A Dangerous Trend?
Published: September 30, 2017
By: Lori Chandler Pruitt
Companies sell orthodontic devices like braces and retainers online that ship right to your home with no dental visits required. The Internet is flooded with videos – many from teens and young adults – who claim they straightened their teeth with rubber bands.
Such “do-it-yourself” products and methods are popular because they seem quicker and supposedly save money. But is it a good idea?
“They advertise a supposedly less expensive product, but that may not be true for any specific problem – one size does not fit all,” says Dr. Carl Walker of Carl Walker Orthodontics. “If it is a complicated case, the adage often applies: buyer beware. You get what you pay for.”
The American Association of Orthodontists, alarmed by the trend, warns against it. The AAO states the practice can increase the risk of infection and can cause serious damage to the teeth and gums, including cutting off blood supply to teeth and ultimately tooth loss.
“This has been popularized in social media,” says Dr. Olga Sanchez-Hernandez DMD, MS, MS of McCalla Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry. “The popularity of these methods has been on the rise because people perceive orthodontic services to be inconvenient and costly.”
The DIY videos that tout success are by far the exception, not the rule, orthodontists say. There is much more to orthodontia than putting a set of braces on the teeth.
“It can be dangerous for an untrained person to try and straighten teeth without having any knowledge of how they move and how it affects the bones and soft tissue,” says Dr. Stephanie Whitehead of Whitehead Orthodontics. “I would tell patients to consult an orthodontist about their particular problem and never attempt to do any tooth movement on their own.”
Sanchez-Hernandez agrees. “People that do not have orthodontic training might not be able to recognize some of these complications until it is too late,” she says. “Most of these effects are not reversible and patients can end up incurring thousands of dollars in expenses and visits to multiple specialists in order to correct the problems created.”
Kelly M. Page, DMD, MS of Chelsea Orthodontics says ordering braces online means you have no idea of the credentials of the person planning the treatment. “Does he or she have experience fixing a bite? Unless this person has formal training, he or she will not know how to get the results you need,” she explains. The lack of face-to-face contact during treatment also means no one is supervising you to make adjustments, and no one is held accountable, she says.
“Simply mailing me a set of trays does not give me an idea of whether I will achieve what I believe I will achieve,” adds David M. Sarver, DMD, MS of Sarver Orthodontics.
Orthodontists are specially trained for orthodontic care. They are dentists (earning a doctor of dental surgery or doctor of dental medicine) who then undergo two to three years of additional residency training to specialize in the field of orthodontics. They are university trained and receive a master’s degree in orthodontics so that when they graduate they limit their practice to orthodontics.
The orthodontist’s training includes the study of the growth and development of the face and oral structures as well as the alignment of the teeth. They are trained to treat patients of all ages and severities, including surgical cases and TMJ. The movement of the teeth is affected by the health of the surrounding bone and soft tissue. It can affect the smile outcome, the lip support, the profile and the long-term stability of teeth.
Brandon Boggan, DMD, MS of OrthoSouth, says the science and mechanics used to straighten teeth will vary from patient to patient depending on many different factors. Each person’s case is very different with the need for individualized planning for the best orthodontic treatment outcome.
While the (DIY) cost might be less initially, it could be very costly in the end if damage is done and dental work is needed to fix the problem. “The health of the teeth is also affected by the health of the body,” Whitehead explains. “Immune deficiencies, diabetes, heart problems, periodontal disease decay and even prior trauma can affect how the teeth respond to a force exerted on them.”
Boggan agrees. “I love the quote, ‘Price is what you pay. Value is what you get’ from Warren Buffett,” he says. “That is what we try to offer is a good value to our patients. There are many things to consider (X-rays looking at the skeletal and dental health, medical history, and a thorough dental exam, to name a few) when seeking orthodontic treatment that you just can’t get through the mail. There are individualized factors that make many of these cases too risky to attempt without professional help.”
Technology has made it faster, less expensive, less painful and more esthetic to have orthodontic treatment, Walker says. Most orthodontists offer free evaluations with no obligation, competitive pricing and varied payment plans. They also include follow-up visits for a period of time once the braces are off.
“Most orthodontists do offer a variety of payment plans and work with patients to fit treatment into their budgets,” Sarver says. “For people in financial need there are programs such as Smiles Change Lives, Smile for a Lifetime Foundation and donated orthodontic services that provide pro bono care to those who qualify for those services.”
More than likely, many patients who employ DIY methods will end up visiting a local orthodontist to fix the serious problems caused by it, therefore spending more money. In fact, the AAO reports that 13 percent of its members are seeing patients who have tried DIY methods and now have other alignment or other dental problems.
“Just as you can’t simply watch a YouTube video and be a surgeon, trying to be an orthodontist without proper training can be both ineffective and dangerous,” says Dr. John R. Phillips III of PT Orthodontics. “In this time, orthodontics has never been more affordable and it is just unwise to try to take this important role of your teeth and smile into your own hands. Trust the professionals.”
Sarver points out that your teeth “are a part of your body, and (DIY) treatment may result in damage which is not reversible even with professional help. I would certainly want to know who is taking care of me, and what their background is.”
Lori Pruitt is associate editor of Birmingham Parent.