Can I Afford Clear Aligners As A Teeth Straightening Alternative To Traditional Braces?
If you are considering clear aligners as an alternative to traditional metal braces for you or a family member’s orthodontic needs, at some point in research or information gathering from friends you are going to ask, “how much do clear aligners cost?”’ or “are clear aligners expensive?” For years there was an urban myth that aligners were significantly more expensive than conventional braces. And now with all the direct advertising from manufacturers, you might see an ad for as low at $80 per month. As an orthodontist in practice for more than 12 years, I get these kinds of questions every day. And like many other things in life, the answer really depends on what you are buying. In this brief article I hope to demystify the cost of teeth aligners and give you information that will be helpful during your orthodontic consultation so that you can make the right treatment decision for your needs at a price that works within your budget.
The Benefits of Clear Aligner Therapy
Let’s begin with a brief background on clear aligner treatment. Aligners, which have been around for about 20 years, are nearly invisible custom-manufactured, removable pieces of plastic that patients wear to move teeth incrementally and consistently. They apply gentle forces to move the teeth from their original position to a more optimal, esthetic and functional position. Aligners are very popular because they are a discreet way to align teeth and they can now treat a wide variety of bite issues. Some of these issues include crowding, spacing, overbites, underbites, openbites, crossbites, as well as other issues. Aligners may be difficult to treat severe orthodontic issues, but they can be highly effective for many patients. They are usually worn for 22 hours a day, all day and all night, except when a patient is eating, drinking something other than water, or brushing his or her teeth. Some offices advocate eating while wearing their aligners to help seat the aligners better. At Gire Orthodontics, we recommend removing them while eating to ensure they don’t cause additional issues such as distortion or damage to the plastic. Treatment plans are customized to each patient, so overall treatment duration will vary. Most patients, however, are usually treated in 10-20 months, depending upon the severity of the case.
Know Your Clear Aligner Options
It’s important to know there are different aligner systems available today. This is where it is important to do your research. Several main brands you have likely heard about can be purchased directly from the manufacturer and do not involve any doctor visits. The science behind moving teeth into a more desirable position means you are moving bone and root structures, not just the teeth. This is the reason the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) believes aligner therapy should be done under a guided treatment plan with an orthodontist who has years of education and training. My colleagues and I have, unfortunately, treated too many patients who did not get the smiles they expected with mail-order products.
In addition to different manufacturers who sell direct-to-consumer aligners, there are different aligner manufacturers that sell only to orthodontists, as well. Some doctors do not provide aligner treatment. Some do it exclusively. Some favor one manufacturer’s product over another’s. For years, Invisalign was the only product available but now there are other options with some significant advantages that you should understand. Then you can ask one or more orthodontists what modalities they use and what products.
For example, patients in my practice like the benefits of the Spark™ Clear Aligner System. Spark has been on the global market for several years and the system produces truly beautiful smiles, while offering patients a more discreet option with the clearest material available. The plastic is also resistant to staining, maintaining the clarity that keeps the aligner clear and virtually invisible. My patients also find Spark™ to be more comfortable than the leading aligner treatment because it is made with a softer material and it comes with polished, scalloped edges for more comfortable wear day and night.
Breaking Down the Cost of Aligners vs. Braces
Cost is one of the biggest concerns patients have and rightfully so. What makes things confusing is that each doctor sets his or her own price based on many factors including location, years of experience, and the type of practice they have. Unlike a traditional consumer product, like a new computer or video game console, braces or aligner treatment under a doctor’s care don’t have a fixed price for all patients. Treatment severity, methodology, and materials also impact pricing. So, during one or more orthodontic consultations, ask your doctor/s based on your diagnosis what the best treatment options are and what the costs would be. Only then can you understand the difference in treatments, costs, and possible cost differences between doctors.
The average cost for teeth aligners falls into a similar range as the average cost for braces: $3,500 - $8,000. The median cost for aligner treatment through a doctor is similar to or slightly higher than metal braces.
How to Make Clear Aligner Treatment Affordable
If you base your decision on cost alone, you will certainly find a cheaper alternative with a direct purchase from a manufacturer that eliminates the treatment supervision of a skilled orthodontist. This choice also eliminates the use of attachments (little tooth colored bumps that help guide the teeth correctly) or interproximal reduction (IPR) which ensures optimum esthetics and predictability of the overall case as direct to consumer products are unable to offer these auxiliaries. Mail order aligners also eliminates the ability for a doctor to see if treatment is progressing as planned and to course correct or utilize different or additional treatment solutions as needed. These direct purchases are often advertised at a low cost.
Do note that a significant portion of traditional braces and aligners is usually covered by dental insurance. If you have dental coverage, you should check with your insurer to see what your coverage limits are. Your orthodontist’s office will help you better understand the price you will have to pay out of pocket, after insurance, based on your insurance plan benefits and your recommended treatment plan. So, whether you desire braces or aligners, such as Spark™ clear aligner therapy, most offices will work with you to set up a convenient monthly payment plan spread out over the course of your treatment to make paying for braces or aligners more affordable.
Each of my patients at Gire Orthodontics deserves a beautiful smile and getting that smile can be more achievable than you think with insurance and a comfortable, customized payment plan.
About Dr. Robert Gire
Gire Orthodontics, La Habra & Chino Hills, CA
Ladera Orthodontics, Ladera Ranch, CA
Dr. Robert Gire maintains three private offices in Southern California, Gire Orthodontics of La Habra, Chino Hills, and Ladera Orthodontics in Ladera Ranch. He’s an associate professor at the University of Southern California, Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry in the pre-clinical orthodontic department. He’s a board-certified diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics (ABO).
*The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Robert Gire. Ormco is a medical device manufacturer and does not dispense medical advice. Clinicians should use their own professional judgment in treating their patients.