In this post, I will be doing a side-by-side comparison of Byte and SmileDirectClub aligners and explaining why *spoiler alert* I ultimately went with Byte. I have to say, this was closer than expected, as both companies have comparable treatment offerings and measure up similarly in the areas that are most important to me.
Nighttime Aligners: My Dealbreaker
I must begin by stating that, in my quest for the perfect clear aligner, it all boils down to one simple question: Is there a nighttime option? If a company does not do nighttime aligners, they are immediately out of the running for me, no matter how stellar their other attributes or customer reviews might be.
I could drone on and on about my concern for the mental well-being of anyone who still would choose to wear aligners for 22 hours per day when a nighttime option is available (and have, much to the chagrin of my friends and family…but that’s a story for another day). Lucky for me, both Byte and SmileDirectClub have nightwear aligners, and both tout straighter teeth in just 10 hours a night. That means you are, quite literally, sleeping through your treatment! What could be better or easier? Sure, your treatment plan will extend another couple of months, but that is totally worth it to me if it means having flexibility, discretion, and the peace of mind knowing that my daily routines aren’t inhibited by uncomfortable aligners.
Having tried neither company’s aligners yet, Byte and SmileDirectClub are starting this competition on an even playing field, simply because they both offer the nighttime option I crave that most of their competitors do not. However, as you will see in the rest of this post, differences between Byte and SmileDirectClub soon become apparent.
In this section, I won’t be addressing start-up pricing (that’s further down)–this is specifically to discuss Byte’s and SmileDirectClub’s respective processes of being inducted into the wonderful world of clear aligners.
With Byte, you kick off your treatment by purchasing and completing an at-home impression kit. Everything is mailed to you in cute, colorful packaging, complete with user-friendly instructions. You get to feel like a kid again and play with putty to make molds of your top and bottom arches, then you send it all back in the convenient, self-addressed envelope included in your kit. And their customer service team will arrange a USPS pick-up for you to save you a trip to the post office. Once Byte receives your impressions, they will do a 3D rendering of your teeth and match you with a licensed orthodontist in your state to create your unique treatment plan. Et voilà! You never even had to change out of your PJ’s!
SmileDirectClub offers three ways to get started on your smile journey: the traditional route where you work with one of their partner dentist practices, an at-home impression kit similar to Byte’s, or a visit to one of 300+ SmileShop locations throughout the U.S. where you can schedule a 30-minute, in-person consultation and 3D mouth and gum scan for free. Personally, I can be kind of a klutz and worry about messing up my impressions, so having a professional perform this crucial first step of the aligner process really eases my mind. Plus digital scans are more accurate than impressions.
Both Byte and SmileDirectClub offer full refunds on impression kits if you end up not being a candidate. SmileDirectClub even hosts virtual SmileParties where their Lead Dentist walks you through the impression process, which is helpful if you’re as apprehensive about self-administered impressions as I am.
The Winner: SmileDirectClub
This decision comes with the caveat that, when we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic, I would 100% prefer to visit a SmileShop for the sake of ease and accuracy. SmileDirectClub outlines their COVID-safety measures on their website, which is definitely reassuring, but for now, I will (begrudgingly) choose the at-home impression kit.
Since I will be partaking in the nighttime option, the aesthetics of the aligners make no real difference to me, but I thought I would share my findings for those of you who (mysteriously/masochistically) decide to go the daytime route.
Both companies thankfully use 100% BPA-free, stain-resistant plastic, but Byte’s aligners have a smooth, shiny finish while SmileDirectClub uses a frosted plastic. The difference all comes down to your personal preference: some customers say they love the way their smiles gleam with Byte’s aligners, while others prefer SmileDirectClub’s finish because it looks and feels more like the naturally-matte surface of your teeth.
The Winner: It’s a tie!
I have no horse in this race, as no one will be seeing me in my nighttime aligners but my pillow.
Unlike some of their competitors, both Byte and SmileDirectClub laser-cut their aligners to completely cover the gums, which has proven to be more effective than those that are trimmed to sit along the gumline. Full gum coverage generates more powerful tooth movement by using the gums as a point of leverage to pivot and push the teeth into alignment.
Here’s where the similarities in effectiveness end and things take an interesting turn…in Byte’s favor.
