Do-it-yourself orthodontics, in which people attempt at-home treatments rather than seeing an orthodontist, is an upward trend. Lower costs and the convenience of mail-order braces are appealing factors to some consumers.
But orthodontists warn that trying to straighten your teeth in the comfort of your own home can actually lead to mouth discomfort, complicated oral issues, and high costs associated with correcting them.
“These DIY systems might straighten your teeth, but they fail to address other oral problems and can make them worse or even create new problems,” says Dr. Seth Newman (www.asktheorthos.com), a New York City-area orthodontist and co-author, with Dr. Steve Giannoutsos, of Giving It To You Straight: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Orthodontics But Were Afraid To Ask.
“Braces aren’t just about straightening teeth,” Dr. Giannoutsos says. “They’re part of an intricate treatment that requires evaluation – not only of the teeth but of the jaws and how the two relate to each other on complex levels.”
Drs. Newman and Giannoutsos give an overview of the potential downsides of DIY orthodontics and why they think traditional care is more comprehensive:
DIY doesn’t address bite or other issues. “Your jaw and bite have to be taken into consideration when improving a smile,” Dr. Giannoutsos says. “If teeth are moved without addressing a bite issue, this could create problems with oral functions such as chewing.”
No professional diagnosis beforehand. The diagnostic imaging that an orthodontist does before any tooth-straightening procedure accounts for past and current conditions of the teeth, jaws and the craniofacial area before making an informed recommendation. “Without direct professional supervision and diagnostics,” Dr. Newman says, “patients may have no idea that they could have underlying problems, such as tooth decay, abscessed teeth or gum infections that could be made worse by imposing orthodontic treatment on top of them.”
No monitoring during treatment. Sometimes the damage stemming from unsupervised care includes the need for tooth extractions, bite problems and infections. “It’s appealing to consumers that they don’t need to make time for orthodontist visits,” Dr. Newman says, “but checking tooth movement throughout the treatment process is crucial to a successful outcome. Without a doctor watching your case, there is simply no reliable way to know that you’re getting the best results.”
Pain and discomfort more likely. Because DIY braces aren’t custom fit by a professional, Dr. Giannoutsos says one is more likely to experience pain and discomfort than if they were professionally fitted. “With orthodontist-approved braces,” Giannoutsos says, “some discomfort in the beginning is expected, but that eventually fades as you get used to the braces. That pain while you are wearing a DIY version is a warning sign that the tooth is not being moved in the correct way.”
The lower initial price may fool you. “If you think you are saving money with DIY orthodontics,” Dr. Newman says, “based on our experience to fix the damage done from them, chances are you’re going to see an orthodontist to correct problems from DIY. Then you’re paying even more on top of the price of the DIY treatment.”
“Braces and the movement of teeth and jaws are a fine balance of art and science,” Dr. Giannoutsos says. “The training and skill of the person overseeing your case make a significant difference in the results you achieve.”
About Dr. Seth Newman and Dr. Steve Giannoutsos
Dr. Seth Newman (www.asktheorthos.com) is an orthodontist and co-author, with Dr. Steve Giannoutsos, of Giving It To You Straight: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Orthodontics But Were Afraid To Ask. He owns orthodontic practices in the New York City area. Dr. Newman completed his dental training at Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine, where he was a member of the National Dental Honor Society. He was a clinical instructor of the Invisalign system at the NYU School of Dentistry.
Dr. Steve Giannoutsos (www.asktheorthos.com) is an orthodontist who owns practices in the New York City area. He completed his dental and orthodontic training at NYU, where he served as president and chief resident of his orthodontic class and was a member of the National Dental Honor Society. Dr. Giannoutsos completed a fellowship in craniofacial orthodontics at the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, where he now holds a position as clinical assistant professor of surgery-plastic surgery.