Invisalign vs Online Aligners – What’s the difference?

As far as orthodontic treatment goes, clear aligners are relatively new. 

This popular method for straightening misaligned teeth without relying on brackets and wires has only been available for around 20 years. To put that in perspective, traditional braces were first invented way back in 1819 by French dentist Christophe-Francois Delabarre.

And over the past two decades, Invisalign has cemented itself as the industry leader in clear aligners — but it’s recently faced stiff competition. More and more alternatives have appeared online, tapping into the demands of a busy modern society. Online aligners, such as Smile Direct Club, which launched its clear aligner product in 2014, offer a solution for at-home, do-it-yourself use. 

So, the question is: What’s the difference between Invisalign and online aligners? They both use transparent aligner trays to discreetly move and straighten teeth — they can’t be that different, can they?

In short, the answer is an emphatic “yes!”, and in this short blog post, we explain why. 

Invisalign or online? Clear aligner treatment options laid bare

The best thing about aligners, in general, is the comfort and discretion they offer when compared with traditional braces. So, if you value the subtle look and the ability to remove your aligners to brush your teeth and eat, both Invisalign and online aligners can be considered the same. 

However, when we dig into the respective treatment methods, some key differences become apparent:

Invisalign treatment:

  1. Make an appointment with a specialist orthodontist
  2. Visit the specialist for an initial consultation and assessment
  3. A personalised treatment plan is created based on professionally-taken 3D scans and x-rays
  4. Custom aligners are created specifically for your mouth and treatment goals
  5. Visit the specialist at regular intervals to monitor progress

Online treatment:

  1. An at-home kit is used to create an impression of your teeth
  2. The mould is sent to the online aligner provider
  3. Aligners are created based on the mould and posted to you
  4. Follow the instructions
  5. Check-in remotely with the provider’s dental expert (usually every 3 months)

What are the biggest differences between Invisalign and online aligners?

On the face of it, Invisalign and online aligners are fairly similar, using the same method to exert pressure on your teeth and move them into the desired position. But this method isn’t executed in the same way.

Here’s where they differ:

  • Level of supervision – From day one, you’re supervised by a specialist orthodontist when you choose Invisalign. Everything is in the hands of an expert, from 3D scans, moulds, and monitoring. They will also advise you of any risks that orthodontic treatment might have for you.


With online aligners, meanwhile, you are responsible for much of the treatment’s success. This starts with taking moulds of your teeth and continues with monitoring and progress updates.

Online aligners, however, are used solely to straighten teeth; they don’t correct bites. This is worth keeping in mind if your problems extend beyond mildly misaligned teeth.

  • Investment – Invisalign is the more expensive of the two options, but with good reason. The expert guidance and intervention of a personalised plan mean you can be confident that you’ll achieve the desired results of your treatment. 

Online aligners, on the other hand, are cheaper precisely because there’s no facetime with dental professionals. And this makes self-administered treatment fraught with risk. The lack of face-to-face consultation could result in issues being missed, setting treatment time back and resulting in more money spent over the duration of the treatment. 

Invisalign vs. online aligners — what to choose?

The fact is, when you’re choosing a clear aligner treatment, you need to think about your circumstances and the issue you want to fix with your smile and/or bite. 

Most online aligners are quite clear about their capabilities and limitations, with many focusing purely on the aesthetics of a smile, straightening the visible (front six) teeth. If you want a nicer looking smile without the expense, going online could be an option. 

Invisalign treatment, meanwhile, delves a bit deeper than the cosmetics of your teeth. 

A specialist orthodontist will take a number of factors into consideration before setting you on a particular course of treatment. We’ll address your bite before and after alignment, focusing on how your teeth will move into place. We do this to ensure your enamel isn’t worn down if your bite changes, which could result in cavities and other, more serious, dental problems.

This level of scrutiny and expertise is lacking from the online aligner treatment options, and that’s not the only risk involved.

What are the risks of using an online aligner treatment option?

Going with an online aligner means you’re opting for a DIY solution. Like any at-home product, your results will only be as good as your ability to follow the instructions to the letter.

To kick-off online aligner treatment, you need to take your own impressions of your teeth by biting down on a clay mould, which you then post back to the provider to form your first set of aligners.

But this particular approach puts you at risk of serious side effects if you don’t produce an accurate mould. And with no expert supervision, you could embark on a treatment plan that incorrectly moves your teeth (too much or not enough), causing permanent damage to your teeth, gums and jaw.

And finally there is always a risk of root resorption during orthodontic treatment – the level of risk you may have can only be assessed by a dental professional using x-rays.

Why we recommend Invisalign over online aligners

Some of the more reputable online aligners do work, but in reality, it’s for a small subset of patients who are looking for a simple cosmetic improvement to their smile.

For the rest, Invisalign wins hands down. Thanks to the professionally taken 3D scans, x-rays,  personalised treatment plans, and expert advice and monitoring from start to finish, the results produced by Invisalign’s patented technology are far superior — and safer. 

If you’d like to learn more about how Invisalign can help you achieve the smile you deserve, speak with one of our specialist orthodontists. We can even arrange a virtual consultation during these uncertain times to talk you through the treatment, answer your questions, and develop a plan of action.

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