Align Technology, the publicly traded company behind Invisalign, first created clear tooth aligners in the 1990s as an alternative to metallic orthodontic appliances. It sells its aligners through dentists and orthodontists, which has helped it reach more than 6 million customers over the past two decades. Headquartered in Tempe, Arizona; Align Technology manufactures aligners in Juarez, Mexico, and scanners in Israel and China. Invisalign is the most popular clear aligner company, but it's not the only one.
Its direct competitor, ClearCorrect, manufactures plastic aligners with a thinner material. Both constructions are FDA-approved, BPA- and phthalate-free. Dental school clinics offer an affordable alternative for patients who don't have orthodontic coverage or who can't afford Invisalign, even with dental insurance. Prices are significantly lower in these clinics, compared to private dental offices. Invisalign aligners were the first of their kind to hit the market more than 20 years ago.
At that time, they have continually led the field of innovative and almost invisible orthodontic care. Recently, new brands have emerged that offer direct-to-consumer clear aligners, which are mailed to the customer at home and do not require them to see a licensed orthodontist in the office. X-rays are a necessary part of orthodontic treatment, so to purchase x-rays, mail-order aligner companies have customers pay out-of-pocket for x-rays at their dentist's office, at a different cost than clear aligner treatment. Conversely, because mail-order aligner brands do not offer direct supervision by a licensed orthodontist or office visits, and because of frequent consumer complaints about the effectiveness of treatment, your insurance provider may refuse coverage or cover a smaller portion of the same. Mail-order aligners do not have access to this technology, so they are based on generic plastic, which can affect the effectiveness of the results. They can boast that their aligners are made with BPA-free plastic, but all aligner plastics are BPA free, regardless of brand.
Mail-order aligners are limited in orthodontic conditions treatable with your aligners. Without the direct supervision of an orthodontist, they can only treat mild to moderate cases in which the teeth do not require complex movements. Mail order aligners are also not allowed to use attachments, small fasteners that attach to certain teeth to give the aligners a better grip. Invisalign accessories help align even complex cases, but without them, mail order aligners have limited effectiveness. Therefore, treatment with Invisalign can solve many more types of cases, as well as more serious cases, than mail-order clear aligners.
While many mail-order aligner brands boast results in 6 months, this isn't necessarily the case. Only mild to moderate conditions can be corrected within 6 months; more complex conditions may require a longer treatment time. Without the direct supervision of a licensed orthodontist, it can be difficult to assess how long a case may take to finish treatment. If problems arise, they may not be noticed at first, which can lead to delays in treatment or, in some cases, damage to the teeth. Mail-order brands market their aligner treatment saying “results in 6 months”. But this is only true in some cases; more complex cases will take more than 6 months and may require many more aligners than included in the original price.
The Invisalign treatment can achieve results in 6 months but it also treats complex cases faster by using newer patented technology and optimized for precision movement and effective results. In addition, mild cases could be treated faster than 6 months with Invisalign therapy or braces. Mail-order aligners can treat fewer types of dental conditions; rely on older technology; and cover less the cost of treatment than Invisalign therapy. Many consumers have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau about their mail-order aligner treatment after it was unable to straighten their teeth or in some cases permanently damage them. The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), the American Dental Association (ADA), and most orthodontists recommend treatment with Invisalign instead of mail-order aligners; and the AAO has even issued a warning against the use of these at-home treatments that do not offer medical supervision direct. Invisalign is a series of clear aligners that provide precise forces that sequentially move teeth to predetermined positions. Insurance plans may cover part or all of your Invisalign treatment costs depending on your plan's coverage. Invisalign aligners are manufactured in Mexico and treatment plans are created in Costa Rica.
Finally insurance options are limited for mail-order aligners (a small reimbursement if any) while in office Invisalign treatment is more likely to be covered in advance and a larger portion will be covered as you see a licensed doctor during your office visit. You deposit money into the account and can use it to cover certain medical dental and orthodontic costs including Invisalign clear aligners. Some plans only cover treatment with Invisalign or braces for children age 19 and younger and most providers set a lifetime maximum amount. However the bottom line is that Invisalign is just another tool that a doctor can use to straighten teeth. For results you can rely on and the technology that offers them it is best to go to a licensed orthodontist.