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Braces vs. Invisalign: 2021 Complete Guide

Braces vs. Invisalign – everywhere you look there’s a different take on the debate. So, what’s the truth? And which one is right for you? 

It can be challenging to decipher what’s real and what’s biased when it comes to info online about Invisalign or braces. With so many varying opinions and options out there, it’s tough to be sure you’re making the best decision for your smile. It’s hard to find information you can trust, so we want to help. 

We’re a local metropolitan Phoenix orthodontic practice that has been helping patients get (and keep!) their winning smiles for over 25 years. Many places that write about the pros and cons of Invisalign or braces have little experience with either, and they don’t offer both to patients – but we do. 

We help each one of our patients through the decision process to find the option that’s best for them. Today, we want to do the same for you. 

So, here is your 2021 Guide to Braces vs. Invisalign. 

Get the answers to everything you need to know about Invisalign and Braces to feel confident about your treatment. When you finish, you’ll have the info you need to make a confident decision about your treatment.

BRACESINVISALIGN
CostBased on complexity + expertise: $1,800 – $8,000. Typical Quality Treatment: $6,000 – $7,000Based on complexity + expertise: $2,000 – $8,500.
Typical Quality Treatment: $6,000 – $7,000
Insurance CoverageYes, if you have orthodontic coverage (On average, $1000)Yes, if you have orthodontic coverage (On average, $1000)
Final ResultsCapable of great resultsCapable of great results
Case ComplexityEssentially any case, regardless of complexityEssentially any case, if the doctor is experienced, regardless of complexity
Treatment Length12-20 months (at Dickerson Orthodontics). 24 months (industry average)12-20 months (at Dickerson Orthodontics). 24 months (industry average)
Start TimeCan be in the same appointment as you say ‘yes’6-8 weeks after you say ‘yes’
RemovabilityNot removableRemovable
ComplianceEasy to comply automatically (braces are always working)Up to you to comply (Invisalign is completely removable)
AppointmentsVaries by doctor. 15 or fewer at Dickerson Orthodontics. Industry average = 22 apptsVaries by doctor. Usually a couple less than the 15 or fewer appointments you’d have if you chose braces
In-Person Expert OversightRequired regularlyLess essential – can do Invisalign appointments virtually when necessary
DiscomfortMild discomfort after appointmentsMild discomfort with each new aligner
AppearanceCan be more discreet than braces used to be, but still visibleEssentially invisible at normal conversational distances
HygieneExtra care required – requires special effort to brush + flossSimple – normal brushing and flossing routine
Food/Drink LimitationsAvoid hard and sticky foodsNo limitations
Other Benefits** Continual progress because they’re never removed.
** Multiple types of braces to fit your needs.
** Braces can be clear
** Good for patients who clinch, grind, or have TMJ.
** More professional looking for working adults.
** You can whiten teeth during treatment.
Good Fit For** Patients who want to start right away.
** Kids + teens.
** If you don’t have all your adult teeth.
** Patients who want the fewest appointments.
** Adults + responsible kids.
** Precision + minor cases.
** If appearance is important to you.
braces-vs-invisalign

Why offer both Braces and Invisalign?

There are times when braces are the best fit for a patient.If you want to see the changes fast, braces are usually the way to go. 

Other times, Invisalign is best. If compliance is easy for you, or you prefer a treatment option that is removable and won’t limit what you can eat or drink, Invisalign is ideal. Appointments with Invisalign are also less frequent and much more flexible. We often even have virtual appointments with our Invisalign patients when in-person isn’t possible. 

We believe that everyone ought to own a winning smile, and so that’s why we offer both braces and Invisalign to our patients as treatment options. During your initial free consultation, we’ll talk with you and understand your situation and help you determine which treatment – braces or Invisalign – is the right fit for you.

Braces are right for you if…

Ok, so how do you know if braces are right for you? The only complete answer is from a doctor who has seen your smile. Be skeptical of anyone that gives you an answer before seeing your teeth, and watch out for anyone who places you in a predetermined treatment category just based on a few general questions. 

But there are some characteristics that are generally true for people who are a great fit for braces. Here they are.

Time is of the essence

If you want to start treatment right away for whatever reason, braces might be the right fit. It can take up to 6-8 weeks for us to get Invisalign aligners back after your free initial consultation (usually it’s closer to 6 weeks). 

