A woman with pink braces on the left side of the image compared to aligners on a table top on the right side of the image.

Braces Cost vs Invisalign Cost: Which is Cheaper? | Orthodontic Comparison

Braces Cost vs Invisalign Cost: Which is Cheaper? | Orthodontic Comparison

Is there a cost difference between braces and Invisalign

Are you interested in braces or Invisalign but want to know which is cheaper? There can be a lot of variability on price between orthodontic practices, but there are also many similarities. In this article, we discuss the cost differences between braces and aligners (such as Invisalign), why costs might be different between dental offices, and why costs for aligners are slightly cheaper than costs for braces at our practice. We also share some helpful tips in deciding which office to finally settle on based on the cost for your orthodontic treatment.

Which is cheaper? Braces or Invisalign?

All things being the same, the purchase price of aligners is maybe slightly less than the cost for standard braces. The problem is, not all things are the same! Some aligner systems are cheaper or more expensive than others and some braces are cheaper or more expensive than others, so individual differences and preferences will vary. There is not one set cost for braces versus aligners that all orthodontists charge, but by and large, costs are similar if not slightly less for aligners.

Why cost is so difficult

Every office is unique and every office has different price structures and fees. Some offices charge for aligners as a set fee that every patient pays no matter how many aligner trays they may need. Other offices may charge every patient differently because each patient pays based on how many aligners they need for treatment. Some offices have their own in-house insurance, so they may spread the cost around in various ways to give different cost benefits for braces to their patients. Cost really is extremely variable based on the individual orthodontic practice.

Why cost can be sneaky

Some offices choose to see patients in the office less frequently for aligners. Less appointments — which means less oversight — is frequently stated as an advantage of aligners since it often decreases costs for the patient. It is also seen as more convenient for both the patient and the doctor. Unfortunately, if treatment goes off track with aligners, the money saved on fewer appointments often results in even higher costs to fix the issue than it would have been with originally going with braces for treatment. This is not uncommon and can be seen in the comments and reviews of aligner patients at other dental offices. We also get a lot of patients coming in from other practices complaining of increased costs for their aligners not working even though they went to every appointment and wore the trays as instructed.

When it comes to appointments and cost, many offices offer aligners with a similar number of appointments as would be the case for braces. The reason for this is to ensure your aligners are on track to avoid surprise costs. More appointments may be less convenient and slightly more expensive, bringing the aligner cost closer to that of standard braces, but over the long run an office that offers more oversight for aligner treatment is often much cheaper than taking a risk and possibly paying more for treatment if less oversight does not go as expected.

Ultimately, there are simply so many factors that determine cost for aligners or braces that it is nearly impossible to give a hard and fast answer to which is cheaper for everyone. What we can say is that in our practice, our costs are close to the same and sometimes less for aligners depending on how many aligner trays may be needed versus the cost of braces. As an example, if you need less than ten aligners to complete your treatment, full treatment with aligners would be cheaper than full treatment with braces at our practice.

Why different practices have different costs

This has a short answer and a long answer. In short, every office has their own treatment philosophy and they all have their own motivations. Think of orthodontists and the dental industry as any other profession or industry. Some orthodontists may want a really big high volume practice. Others may want a smaller lower volume practice that focuses on knowing and treating their patients more personally. In both cases, each orthodontist has very different personal motivations and desires.

If you are interested in the longer answer, to better understand the difference between an aligner system (such as Invisalign or Clear Correct) and the use of braces, (either traditional or the paradigm changing Skarin System), it is important to recognize what goes into the creation of both braces and aligners, how they are implemented, what time and effort is involved by doctor and staff, and what kind of overhead is entailed in rendering the treatment. By going into these details below, we hope you feel more comfortable with the fees that are charged for whatever treatment you decide on!

How the price for aligners is determined

In offices that prioritize the bottom line, efficiency and maximizing the number of patients that can be seen in the least amount of time is seen as one of the most important factors. These types of practices often heavily push for aligners as aligners require less time for the doctor to implement than braces. In these practices, aligners are often touted as superior to braces without discussing all the intricacies of other options and why they may be a better option or result for the patient. These practices also often tout more convenience and far fewer appointments, which also means more appointment openings for the orthodontist to see more patients due to less overhead per patient.

Some orthodontists create their own aligners, but most use aligner services, such as Invisalign. These services have lab fees that are a set cost for the aligner company to create a series of aligner trays. These fees are variable based on how many trays a patient needs to complete treatment. Frequently, up to 10 sets of upper and lower trays is the lowest fee to the office, up to 20 sets is the next fee tier, and unlimited number is the third with the highest fee. The unlimited tier usually covers compliance and off-track failures, even if it requires new scans or impressions to be sent in to to the aligner company finish the remaining correction. The unlimited tier of trays is the most expensive option, oftentimes even more expensive than braces.

When getting a fee quote from other offices, we suggest that you ask what the costs are for each tier up-front. Based on the tier, you know that needing more trays means your treatment is more difficult and more costly to treat as a result. If you need a lot of aligners trays, you might consider comparing the price to what it would be for braces.

How the price for braces is determined

Compared to aligners, braces are a bit more straightforward since braces treatment is rendered all by the orthodontist and not by a company. In comparison, aligners require a treatment relationship between both the orthodontist and the aligner company. At our offices, the price for braces is determined by how difficult the case is to treat. The more difficult the case, the more expensive it will be. We believe this is the best way to be fair to everyone.

Other offices may charge quite a bit more regardless of difficulty across the board. This can be more economical for more difficult patients and less economical for cases that are easier to treat. If you decide for lingual braces or clear aesthetic braces, the cost will increase for those braces options simply because those options are more labor intensive and/or require more specialized materials.

How Invisalign charges doctors

Another aspect that can impact your cost for orthodontic treatment could be the office that is providing the treatment. You will see offices that proclaim they are a "platinum" or “gold" provider of that particular aligner system. This indicates that not only are they treating many cases and could justifiably be expected to treat cases with a higher level of expertise, but they are also receiving incentive-related compensations from the company by being a "preferred" provider. This may or may not result in lower fees for you as a patient as a result of the favorable incentives provided to the doctor, but it would not hurt to ask.

How we charge patients for Invisalign

Every office has their own ways of assessing price. Some offices keep the lab fee costs to the doctor private and then adjust prices for the patient based on however the orthodontist wants to assess their fee packages. We do things differently. For us, we assess cost based on the lab fees that Invisalign gives us, which is based on the number of trays you require. We want to be transparent with what the costs are to you.

Being fair to our patients

One of the main reasons aligner cases get off track and require further intervention and involvement and in many cases, increased cost, is that the process actually requires close monitoring. As a patient, we believe close monitoring should be included in the cost of treatment. Giving the patient a box of 20 or more aligners, telling the patient to change them out every week to speed up the treatment or every two weeks as suggested and come back in four months for a check-in is asking for problems. In our office, to make sure treatment stays on track, we only give out two sets of trays at a time and the patient needs to check in every four weeks to determine if the last tray worn fits exactly right. If not, the patient will not proceed to the next set until the teeth fit the tray ideally, otherwise figure on every successive tray fitting less well than the predecessor. While the increased oversight may seem less convenient, we find the patients that choose our practice appreciate knowing everything is on track and done in a way that has a lower risk of surprise costs down the road.

It is our hope that the information provided will help you determine the relative importance of the many variables involved in determining what is an acceptable cost for both braces or aligners. Regardless of whether or not you choose Skarin Orthodontics for you or your family, we hope you find this article helpful for giving you the confidence to find the right cost and the right course of treatment for you and your family’s dental care.

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