It’s been about a year since Invisalign’s patent rights have expired, which means you may have noticed a lot more clear aligner companies on the market. If you search alternatives to Invisalign, you’ll see a lot of new companies have been registered recently, to help meet patients’ interest in orthodontic treatments that don’t require metal brackets and wires. Invisalign has held the market for years, and as a result has the greatest number of years of experience providing this highly-valued system. They have over two decades of case reviews and research behind their products, and over 5 million happy customers under their belt. Invisalign may not be the right choice for every patient—but they know what they’re doing.

Many of these newer companies claim to use the same processes and technology that Invisalign uses, and perhaps they do. The most unsettling development, however, is that there are now companies that will send you aligners without going through a dentist. There are several reasons why you shouldn’t do this, even if your misalignment problems aren’t that severe.

You Need a Dentist to Diagnose your Alignment Problems

It doesn’t have to be me, but you should always see a dentist before you start any orthodontic treatment. There are limits to what clear aligners can accomplish, and only face-to-face meeting with a provider allows us to assess your candidacy. Some of these companies will send you clear aligners with only a DIY bite impression to guide them. It’s not rocket science, but doing a bite impression yourself can lead to errors. We also need to see x-rays to see underlying bone beneath the surface.

Having a Dentist/Orthodontist Gives You Accountability

If something should go wrong with your aligners—maybe they don’t fit perfectly, or maybe the edge scrapes against your gums—you want the guarantee of a provider you can easily connect with. With direct-order aligner clubs, you don’t have access to a medical provider to advise you.

You Need an Exam to Make Sure Your Teeth and Gums are Healthy Enough for Treatment

Did you know that gum disease is often referred to as a “silent disease”? This is because some patients will not experience any noticeable symptoms until they start losing gum tissue. The only way to diagnose gum disease is through an exam conducted by a dental professional. If a patient starts clear aligner treatment without getting cleared by a dentist, there’s a chance you could do significant harm to your oral health. If you have untreated tooth decay, wearing aligners may cause it to advance rapidly and do significant structurally damage to the teeth.

Do Your Homework – Research the Companies that Sell Aligners By Mail

I’m not going to name names, but if you search the name of a company that sends aligners by mail, plus the phrase “horror stories” or “negative reviews,” you’re going to see some examples of what can go wrong with this service. Some customers tell stories of never getting their aligners (yet being charged for them) while others share tales of teeth being moved improperly and having to see a dentist to fix the damage. Worse yet, there are many tales of patients calling the customer service hotline and getting the run-around for months on end.

Only a Dentist Can Check Your Progress During Treatment

Another thing you don’t get with direct-order aligners is the benefit of regular face-to-face contact with a professional who understands how orthodontics should work. You don’t have a doctor you can ask “is this normal?” You are essentially left to your own devices and won’t notice if your aligners aren’t moving the teeth properly–until it’s too late. When you have a doctor you see regularly, we can identify whether there is a need for midcourse corrections, and make it happen without delaying or interrupting your treatment timeline.

Ultimately, you want to protect your oral health first. Spending money on aligners that don’t have the same guarantees behind Invisalign may be a waste of your money. The appeal behind direct-to-consumer aligners is their lower cost, but if you wind up damaging your oral health or messing uo

About the Author: Dr. Mickiewicz owns a private practice in Sacramento and lectures across the nation on TMD treatments. He is a diplomate of the American Academy of Pain Management and holds membership in many professional associations for dentistry, sleep medicine, and TMD. In addition, Dr. Mick, as his patients call him, founded Pacific Orofacial Pain Consultants, a team of experts in various disciplines, who tackle the issue of TMD pain and treatment, to help sufferers find relief from chronic pain. To talk with Dr. Mick, call his Sacramento dental office at 916-469-9178.