Often, we can be putting on braces in the very same appointment as your initial consult. So from the moment you say ‘yes’ to treatment with us, braces can get you started about 6-8 weeks faster than your Invisalign treatment would be ready to begin.

Compliance is a concern

Mom and dad, this might be a big one for your kids and teens. Let’s be honest, we’d all rather have a perfect smile without putting in the work or having any extra to-dos. 

As much as your kids may not love the idea of braces, what they will love is being done sooner.  The number one thing that drags out the treatment length for our patients is compliance and not following our recommendations. 

Braces make compliance easy in many respects. You can’t take them out and they are always at work improving your smile, 24/7.  By making compliance easy, it really reduces the risk of longer treatment time. It’s great for your kids – who get their winning smile faster – and it usually costs a little less than aligners, too.

Budgets are tight

You might be surprised to hear that there’s not nearly as big a difference in cost for Invisalign vs. braces as many people believe. Today, braces and Invisalign are very comparable in price for most cases. 

But – braces can be a little bit cheaper overall after factoring in lab fees for Invisalign. And for some families, a little bit cheaper can make a big difference. 

Find an orthodontist who will give you clear answers to your cost questions, and a specific price. Even better if they give you a price for both Invisalign and braces so you can compare for yourself. Generally speaking, braces are usually a better fit for tight budgets, but make sure you verify that for yourself. It’s worth it.

Invisalign is right for you if…

Now for Invisalign. 

It’s worth repeating: the only complete answer is from a doctor who’s seen your smile. The very best thing you can do is find a doctor you trust, have them look at your teeth, and hear their honest opinion. 

If you don’t have an orthodontist in mind, you can sign up to get a free consultation with us. No catches. No surprises. We’ll give you the honest truth about what’s the best fit for you. 

Here are some of the general characteristics that are often true of people who are a great fit for Invisalign.

Fewer appointments, more flexibility

Appointments with Invisalign are a little less frequent and much more flexible. For any patients that are frequently out of town or live out of state, we even do Invisalign appointments virtually. If you travel a lot or know that you have significant travel during your treatment, this may make Invisalign a great fit for you. 

To give you an idea of the total number of appointments you might have, we’ll share our approach to appointments at Dickerson Orthodontics. We start most of our patients off with a treatment goal of 1-2 years. That’s significantly faster than what you’ll see on average with other orthodontists (more here). But nevermind that for now. 

During that 1-2 years of treatment, a braces patient at Dickerson Orthodontics will have 15 or fewer appointments total. Again, that’s significantly less than the industry average of 24. For Invisalign, it is often a couple more appointments less than whatever your braces total would be. Fewer appointments and more flexibility all without sacrificing faster results for your smile.

For clinching, grinding, or TMJ

If you’re a clincher, grinder, or experience TMJ, then Invisalign is often the better choice for you. The aligners naturally work as a comfortable prevention and protection measure in your mouth. Another advantage to wearing your Invisalign as much as possible. 

Precision and/or minor cases

Invisalign makes it easier than braces to do fine-precision tuning because each aligner is predetermined into very specific placements. Braces, on the other hand, rely more on tweaking and seeing where things are; adjusting as you go. If you’re looking for a perfected smile or simply have a very minor case, this may make Invisalign or one of the other aligners from us a good fit for your needs. 

Appearance and convenience

This is the attribute of Invisalign that gets a lot of press, and rightfully so. Invisalign aligners are nearly impossible to see at normal conversation distances – a huge asset for many working professionals over the much more obvious appearance of braces. 

For some professionals, this is even a requirement – think actors, models, and other similar professions. In these cases, Invisalign is a much better fit. 

For others, the convenience of Invisalign has more to do with how little you have to adjust to your daily life during treatment. Invisalign is completely removable, so there are no limitations on what you can eat and drink like there are with braces. 

You can keep your normal diet and keep on drinking your morning coffee/tea, or evening wine without any fear of staining your aligners. It’s a very nice advantage to going with Invisalign for treatment.

Braces vs. Invisalign: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Now that you have a handle on the general reasons why braces or Invisalign might be the best fit for you, we’re going to give you another tool to go in your arsenal.  Here is a side-by-side comparison of all the major factors that patients tell us play a big role in their treatment decisions. 

Read on and see exactly how braces and Invisalign stack up against each other for each factor.