SmileDirectClub is like the great uncle of the home aligner industry (we all know Invisalign came first, so let’s consider them the wise-but-cantankerous grandpa). SmileDirectClub proudly boasts that their doctors have straightened “over 1 million smiles” since their founding in 2014. That number, and the experience and reputation that inevitably comes with it, is pretty impressive. The problem is, because they rely on their track record and longevity, they haven’t really needed to come up with any new innovations or modifications over the years.
But Byte, the scrappy, earnest newcomer, came right out of the gate swinging in 2018. What sets them apart from SmileDirectClub and all other aligner companies is their patented, FDA-cleared HyperByte® technology, which has quickly propelled them to industry darling status. Honestly, I could stop writing this article right here, that’s how blown away I am with HyperByte and its ability to cut the treatment timeline to almost half the industry standard (3-4 months for All-Day, 5-6 months for At-Night). Even their nighttime treatment plan is shorter than many other aligner companies, including SmileDirectClub.
Here’s how they explain HyperByte on their website:
HyperByte uses High Frequency Vibrations (HFV), a vibration-based therapy that uses soft micropulses that transmit through the roots of the teeth to the surrounding bone. Studies have shown, this gentle vibration can reduce discomfort, and help seat your aligners around your teeth better. This causes better aligner traction, more accurate teeth movement, and much faster treatment times. HyperByte® is our very own HFV device that we include free in every treatment plan.
Basically you use this fun little HyperByte contraption for 5 minutes a day (10 minutes for Night-Only) in tandem with your plastic aligners and it just makes the whole process speedier and more comfortable. No other aligner company offers anything like this.
Byte’s Smile Science also gives them an exclusive industry advantage. This special software, created by Byte’s Chief Cosmetic Dentist, Dr. Jon Marashi (deemed “The Tom Ford of Dentistry” by Cher…yes, THAT Cher), uses a 5-point analysis of aesthetic precision to determine the best tooth placement for your individual face. Smile Science allows Byte’s orthodontists to design a treatment profile that is tailored to you (and only you!) to craft a smile that’s uniquely yours.
The Winner: Byte
HyperByte is just a total game-changer, period.
This is where things start to get hairy. If you check out SmileDirectClub’s website, you’ll see verbiage peppered throughout like “your doctor” and “state-licensed dentist(s) or orthodontist(s),” all of which feels intentionally vague. They proclaim that 100% of their “doctors” have 5+ years of experience working with aligners, which is well and good, but that still doesn’t clarify if it will be an orthodontist or a dentist prescribing and overseeing my treatment plan. It makes a big difference because moving teeth and aligning jaws are medical procedures that require specialized training, which orthodontists have and dentists don’t. That isn’t meant to be a slight against dentists or the important work they do, but I don’t feel confident entrusting my face’s fate to someone who isn’t a certified orthodontist.
In an attempt to give SmileDirectClub the benefit of the doubt, I spoke with not one but two live chat agents during the course of my research (I wanted to be fair and thorough, on the off-chance that maybe the first agent was new to the job and didn’t have all of his info straight). My aim was to understand at what point during the process I would be dealing with an actual orthodontist vs. a dentist, or if SmileDirectClub could guarantee that an orthodontist would be the one creating my treatment plan and then he/she hands it off to a dentist to oversee. Both agents spoke in vagaries about how SmileDirectClub only works with “dental professionals” and that it would “most probably” be an orthodontist who maps out my treatment but would never give me a definitive “yes.” The second agent actually ended up ghosting me for several minutes when I pressed him for further clarification, then abruptly closed our chat without the customary, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” sign-off. Very shady, SmileDirectClub…
Byte, on the other hand, guarantees that your treatment plan will be developed by an orthodontist in your state, then you will continue to work with a care team of dental professionals that includes dentists, but the main meat of your treatment is overseen by someone specifically trained for this.
The Winner: Byte
While I wish Byte and SmileDirectClub worked exclusively with orthodontists (as of right now only their competitor, Candid, can claim this), I appreciate Byte’s transparency and commitment to having orthodontists formulate treatment plans.
