I Never Wore My Retainer After I Had Braces (Oops), but These Teeth Aligners Saved My Smile

POPSUGAR Photography | Christina Stiehl
POPSUGAR Photography | Christina Stiehl

  • At-home teeth-straightening aligners have grown in popularity this year.
  • Smile Direct Club offers impression kits and custom aligners straight to your door.
  • One editor tried Smile Direct Club for her minor cross bite and overcrowded teeth.

Although I'd like to think I was a precocious child, I always had immature teeth. I didn't lose my first tooth until second grade, and I still had baby teeth in middle school. In fact, I had to get eight baby teeth pulled at the same time in eighth grade (holy novocaine) to make room for permanent teeth to come in so I could get braces.

Well, my permanent teeth didn't fully grow in until well into high school, and since my mouth was a little too small for my teeth, I had a lot of crowding and a cross bite. I didn't get braces until my freshman year of college, and two-plus years of traditional metal braces, brackets, and wires was enough to be traumatizing to any blossoming young adult. When I finally got them off the summer before my senior year of college, I was so relieved to finally have a straight smile and be a normal college kid for once that I ignored my orthodontist's plea to wear a retainer. I was finally free! Until, surprise surprise, my teeth shifted a few years later.

Although my top teeth were in pretty good shape, my bottom teeth had so much crowding that many teeth overlapped and jutted out. Plus, I had an overbite. I had become so self-conscious about it, I started to close-mouth smile in photos. So when I got the opportunity to try Smile Direct Club's clear aligners, I was intrigued. Could little plastic trays really fix my crooked teeth? I had gotten my braces off more than 10 years prior, and I wasn't sure a few months with aligners could fix the damage that was already done. Luckily, in less than a year, I have seen a massive improvement in my smile. Keep reading to see my full review and the before-and-after photos — plus answers to how much it costs and more — for yourself.

Smile Direct Club: Before Photos

POPSUGAR Photography | Christina Stiehl

As you can see from the before photos, my bottom teeth were all kinds of crooked. To get started with Smile Direct Club, I visited a SmileShop, where they performed a 3D scan of my smile using a wand. Although this method was much easier and less messy, if you don't live near a Smile Direct Club SmileShop, you can do an at-home impression kit (the impression kit is $59 to order and free with return). The 3D scan is free, and the technician can often tell right away if Smile Direct Club is something that will work for you — as someone who had previously had traditional braces but experienced shifting after, I was a good candidate. The scan only takes a few minutes, and afterward, one of the Smile Direct Club dentists looks at your impressions and maps out a treatment plan for you using the aligners.

In a couple days, I got an update that my plan was ready, and in my Smile Direct Club portal, I could see a 3D plan mapped out of what my new smile would look like. I was floored. Showing progression photos of the 3D images, I could see how my teeth would shift into place after a few months. From here, you can decide to go through with the Smile Direct Club plan or not. I was so excited about my potential results that I ordered the aligners right away — I couldn't wait to get started. I knew my smile was in good hands with Dr. Gary Moore, DDS.

POPSUGAR Photography | Christina Stiehl

How Do Smile Direct Club Aligners Feel?

A few weeks later, a Smile Direct Club box was delivered to my door with my full set of aligners individually wrapped and labeled, an aligner case, Bright On whitening pens, lip balm, Move Mints (to help bite down and shift your aligners into place), cleaning tablets, and a Smile Stretcher to stretch out your lips to take full photos of your smile for the Smile Direct Club dentist on your case to review (you take these about halfway through your treatment).

I had the treatment plan to wear my aligners 22 hours a day and only take them out to eat and brush my teeth (you can still wear them while drinking cool, clear water, but I also wear them while drinking clear sparkling beverages and other drinks through a straw).

Smile Direct Club recommends you start your new aligners at night so your teeth have some time overnight to adjust and it's not as uncomfortable. The first night I wore my new aligners, they felt snug on my teeth but not painful. I had a bit of a lisp at first, but your tongue quickly adjusts, and it was gone after a couple days. The best part is they are totally clear and no one can really tell when you have them in.

You wear each aligner for a week to two weeks before progressing to the next one, and you are in charge of switching yourself — no need to go to the orthodontist every time you need a new set, since they all came in the box. You keep track of your progress in your portal, and Smile Direct Club will send you reminders (via text or email) when to change them out. If you get off track, just mark it in the portal, and it will adjust your schedule for you.

Smile Direct Club Aligners: Progress Photos

POPSUGAR Photography | Christina Stiehl

Although my initial plan was only for a few months, I couldn't get aligner six to fit properly, even after wearing aligner five for a few additional weeks. I scheduled a virtual consultation with a Smile Direct Club case representative, who took a look at my smile, watched me as I tried to fit in aligner six (it wouldn't budge on my teeth), and recommended that I have another scan to create a new set of aligners for a more accurate treatment plan.

So I went to the SmileShop again and got a new 3D scan, and once my new aligners were shipped, I continued with my treatment plan using the new aligners that were better shaped for my smile. I felt relieved that the customer-service reps were so kind and helpful and really guided me throughout the whole process — since you don't visit with an orthodontist IRL throughout treatment, it's helpful to know the reps on the other end of the line care about your smile.

Smile Direct Club: After Photos

POPSUGAR Photography | Christina Stiehl
POPSUGAR Photography | Christina Stiehl

After my first touch-up, I was ready to reveal my new smile come August, but my teeth still weren't quite there. Since my last set of aligners and my retainer didn't fit, I had to get yet another touch-up plan, which meant going to the SmileShop for a third time, getting another scan, etc. Once my updated plan got back to me, Dr. Moore mapped out another five months of treatment since my bottom teeth really weren't in the place they were supposed to be. Although this ended up being much longer than I had anticipated — my smile is supposed to be complete in January 2022, almost a year after I started — I knew my bottom teeth were really crooked, so I was happy to continue with the treatment if it meant getting the smile I desire.

You can see from the after photos that my teeth have made a lot of progress so far, and even though I'm in the middle of my second touch-up plan, I'm excited to see the final result in January.

How Much Does Smile Direct Club Cost?

Perhaps the biggest draw of Smile Direct Club, aside from the convenience, is the price. Smile Direct Club has disrupted the teeth-straightening business by providing a direct-to-consumer business and cutting out the middleman. Although a licensed dentist oversees your treatment plan and you have regular check-ins with reps, you don't need to see an orthodontist regularly to get your aligners.

Traditional braces and other aligner brands can cost thousands, but Smile Direct Club costs $1,950 if you pay all at once, or $89 a month for 24 months with a $250 deposit ($2,386 total). The initial 3D scan or impression kits are free, and if you need a touch-up plan (I needed two throughout my treatment), those are also free. Retainers for post-treatment cost $99 a set and are available to be purchased toward the end of your treatment (you will get notified when it's time to buy your retainer).

Is Smile Direct Club Worth It?

POPSUGAR Photography | Christina Stiehl

Although I am doing my Smile Direct Club journey at no cost thanks to the brand, I would highly recommend this course of treatment for anyone looking to straighten their teeth. Jeffrey Sulitzer, DMD, chief clinical officer at Smile Direct Club, told me at the beginning of my treatment that I was an ideal candidate because I was someone who had already had braces but whose teeth shifted back after not wearing a retainer (oops), and a lot of their customers are people who have a similar experience with braces.

So if you're someone like me who had traditional braces but whose teeth shifted back, Smile Direct Club might be right for you. If you have more severe orthodontic issues, such as a major cross bite or severe crowding, it is probably best to visit an orthodontist IRL to get evaluated.