Cost + Insurance

Generally speaking, the cost of Invisalign and braces is actually quite comparable. In the earlier days of Invisalign, the price differential between the two was much more significant than it is today. It used to be that Invisalign was truly in a pricing tier well above braces.

Now, it’s more accurate to describe them as being in the same tier – Invisalign costs are just a little more in many cases. After factoring in lab fees for Invisalign, braces can often come out to be a little cheaper overall.

If you have orthodontic coverage through your insurance, it will pay out the same for both braces and Invisalign. In the United States, the average insurance coverage is about $1000. Some people might get up to $1500, but that is rarer. (Sadly, the amount insurance covers hasn’t changed at all since 1970.)

Advantage: Braces

While we’re talking cost, here’s a pro tip for you: the best way to save on costs isn’t by choosing braces. That may save you a little, but it’s going to be a marginal difference for most people. There’s a way you can save a lot more on your treatment, and most orthodontists won’t ever mention it to you. 

Here it is: choose an orthodontist who is committed to reducing your number of appointments and increasing how fast you finish treatment with the same great smile.

The faster you finish treatment, the fewer appointments you’ll need. And the fewer appointments you’ll need, the less costly it’ll be for you. Each extra appointment costs you money and time. The more appointments, the more school and work that is missed, and that costs you money. 

Also – the longer a person is in treatment, the greater the chance of white spots developing on teeth. So faster treatment is better and more cost-effective.

Our recommendation – avoid all the noise around the cost of braces vs. Invisalign and find an orthodontist who can get you a winning smile simpler and faster.

Results + Type of Cases

For most people, the top two factors in their decision between Invisalign and braces are costs and results, in some order. That’s a pretty key top two if you ask us. So now that we’ve covered costs, let’s talk about results.

Braces are the tried and true method here. It’s been around much longer than Invisalign and we know exactly the great results it can achieve. 

Invisalign is capable of great results, too. That’s never been a question. And its capabilities have even grown over time as the technology continues to improve. The question has been more about what kind of complexity Invisalign can handle. 

10 years ago, if you would’ve asked us which has the advantage when it comes to complex cases, we would’ve said the answer is clearly braces. Today, Invisalign is capable of delivering great results in essentially any case, regardless of complexity. 

Some doctors would even say that there are some types of cases Invisalign is better at than braces even. We typically find the best fit between the two varies from patient to patient. We’ll make sure you find the treatment that is best for your case.

Advantage: Tie

Treatment Time

This one is a little tricky. When you look online at other guides, you’ll either find a lot of conflicting time frames or really big ranges – or both. These sources aren’t lying to you, this is a complex question to answer. It is more so that they just aren’t being very helpful.

There are two big reasons treatment time is such a challenging factor to nail down clearly. 

The first is that a large part of treatment length is determined by patient compliance and following doctor recommendations. As you could imagine, there’s a large range of compliance when it comes to treatment – both for braces and Invisalign. It’s much easier in many ways to comply automatically with braces, so they get the advantage here over Invisalign.

The second reason – treatment length varies dramatically from doctor to doctor. Some patients assume that braces and Invisalign both have a one-size-fits-all type of process, but they don’t. 

Here’s an example. The average treatment length in the United States today is 24 months (or 2 years). That’s the average, so there are many cases that go much longer than that. 

In comparison, we start nearly all of our patients out with a goal of finishing treatment in 1-2 years. So 22-24 months is the longest we want to see a treatment go. 

Many of our patients finish in closer to 12 months – just 1 year. That’s half the time of the average orthodontic case in the United States. That’s a big difference. 

If we were to just put that information in a table, or give you a big range, you’d find it at best to be not very helpful. Most braces vs. Invisalign guides online don’t take the time to explain this to you. Find a doctor who does.

So, which one is faster?

Invisalign can be quite a bit faster in particular cases – mostly dealing with minor movements or precision cases. The longer your treatment plan requires to reach your winning smile, the more Invisalign has a speed advantage there as well. 

There is one catch, though. From the moment you say ‘yes’ to treatment, it may take 6-8 weeks for us to get your Invisalign back from the lab so you can start treatment. (One benefit to the wait at Dickerson Orthodontics is that while waiting for your aligners, we will whiten your teeth.)

So, while Invisalign is faster in many cases from the moment you actually start treatment, braces can be faster overall from the moment you say ‘yes’ for standard length cases. If time is of the essence to you, ask your doctor specifically about the treatment length in your case.