Byte and SmileDirectClub share a few similarities when it comes to pricing and payment options:
- lifetime guarantee included
- free premium whitening kit included
- full refund on impression kit if you are not a candidate
- 100% approval on financing with no credit check or paperwork
On paper, SmileDirectClub’s list price is cheaper. Plus they offer lots of deals and rebates plastered all over their website, which gives the illusion of savings but is actually kind of distracting. I found myself immediately turned off by all the “stuff” they are hocking: lip gloss, electric toothbrushes, UV cleaners, selfie lights, etc, and all with their own special discounts.
It’s overkill when all I want is an affordable, effective alignment system. But the glaring difference regarding pricing (and the one that pertains to me most) is that SmileDirectClub’s nighttime aligners cost the same as the daytime option, whereas with Byte and other companies that offer nightwear, the price goes up.
SmileDirectClub Price Breakdown:
- $1,950 (or $89 per month for 24 months, with $250 down) – Day or Night aligners
- $59 for at-home impression kit
But my biggest problem with SmileDirectClub is that, with all of the bells and whistles they seemingly include, they omit a key feature of the alignment process: SmileDirectClub is the only company I have come across that does not include retainers in their initial cost. Retainers are available for purchase for $99 (and SmileDirectClub encourages you to purchase them every six months so they stay “fresh”).
I find this to be downright irresponsible, since wearing retainers is an essential part of healthy maintenance, an extension of treatment, not merely an afterthought once the initial treatment is over. As someone who can speak from experience: not wearing your retainers after braces, your teeth will undoubtedly shift over time, until one day you wake up a 30-something maniacally researching at-home aligners to fix the mistakes of your youth. Retainers are necessary, and should not be considered an aftercare “addition.”
Byte’s Price Breakdown:
- $1,895 All-Day treatment ($349 down, $83/mo for 29 months)
- $2,295 At-Night Treatment ($449 down, $99/mo for 29 months)
- $95 for at-home impression kit, though they are offering a huge discount at only $29.95
You can opt for the Byte Protection Plan (BPP) that gets you new retainers every 6 months for 5 years + replacement of lost or stolen aligners and retainers. Byte also offers military and student discounts.
Byte’s sticker price is slightly higher than SmileDirectClub’s, but lest we forget that the revolutionary HyperByte (which retails for $699+) is automatically included, as well as top and bottom medical grade retainers. Cut my treatment time almost in half AND you care about keeping my teeth straight after it’s all over? Marry me, Byte!
The Winner: Byte
Hands down, much more value with Byte because of the inclusion of HyperByte and retainers, on top of their Byte-for-Life Guarantee and access to their network of licensed orthodontists who will be formulating your treatment plan.
My first thought about Byte’s customer service is that they need to extend their hours of operation for those of us just starting out our aligner reconnaissance. I am that person who will always choose to talk to a fellow human being on the phone in lieu of an email or text, but Byte is operating on a standard Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:30pm, which is very annoying to me as I often work during those hours. The good news is, once you become a customer and get assigned your personalized care team, the communication floodgates burst open and you can reach your advisors all week long at mutually-agreed upon extended hours, so that’s something to look forward to.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, SmileDirectClub is the 7/11 of aligner companies: available 24/7/365 via phone, text, email, live chat, video chat, and social media. Whatever you want, they got. They make it seem like your care team is basically living at SmileDirectClub HQ just waiting for the moment you contact them with a question about your aligners. They also have a fancy remote monitoring system that utilizes an app where you can check-in with your advisor in real time anytime, which is impressive.
The Winner: Byte
Initially I was going to go with SmileDirectClub because I loved how accessible they are, but then they lost me once they completely stopped responding during my aforementioned live chat when I was trying to figure out whether an orthodontist or dentist would be creating my treatment plan. It was rude and made me feel like they were avoiding the question after they had been super responsive up until that point. I also read several reviews about their sometimes slow and inconsistent customer service, which tracks based on my limited experience with them.
Byte consistently gets high praise from customers about their rapid responsiveness, friendly personnel, and overall ease of communication, and I can concur, as my few encounters with agents via text and phone were nothing short of lovely (even if their phone hours are too limited for my taste). I think it still bodes well for whenever I start my aligner journey with them and get a care team of my very own.
To Sum It Up…
While SmileDirectClub is no doubt a titan in the aligner industry, Byte takes the cake for treatment speed (thanks HyperByte!), expertise level, dynamite customer service, and overall great value.