The topic of Crystal Light came up in a random discussion with friends a few weeks back. It was one of those “flash from the past” moments for me. We had so much Crystal Light in my house when I was growing up. I loved the canisters and little foil labels and picking out what flavor we’d have next. When my friends and I started talking about it, I could instantly recall the commercials – images, jingles, all of it. They are still there, forever occupying brain cells. Ugh. When I became an adult, I became a brand hater, mostly because of the commercials. I didn’t like being told what I should buy in manipulative ways that burrow so deeply into my subconscious. I got rid of television over a decade ago. I immediately change radio stations when there is a commercial. I buy generic products all the time.
But the world has found new ways to entice me to buy things, mainly through Facebook. Ad blockers are powerless there and the ads are more compelling because they are tailored to me and my lifestyle, no jingle necessary. I have bought silk skirts, comfy and stylish hiking socks, adorable slippers, accessories like dog tags and a light-up collar for Trotsky Bear, and subscription boxes for outdoor gear, girly “treat yourself” items, food, and clothes. And then came Smile Direct Club.
I hate my teeth. My parents couldn’t afford braces for all five of us kids when I little, but they did the best they could. I had several adult teeth pulled on the top to alleviate some of the crowding, and my top teeth looked mostly okay. But my bottom teeth are—make that were—a crowded wreck that I’ve always felt embarrassed by. But I had no interested in being a 30-something with a mouth full of metal and Invisalign is insanely expensive. So when Facebook kept promoting a new alternative, I had to go see what it was about.
I went in on my birthday because who doesn’t love dentistry on their special day? They did this super cool 3D scan of mouth and sent me home with a bunch of information. Six days later, my credit card had been charged. Be warned! If you give them your credit card information during your initial consultation, they offer you a discount, but then you get charged without getting another chance to think about it. I didn’t care because the whole reason I went in was because I wanted to be in the program but it is shocking to see almost two grand pulled out of your account with no email or phone call first stating that you were approved. I also got a discount for paying in a single lump sum, though you can pay in installments.
When they start manufacturing your aligners, you get a online portal (after they charge your card) with an enhanced version of your initial scan that shows what your teeth will look like after each four weeks of treatment. I was on a six-month treatment plan. So, even though you were already charged, you have a few days to look at your promised results and call them to cancel the whole thing if it isn’t what you want. Obviously they should let you see the whole scan first, decide, and then charge your card, but their customer service policies leave a bit to be desired, as you’ll find out.
You can see in mine that two of my bottom teeth would still be turned. That’s because unlike traditional braces, these aligners aren’t shifting your molars. This program only works with the space you have in front. For me, the process would correct the issues I cared about: my two top front teeth overlapping the incisors and looking like buck teeth and my uneven row of bottom teeth. I didn’t care about the rest enough to go through a teeth straightening program that is three times as expensive and takes three to four times as long. For people whose teeth problems are less severe than mine were, it is possible to get perfect teeth through this program.
My aligners arrived four weeks later, in mid-May. I was so excited to start, but my excitement vanished when I opened up my Month 1, Week 1 tray. They had manufactured my aligners incorrectly. All of Month 1 was made perfectly straight already, instead with a tiny correction each week. They were unusable. Furthermore, they had forgot to send Month 6 at all. I called and requested new ones. They had me send in photos of the aligners to verify the problem.
And then I got put in the manufacturing order again, all the way at the bottom. There is no fast track for people who have already waited, so I didn’t start my program until the last week of June, about ten weeks after my initial consultation. This is something to keep in mind for people who sign up for this program with some kind of deadline in mind. I didn’t have one, but if you’re trying to get your teeth straightened in time for your wedding or some other important event, you may want to give yourself a large time buffer.
The corrected ones finally arrived and I was thrilled to get started. But there was one more glitch. One of my Month One top trays had the Smile Direct Logo printed too far forward, so when I smiled, it looked like I had something on my teeth. Fortunately, that was only one out of all 24 sets of trays in my treatment.
When my correctly made Month One trays arrived and I started the program, I decided it would be wise to open the rest of the packages (they send them all to you at once) and make sure that they were made correctly. Why I didn’t open them all at once back in May I don’t know. But that was a huge mistake on my part because it turned out that they were all made wrong.
I had watched videos on YouTube from dozens and dozens of people who had done Smile Direct Club before I signed up because I wanted to make sure it was legit. Almost all of them said the same two things. One, they were thrilled with the results! Two, the customer service is abysmal. While my first customer service experience had been fairly easy, despite the lengthy delay, I was about to enter an endless, useless loop of phone calls and emails. Customer service hell.
It’s not that the reps are bad. All the reps I spoke to were friendly and receptive and tried to help. But the systems and processes they have are terrible. First, I called them and let them know about the problem. They told me to send in photos again, which I did. A few days later, I called to follow up on the email request. They had no record of it. This went on several weeks in a row. I would call and explain what I needed over and over and it was as if I had never called before. I started from scratch every time, explaining that I only needed Months Two – Five replaced, them telling me I already got a replacement, me explaining that the initial replacement was Month One and Month Six, them being confused, and on and on. Every phone call and email seemed to go into a black hole.
Eventually, my requests stuck, though I don’t know what finally did it. Then I was told several times a specialist would call me. No one ever did. I was told my new aligners would be fast tracked. That was definitely not true. I started calling back every two weeks. No one could tell me what was happening, but because I pestered them so much, they were apologetic and tried to make things right, even though they had no power. I got another $100 refunded to me for my trouble. When I called back two weeks later and no one could tell me anything, I got a credit to get my first set of retainers free. So again, be wary if you have a deadline. I didn’t mind getting all these discounts in favor of a longer program, but you might.
