Doctors are worried over what appears to be a growing trend of do-it-yourself orthodontics, according to an editorial in the American Journal of Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics. Rolf G. Behrents, spokesman for the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) and author of the editorial, warned against the use of ponytail elastics to close gaps in teeth.
It may sound strange and untrue, but a quick Google search for DIY braces yields YouTube videos demonstrating how to use the elastics as an inexpensive alternative to orthodontist-applied braces. It's an appealing option for anyone who feels the cost of orthodontics is out of reach.
It's also a dangerous choice that can result in tooth loss from elastics submerged in gums, Robert Varner, president of the AAO, said to Today Money. Trying to alter teeth without the regular care of an orthodontist can also lead to root decay.
There's an irony to the use of rubber bands in self-taught orthodontistry: Dentists once used elastics as a means of removing teeth from patients with bleeding disorders or other conditions, deeming pliers too risky. Behrents explained that in this method, bands worked to slowly break down tissue and bone until a tooth fell out on its own, without loss of blood. The process took four to six weeks. This means it could take as little as a month for DIY braces to cause permanent damage.
Straighter teeth by mail
Mail-order impression kits are another form of what Behrents and other orthodontists consider substandard care. In this practice, companies send these kits to consumers seeking low-cost invisible aligners, said The New York Times.
Those who order the kits watch a how-to video on YouTube, fill a tray with putty and take molds of their own teeth. They send the solidified impressions back to a contracting dentist or orthodontist, who reviews the impressions before prescribing an aligner.
Proponents of mail-order programs insist the practice is not a DIY operation and argue that the lack of interfacing with an orthodontist has no bearing on the quality of safety of an appliance. By cutting office-visit costs, the system instead offers an accessible means of correcting crooked teeth.
The reason for office visits
The AAO disagrees, and voiced concern that a lack of supervision can potentially cause harm. Without an initial exam, an orthodontist risks missing oral health problems that preclude the use of orthodontic appliances.
Critics of the mail-order business model argue that only in-person exams suffice in identifying periodontal infections or untreated cavities that should be addressed prior to applying orthodontic devices. Orthodontic appliances worsen pre-existing gum disease.
It's understandable that the high cost of prescription orthodontics could persuade some to take a different route. Still, there are alternatives to ordering by mail or securing rubber bands around the teeth. Most orthodontist offices provide payment plan options, said professionals wary of the DIY trend.
Those interested in straightening their teeth should proceed with caution and seek the opinion of their certified dentist or orthodontist.
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