Advantage: Invisalign, probably, but it might be different for you

(Also, this is assuming in both cases that you are compliant with braces, wear your Invisalign aligners, maintain good hygiene, and follow your doctor’s recommendations. Compliance has a huge impact on treatment length.)

Number of Appointments

Here again, you might see a wide range of answers to this question online. 

We start most of our patients off with a treatment goal of 1-2 years. That’s significantly faster than what you’ll see on average with other orthodontists. You can read more about that here

During that 1-2 years of treatment, a braces patient at Dickerson Orthodontics will have 15 or fewer appointments total. Again, less than the industry average. For Invisalign patients, it is another several appointments fewer than whatever your braces total would be. So Invisalign gets the advantage when it comes to the number of appointments. 

But at Dickerson Orthodontics, you are the real winner regardless of whether you go with braces or Invisalign. You enjoy far fewer appointments than you would at most other practices. It’s a win-win either way.

Dr. Dickerson is a leading voice around the world on how orthodontists can be more appointment efficient while still providing the best care possible. Our appointment estimates are proven and reliably deliver great results. 

Advantage: Invisalign

Discomfort During Treatment

How much discomfort will I feel? We hear this question a lot during initial consults (initial consults are free at Dickerson Orthodontics).

The truest answer is that it varies from person to person. We know, we know…that’s not very helpful! But first and foremost, we’re here to give you the truth. We want you to be armed with what’s real so that you can make the very best decision for your smile. 

The force on your teeth from braces at the start of treatment can be more intense for some people than what you would feel with Invisalign at the same stage. Others find that Invisalign is a longer-lasting, though very minor, discomfort. 

As treatment progresses, most patients report the discomfort to be only mild and concentrated. For braces the mild discomfort happens after each appointment, and for Invisalign it’s each time you switch aligners. In both cases, the discomfort isn’t debilitating.

With braces, there is a risk of irritation from wires or the metal brackets. In nearly all cases we can eliminate the cause of irritation very quickly. Also, these are rare circumstances for our patients. If you are experiencing irritation, give us a call and we’ll work with you to get your issue solved. 

For Invisalign, the risk here is that Invisalign is removable. Even very mild pain might tempt a patient to remove their aligners for some relief from the temporary discomfort.  That’s exactly what you shouldn’t do. 

Yes, it’d be much more ideal if we could get you a winning smile without any discomfort, but the discomfort actually means your treatment is working. Your winning smile is on the way. Removing your aligners to relieve the little bits of pain slows down that progress, lengthens treatment, and increases your costs.

At Dickerson Orthodontics, we use tools and proven technology to minimize your discomfort as much as possible. For most people, the pain difference is relatively negligible between Invisalign and braces.

Advantage: Tie, for most cases

Appearance + Impact on Daily Life

This is where Invisalign’s clear design and removability create a big advantage. (Though it might not be quite as drastic as you think.) Let’s unpack it.

Here’s what you get with Invisalign:

  • Discreet clear aligners, much less prominent than braces
  • Virtually invisible at normal conversational distances
  • Completely removable for certain foods + drinks
  • Absolutely no limitations on what you can eat + drink
  • Normal brushing + flossing – no extra difficulty

And braces? Actually, braces can be clear and discreet, too. They’ve come a long way since the braces of the 90s and early 2000s. They’ve improved by leaps and bounds from where braces used to be. 

For patients where appearance is a major factor in their decision, though, Invisalign still gets a major edge. Braces still have the same brackets and wires as always. While the brackets can be way more discreet than they used to be, they’re still there and can’t be removed. 

Add it up and the convenience, freedom, and ease of hygiene that you get with Invisalign is simply impossible for braces. 

Advantage: Invisalign

Conclusion: Braces vs. Invisalign

Now you’re ready to make the decision for yourself. What’s right for you? Braces or Invisalign? With the information in this guide, you’ve got what you need to find the right orthodontist and make the decision that’s best for your smile. 

If you’re ready to own your winning smile, get your free consultation with us at Dickerson Orthodontics. We have multiple offices in the metro Phoenix area to make it as convenient for you as possible. Choose from the location that’s best for you – Phoenix/Paradise Valley, Peoria/Glendale, Scottsdale, or Chandler. 

We believe that everyone deserves a winning smile, and we’d be honored to help you get yours today.