TTKS tries: pre-wedding aligners that could get your smile aisle-ready in as little as five months

Not happy with your teeth and considering getting aligners in the run-up to your wedding? Writer Sarah Gillespie trials Smile Direct Club’s at-home treatment plan and gives us the lowdown…

An open box from Smile Direct Club on a purple backdrop
One of the at-home kits used to create impressions. A UK-registered dentist then reviews and approves your custom treatment plan

The last few years have definitely encouraged a bit of introspection. For many, it involved proposals and saving and planning for the wedding of your dreams; others finally quit that job they’d moaned about forever; some decided to take the leap with that tweakment they’d always fancied.

If you had braces when you were younger and remember watching Footballers’ Wives, you’re likely of the generation that got told to wear your retainers for one year and then you could get rid of them. I ceremonially binned mine as I packed to move to university and have regretted that decision ever since.

Nowadays, it is impressed upon teens to wear retainers intermittently for the rest of their lives to keep movement and crowding in check and ensure those awkward metal-mouthed years aren’t for nothing.

In my case – and despite an overwhelming lack of wisdom in my behaviour – those pesky new back teeth muscled in slowly, but painfully, from my mid-twenties onwards and nudged all of my front teeth out of alignment.

Of course, I’d had friends that had orthodontic treatment as adults and I’d been suitably nosy about it, but when faced with the financial realities of some systems, I didn’t feel my teeth were bad enough to justify the cost (upwards of £3,000).

Over the past few years, several disrupters have entered the marketplace to challenge the more traditional routes you might be offered by the orthodontist your dentist would refer you to. Smile Direct Club being one. It launched in 2017 offering a combination of ‘SmileShops’ or completely mail-order clear retainers, claiming a saving of 60% over braces. But can your teeth be fixed without leaving your own home?

Left image shows a Smile Direct Club box sitting on a table with colourful candles and right image shows an open Smile Club Direct box with dental impressions
Sarah’s Smile Direct Club box (left) arrived with everything she needed to make her dental impressions and then return them (right)

Deciding to become a human guinea pig – with hopefully better nashers by the end – I received an at-home impression kit in September 2020. Moulding the putty and making two sets of impressions was a doddle. Using a mouth-stretcher and taking selfies was a bit more daunting, purely because of how awful I looked in the pictures.

At this point, the moulds are analysed by a computer programme, overseen by orthodontists and dentists, and a full programme of retainers are created (in my case, five months). They’re swapped on a monthly cycle of weekly for two weeks, and a set worn for a fortnight.

There’s two options: wearing the clear retainers for 22 hours a day for four to six months, or for 10 hours at night for an average of 10 months. I was put onto the shorter plan, and would recommend this if you have a wedding on the horizon. After a while, I barely noticed them, but the first day or two of a new set could sometimes have some light pain as the teeth got slowly nudged in the right direction.

An open box containing aligners from Smile Direct Club
All your aligners required for the treatment plan are shipped together at one time, so you have the tools you need to get the smile you’ll love at your fingertips

One of the more curious side effects, certainly for the shorter plan, is that it will force you into processing how many hours a day you spend eating and drinking. You can only drink water wearing them – no hot/fizzy drinks and definitely no munching Rich Teas at your desk.

I learned to swap cans of Diet Coke for sparkling water, and it stopped me from snacking as much. A hidden benefit perhaps, although it became quite tricky in the fortnight over Christmas where you want to continuously have a drink or a bit of chocolate in your hands.

Other good habits developed include brushing your teeth after you’ve eaten. I’ll continue to brush my teeth after lunch because there’s something about it that makes you feel a little bit more alert and ready to plough through those last few hours of work.

A Smile Direct Club promotional image
Smile Direct Club has SmileShops across the country, including one in Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries

At the end of my initial five months, I felt a slight gap had appeared between my front lower teeth, so arranged a follow-up appointment at the Glasgow SmileShop. Here, I received a 3D scan rather than the impressions I’d created at home previously. I was set on a three-month extension called ‘refinements’ and awaited delivery of the new retainers, wearing my previous final set for an extra few weeks during this time.

One thing that was made clear by both customer service and in the SmileShop was that the process could continue until I was 100% happy with the results, so I wound up having another set of refinements. This meant the whole process lasted from September 2020 until April 2022 when you include the initial five months, two sets of three-month refinements and time for the new sets to be created and delivered in between. However, I have spoken to a user who was done and dusted in their prescribed six months.

It’s for this reason that I recommend the full-time wear with a countdown to the big day ticking down. I’d also recommend visiting the SmileShop over the at-home impression kit, if you can. I found the aligners in my refinements seemed a better fit and I didn’t have to file them down as much to make them comfortable to wear.

I set off on the process delighted to finally fix the crowding my wisdom teeth had caused in my lower teeth, but when I look back at the before pictures, I can’t believe the difference in my top teeth. They had never troubled me previously, but now look as good as they did when I was a 17 year-old with thin eyebrows and a Groovy Chick duvet cover.

I’m absolutely delighted with the results and am shocked at how many people have noticed the change in the teeth that I originally thought ‘weren’t that bad’.

left image shows a person's mouth wearing Smile Direct Club retainers and right image shows a person smiling wearing a pink jacket and striped top
Left: Sarah wearing the retainer; Right: Sarah now happy with her smile!

Thankfully, there’s a much better plan in place to maintain the results this time round. When you’re finished with your aligners, you order a set of retainers, and these can be kept on subscription so you receive a fresh set every month (at a cost of £80 per set). If the customer replaces their retainers every six months and wears them as prescribed, they will qualify for a free aligner touch-up each year if they ever need one. It is called Lifetime Smile Guarantee™.

Currently, the Smile Direct Club clear aligner ‘Smile Journey’ costs £1,639 for a one-off payment or £69.44 a month in a 25-month financed option (totalling £1805.19). There is a SmileShop in Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries.