The Truth About Clear Aligners

If you watch television, read billboards or shop online, odds are that you have seen advertisements for teeth aligners that can straighten your teeth from the comfort of your own home. Marketing messages about these clear aligners suggest that they are a convenient, pain-free and cost-effective alternative to metal braces and an often “invisible” way to gain the perfect smile at a fraction of the cost.

To investigate the truth behind these claims, we reached out to three local orthodontists, who agreed to share the good, the bad and the sometimes crooked truth behind the best way to get straighter teeth.

According to Dr. K. George Elassal of Elassal Orthodontics in Oklahoma City, one of the biggest concerns with ordering teeth aligners online is the lack of a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation before treatment begins.

“Without a proper oral exam, existing adverse conditions will be easily missed,” Dr. Elassal explains. “If a symptom or condition is missed, then later diagnosis and treatment will probably entail a more involved treatment and at a higher cost.” 

The importance of a pre-treatment plan cannot be overstated, according to Dr. Tim Shannon of Norman’s Orthodontics Exclusively. “Without a pre-evaluation, you have no idea who is reviewing or approving your prescribed treatment and there is no routine follow up care to monitor whether teeth are responding favorably or if adverse side effects are occurring.”

But for consumers seeking quick solutions, does the convenience of ordering teeth aligners online offset the risk?

“We live in an ‘on-demand’ society where we can grocery shop from apps on our phone and order anything with the click of a button,” explains Dr. Ryan Streight from Craig & Streight Orthodontics in Norman, Mustang and South OKC/Moore.

“With this shift, there is a push for more efficient, less time-consuming, more affordable options. Teledentistry is an exciting new avenue, but it is our job as health care professionals to find a way to provide the same convenience and affordability, as well as the standard of excellence that we have a duty to perform for our patients,” Dr. Streight says.

“For minor tooth correction, we can often treat patients in two or three office visits, which is similar to the number of trips to scan centers or impression kits that are required in the mail order process. Many of the customer reviews of mail-order companies are filled with complaints about terrible customer service, long wait times and extended treatment times. Spending hours on the phone with a mail-order company is not terribly convenient.”

While many online companies claim to reduce the cost of teeth straightening,  Dr. Shannon says that isn’t actually the bottom line.

“Many people don’t realize that local orthodontists have digital scanners and 3D printing that can provide aligner therapy in office. Basic alignment of the front teeth can be done in many orthodontic offices for the same cost or less as the mail-order companies,” he explains.

And there are more than just the upfront costs that have to be considered when looking at satisfactory orthodontic treatments.

“It is more expensive in the long run to retreat because your objectives were not met, the teeth shifted back toward their original positions or to correct an undiagnosed condition,” Dr. Elassal adds. “Cost is definitely one of the factors to be considered, but the quality and stability of the final result are also extremely important.”

Dr. Streight adds one additional benefit that online providers just can’t replicate.

“Our goal is to be there for you throughout treatment when you need us,” he concludes. “We strive for integrity, kindness, and affordability. Like many of my local colleagues, we stand by our service and are committed to our patients and communities in ways a virtual doctor or online company never could be.”