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Can I Really Straighten My Teeth By Mail?

DIY OrthodonticsLa Habra/Chino Hills, CA – If you spend much time on social media, chances are good you’ve seen ads for companies offering easy, at-home tooth straightening options. Sold via websites, including places like the Sharper Image, companies are offering clear aligners that say they offer all the same benefits, without the hassle of seeing an orthodontist.

“This is a trend that has been picking up a lot of speed lately,” says Dr. Robert Gire, a board certified orthodontist in La Habra/Chino Hills. “Mail order orthodontics companies claim they’re trying to make orthodontics easier and cheaper, but there are some risks involved as well.”

So, how exactly does it work?

The companies who offer the kits are essentially selling aligner therapy, similar to Invisalign…but not quite. For a small consultation fee, the patient will receive a kit with instructions on how to upload photos of their teeth to the website and how to do their own dental impressions. The companies also have the patients sign something that says the patient is under the care of a dentist and has recently had X-rays taken. However, X-rays are not used in determining “treatment” by the company.

After everything has been sent in, the company will have a dentist on their staff determine if the patient is a suitable candidate for their aligners, and a treatment plan will be created. And all of this will be done without you ever leaving your house.

It sounds great, but Dr. Gire warns that it may be too good to be true.

“There are so many things about this trend that worry me,” says Dr. Gire. “First, orthodontics should only be provided by a trained orthodontist. There is no way of telling who is on the other side of the computer – does the person have real experience in creating better functioning bites? But more than that, aligners aren’t appropriate for everyone, and there could be underlying issues (gum disease, joint issues, cavities, undiagnosed grinding, etc.) that could compromise the orthodontic work.”

These companies promise beautiful results at a fraction of the cost. But when something sounds too good to be true, it often is.

Without being under the care of both a trained and certified orthodontist and a dentist, DIY orthodontics might do more harm than good. While more adults than ever before are using orthodontics to get the smiles they’ve always wanted, it is important that adults know and understand the issues that could face them when undergoing orthodontic treatment.

First, orthodontic treatment that is performed on a patient with gum disease can actually perpetuate the disease and cause permanent damage to the smile. When not under the care of a properly trained orthodontist, orthodontics can do real damage, such as root shortening, tooth or bone loss, decay or other serious problems. Teeth should be moved at a very specific rate of speed. If the trays or aligners aren’t perfectly designed, there may be considerable root damage (and you may not even know it because you can’t see it!).

Second, every orthodontic case is different and needs to be approached differently. Aligners aren’t the appropriate orthodontic solution for every patient. An orthodontist has an average of seven years of schooling and training for a reason – and that’s so he or she will know how to properly diagnose and treat every orthodontic issue he sees. But to do that, it not only requires the knowledge, but it also requires professional X-rays, photos, and digital or regular impressions or molds of the teeth.

For example, the front teeth may improve in alignment, but the bite could become compromised, leading to excessive forces on other teeth, which could result in long term damage and possibly eventual loss of teeth. Orthodontics is designed to distribute the forces evenly throughout all the teeth and unfortunately, these mail order systems don’t take that into consideration…AT ALL.

Orthodontic treatment should be considered an investment – it can transform your life by boosting your confidence in a way you never thought possible. But relying on someone you’ve never met, who has never physically examined you, or even seen X-rays of your mouth, isn’t the way to do it.

A trend that we’ve noticed at the offices is that people will attempt to get their teeth straight via one of the mail-order systems, not be pleased with the outcome, and then want to get it corrected at our office. This is extremely unfortunate for the patient because now they in essence will be charged twice, have sacrificed their valuable time and energy, and potentially risked damage to their teeth from trying to use the mail-order system.

The good news is, orthodontic treatment today is more efficient and effective than ever before, both in how it works and how it affects your wallet. Before wasting money on mail order aligners that may not have any positive effect on your smile, schedule a consultation with a certified orthodontist.