85 per month or $1,895. See the chart above for discount codes for both providers.)
As we mentioned earlier, the biggest difference between the two providers is that Candid only uses licensed orthodontists to review and oversee your treatment, while Smile may use a dentist instead of an orthodontist. Whats the difference between a dentist? Well, if you are super interested you can check out what the American Association of Orthodontists has to say, but basically, an orthodontist has specialized training and licenses in moving teeth, which is obviously what you are trying to do when you use one of the services like Candid.
Smilelove vs Smile Direct Club (and other options available in both the US and Canada)
Both have “smile” in their name, but Smilelove and Smile Direct Club have a few key differences. Although Smilelove’s starter aligner kit used to be free, I’m sad to say, the company is no longer in business as of July 2020. Smile Direct Club is still very much in business, however, and will only set you back $49 (less if you use the coupon code in the chart above).
FYI Smilelove used to costs $1,895, but with the deal linked to in the chart above you can save $400. Smile Direct Club starts out at the same price, but the link above will save you $100. Smile Direct Club only offers a refund in the first 30 days, while Smilelove used to offer a full refund if you don’t like the results. Perhaps this guarantee played a part in their downfall…
If you in Canada and looking for an alternative to Smile Direct Club, check out NewSmile. They are a promising startup that offers fully-virtual teeth aligner diagnosis and consultation (no in-person visits) for $1999 (all-in) and their customer are raving about the experience online.
The Verdict: Who offers the best low-cost teeth aligner kit, -- Smile Direct Club, or Candid?
Overall we are firm believers in low-cost, at-home teeth aligners vs traditional treatments. They all promise to help straighten your teeth with less cost and hassle than braces or Invisalign, and we think you’ll enjoy a similarly convenient experience plus a similarly beautiful smile from either Candid or Smile Direct Club.
The chart and overview above can help you figure out the similarities and subtle nuances separating these companies. If you’re keen to try the at-home kit and cost matters most to you, try NewSmile. It’s most similar to now-defunct Smilelove, except with higher quality aligners and better customer service. Otherwise, if you have the time and patience, we recommend going in-person to one of Candid or Smile Direct Club’s studios to take advantage of their free consultations.
If you care most about working with a legitimately licensed and highly-specialized orthodontist, pick Candid. If the idea of straightening your teeth at night while you sleep sounds appealing, go with Smile Direct Club. Either way, it seems unlikely you’ll go wrong.
Let us know about your experience with low-cost teeth aligners in the comment section below, and whether you tried Candid, Smile Direct Club, Smilelove, or another provider altogether. We’d love to hear your feedback! And if you’re curious about other direct-to-consumer dental care companies disrupting, we’ve linked to several other reviews below.