In the meanwhile, I had to wear my final Month One set that whole time. I stopped wearing them all day after a while and only wore them at night like a retainer, but even so, the trays get really disgusting. Brushing them was not enough after a while. I talked to a friend who was just finishing up her Invisalign program when I started this program, and she had the same issue. She used denture cleaner to soak her aligners to help with the slime and bacteria and smell. Having someone who had gone through a similar, full service invisible teeth straightening program to compare experiences with proved helpful and gave me confidence in my process since, aside from the customer service aspect, our experiences were similar.
After two months of endless phone calls, I was about to give up and demand all my money back. I had set a deadline of September first. The date was near and then one day, unexpectedly, I received an email saying my aligners had shipped. A few days later, they were at my door. I opened them all immediately to verify they were correctly made. They were, and I was back on track with my “smile journey” as they like to call it.
This month I learned that you have to be careful with the trays. I got hairline cracks in them two weeks in a row from trying to pull them out too hard from only one side. The trays are very, very tight the first two to three days you wear them, so you need to be careful. Tug a little from the left, then the right, and back and forth to get them out without cracking them. They are still fully usable with the hairline cracks, but you’ll get the delicate skin of the inside of your mouth painfully sucked into those cracks often. Not fun.
This kind of teeth straightening is a great diet plan because you really think twice about whether you want one of those donuts someone brought in two minutes after you finished your coffee, brushed, flossed, and put your aligners back in. Is a donut worth going to the ladies room and taking them out and conducting the ritual of putting them back in all over again? And what about hiking? I go on hikes that last five, six, seven hours and need to snack to keep up my energy. I can’t keep flossing and brushing on the trail. It’s easier to just be hungry.
Well, by month four I was really sick of wearing these things and decided I wanted the donut and a snack an hour later and then lunch and then birthday cake two hours later, so why bother ever putting them back in? I’d had it with all the trips to and from the bathroom and got super lazy. I was wearing them only 15-16 hours a day at this point, not the 22 you’re supposed to.
Guess what happens when you’re shoving your teeth in new directions but not giving them the consistent support they need? They start to wiggle. That’s right. All it takes is one wiggly tooth to scare you back into wearing them correctly. I had two wiggly teeth and several nightmares that my teeth were falling out.
So I started wearing them correctly again. I actually wore that set for an extra week and the next set for an extra week too in order to help my teeth set correctly. It seemed unwise to move on to the next set of trays and jam my teeth into another position when they hadn’t gotten used to the current one. So because of my laziness, I ended up extending my treatment an extra two weeks. Just follow the instructions, people.
Quick side note, a lot of kissing will make your teeth wiggle too. Think about it. Making out involves someone else’s face mashing into yours for an extended period of time, pushing on your teeth. When your teeth are already tender and loose in their sockets, this is not a good thing. You may want to consider becoming a nun during your treatment.
Let’s talk about all the things they don’t tell you when you start a program like this. Like I said, I watched a lot of user experience videos on YouTube before I started to do this. So I knew about the temporary lisping and the dry mouth. But a few things I didn’t expect.
- I spit a lot when I had the trays out. Shifting your teeth exposes new gaps between your teeth that you aren’t used to talking with, so you spit when you talk. It goes away quickly, just like the lisping does, but every time you start a new tray, you have to adjust again.
- My breath stank. No matter how much you brush and floss, the trays are always trapping bacteria in your mouth. Couple that with how dry your mouth gets, especially when you’re exercising, and you’ve got a recipe for halitosis. Which is good, I supposed, because it keeps you from kissing all the time (see Month Four above).
- I couldn’t stop scraping my tongue against the new sharp edges when the aligners are out. My teeth were really crowded for 30+ years. They grew into each other in certain ways that created edges where a tooth couldn’t fully grow since it was banged up against another one. Those edges haven’t been worn down by saliva and food juices and acids, and once the crowding was eased, those sharp edges were exposed. It feels weird.
- I have brown spots. This one is the worst. Again, sides and edges of some teeth were crammed up against each other for decades with no exposure to toothpaste or the bristles of a brush. By Month 5, with those parts really exposed to the light of day, I could see they were brown. Fortunately, part of your kit from Smile Direct Club includes whitening pens and a light. So I’ll be using those for the next week and am hopeful for good results. But if not, I have a dentist appointment in March and I’ll ask them what I can do. Which brings me to Month 6…
Have a dental insurance or a good reserve of cash to pay for dental services while you go through this program. For example, if your teeth don’t stop wiggling, you should probably go get them checked out. Also, because the trays do trap bacteria, you can get cavities easily if you aren’t super vigilant about brushing and flossing after every single time you eat or drink. A third reason is simply that you are altering a crucial part of your body without supervision. You never know what could go wrong.
My Month 6, Week 1 aligner was manufactured slightly off. The top right, above my incisors, put too much pressure on my gums and caused some swelling. It was painful the whole way through, even when my teeth adjusted to the trays and they fit normally everywhere but that one spot. I probably should have stopped using that tray, but given the massive issues I had getting replacements before and how close I was to done, I didn’t want to. I decided to tough out the pain. That was probably dumb, but I had both dental insurance and a healthy balance in my HSA if anything really went wrong.
I’m done! Posting these photos feels gross to me. No one should look at some else’s mouth in isolation like this. Eww. But I know you all are going to want before and after photos, so here goes. Each row shows (a) before treatment, (b) at the halfway point, and (c) at the end of treatment.