If you’re considering orthodontic treatment for yourself or your children, it can be tempting to go for the cheapest option– online mail-order aligners.
These appliances provide an alternative to state-of-the-art Invisalign treatment and cost less because the direct-to-consumer process minimises involvement by a dentist.
For instance, SmileDirectClub (SDC) charges just under £1,500 for its aligners, while Invisalign orthodontics can cost £3,250 to over £4,250 and is highly unlikely to be available on the NHS.
Critics of the SDC system say orthodontics is a combination of science and art requiring expert clinical attention from a dentist in person. However, SmileDirectClub claims dentists are misleading the public to keep the cost of orthodontic therapy artificially high.
So, let’s look in a little more depth at how the SmileDirectClub and Invisalign solutions work and why dental health experts insist that Invisalign is the better option.
A popular alternative to fixed metal braces, Invisalign hi-techcustom-crafted aligners can address multiple simple and more complex orthodontic problems, including crowded, crookedand gapped teeth, and bite irregularities.
Dental professionals use a special 3D digital scanner and virtual modelling software that produces a series of clear plastic aligner trays, with each set being worn 20 to 22 hours a day for one to two weeks.
Treatment progress is monitored by regular visits to your dentist.
SmileDirectClub customers get a kit to take an impression of their teeth at home, or they can get a 3D scan in a SmileShop.
The bite cast is then reviewed online by a dentist and a series of customised 3D-printed plastic aligners is delivered by post – one set each month for about five months, to be worn at least 10 hours a night.
The system is designed for minor teeth straightening – not re-positioning teeth or improving bite function.
SDC says patients are guided throughout the whole process, and that in complex cases they will be advised to see a dentist directly.
A leading player in direct-to-consumer orthodontics, SmileDirectClub was founded in 2014 in the USA, in Nashville, Tennessee. It expanded its operations to the UK in 2019, having provided mail-order aligners for more than 650,000 American adults and children aged 12-plus.
As the company originated in the USA, it makes sense to see what dental health experts in America are saying about it.
The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) issued a consumer alert about mail-order orthodontic businesses like SmileDirectClub, saying that DIY dental treatment can result in lasting damage.
The country’s biggest dental organisation, the American Dental Association (ADA), also proclaimed a formal resolution against do-it-yourself orthodontics, warning of the potential harm to patients.
SmileDirectClub – which disputes that its aligners are a “do-it-yourself” treatment – has taken legal action against orthodontists and other dentists in the US over “disparaging and false comments” about its mail-order aligners.
In 2016, the USA-based global medical appliance company that makes Invisalign aligners – Align Technology – bought nearly 20 per cent of SmileDirectClub and now makes other types of aligners for SDC.
The connection between the businesses came under the spotlight on the DentistryIQ platform for dental professionals in 2017 when Chris Salierno, chief editor of Dental Economics Magazine and a Doctor of Dental Surgery, referred to concerns of dentists about “DIY dentistry”.
The British Dental Association (BDA), the professional organisation representing more than 20,000 UK dentists, has warned against the SmileDirectClub type of online dentistry, stressing that a face-to-face consultation is crucial if you’re thinking about having orthodontic treatment.
The BDA says a dentist with orthodontic training and experience can advise you on the different types of orthodontic appliances available and their advantages and risks.
BDA vice-chairman Eddie Crouch told The Daily Mail that an experienced clinician was essential for orthodontic treatment to be monitored properly and ensure any problems were fixed. If treatment wasn’t supervised over time, there was a risk of “permanent damage to dental health”.
SmileDirectClub says it broadens access to safe, affordable and convenient teeth-straightening through dentist-directed remote orthodontic therapy.
The company says customers can consult with a dentist remotely to check on how their aligners are working, and a 24-hour call centre is available in the event of urgent issues.
The main concern of dental health experts about teledentistry systems like SmileDirectClub is the lack of face-to-face interaction with a dental professional.
If a quick fix of minor orthodontic issues at a low cost is the only factor, SmileDirectClub may be right for you.
However, you may come to the same conclusion as dental health experts in the US and UK that Invisalign is better than SmileDirectClub if you’re more focused on:
A personal Invisalign trained dentist or Orthodontist will consider your dental history and be able to discuss any concerns you might have before and during treatment.
Your regular visits during treatment will also allow your dentist to assess your progress and tweak your treatment plan if necessary.
Your invisalign trained dentist or orthodontist can also help you with post-treatment options, such as composite bonding, veneers or tooth whitening as straightening your teeth should be part of a wholistic plan to improve your smile. They can also advise you on how to maintain your smile after orthodontic therapy through preventive dentistry such as regular check-ups and professional cleanings.