Problems With “Direct to Consumer” Online Orthodontic Treatment Options
These days it seems you can get pretty much anything online. There are subscription services for meals, designer clothing, and now even direct-to-consumer orthodontic treatments. Companies that promise quick (6 months!), easy, at-home orthodontic treatment through custom-made invisaligners are on the rise. You may have seen commercials for these companies, such as SmileDirectClub, Smilelove, and Candid Co., offering “quick fix” orthodontic treatment through the mail.
These types of direct-to-consumer companies ship you a DIY mold kit, which you self-apply then mail back, along with pictures of your mouth. Shortly afterwards you receive your custom invisaligners in the mail. These companies claim to straighten crooked or crowded teeth without the need for orthodontic office visits. Instead, orthodontists view your custom mold and photos of your teeth, then create a “custom” at-home care program for you. This approach claims to be easier, cheaper, and more convenient than traditional orthodontic care.
Sound too good to be true? Perhaps it is. As these types of “quick fix” direct mailing, sight-unseen orthodontic treatments are increasing in popularity; the warnings against them and stories of problems are also on the rise. Let’s take a look at a few considerations that you won’t hear about on those at-home orthodontics commercials full of happy faces and straight smiles.
1) “Custom” Invisaligners Aren’t Customized Enough
Even though they claim to be “custom,” there is much more to customized orthodontic treatment than just taking a mold and creating invisaligners to fit the mold. Proper orthodontic treatment is a comprehensive medical service that includes a full, detailed evaluation of your jaw, facial features, underbite/overbite, and much more. “I think it’s important for patients to understand that orthodontics is not a product. Comprehensive orthodontic treatment is a complex medical process,” says Kevin Dillard, General Counsel for the American Association of Orthodontists. Orthodontia is not a “one size fits all” science. So individual evaluation and supervision to figure out the exact tools for each situation is key to success.
2) Lack of In-Person Supervision
Regular orthodontic visits to check the progress of your teeth alignment may not be the most convenient thing in the world, but they are necessary for a reason. As much as we love to see you, we don’t require regular checkups just for our own pleasure. Face-to-face evaluations before and during orthodontic treatment are vitally important to the success of that treatment. Contrary to what direct-to-consumer teeth straightening companies seem to claim, there’s much more to creating your perfect smile than just moving crooked teeth into alignment.
Seeing a trustworthy orthodontist throughout the duration of your treatment ensures that the treatment is going as planned, and allows for modifications and adjustments to your treatment as needed (which is fairly common).
3) Incomplete Treatment
Many users who have attempted these direct-to-consumer teeth straightening techniques have later opted for traditional orthodontic care after failed attempts with ship-to-home invisaligners. In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) reports that 13 percent of orthodontists in its membership treated patients who had formerly attempt DIY teeth alignment. This means you’re doubling up on time and cost by receiving incomplete or ineffective treatment to start with, assuming that the “treatment” didn’t cause further damage.
4) Risk of Damage
This is the most serious problem with these direct mailing companies. Any at-home treatment without the regular supervision of an orthodontist poses risks to your dental health. Whether you’re self-applying rubber bands or ordering from a direct-mailing orthodontic business, lack of in-person orthodontic care is always problematic. Proper orthodontic treatment is the careful manipulation of biological material, which, if done improperly, can cause irreversible and costly harm. Invisaligners that are even slightly “off” the needs of your mouth can actually cause more harm than good by misaligning the mouth further. If the jaw is even slightly misaligned, then self-applied invisaligners can actually cause worsened misalignment. Other examples of potential damage without careful application and supervision of orthodontic care include tooth decay and loss, gum loss, and altered biting patterns.
“We’ve been contacted by a number of patients who’ve been injured, from loss of gum tissue to potentially losing teeth because of the treatment,” says Dillard. Consider the story of this man, whose treatment with mail-order aligners caused major problems. After spending $2,000 on this “treatment,” not only were his teeth no straighter, he also experienced pain and was unable to bite down fully. “The tooth is hitting and keeping all the other teeth from being able to close,” he said. He could no longer bite down, chew, and close his mouth normally, resulting in further extensive orthodontic care being needed. Cases such as this are becoming all too common.
The AAO website states the following: “Do it yourself treatments can cause lasting damage. Whether you’re considering clear aligners or traditional braces, only seek treatment under the direct supervision of an AAO Orthodontist.” Expert orthodontists are able to see bone anomalies or problems with teeth roots that photographs and molds would miss. While the seeming benefits of direct-to-consumer aligners may be tempting, the benefits simply don’t outweigh the many possible risks.
Important Aspects of Orthodontic Care Missing in Online Orthodontic Treatment Options
Orthodontic care should include much more than just receiving aligners in the mail and placing them in your mouth. Most direct-mailing orthodontic treatment companies do not offer the comprehensive care that should accompany orthodontic treatment. Here are key factors that should always be involved when receiving orthodontic care, according to the AAO:
- A named, credentialed, licensed orthodontist who has positive customer reviews
- Availability of the orthodontist to answer questions, or see you on short notice to evaluate your areas of concern or incase of emergency
- Comprehensive diagnostic records before treatment (X-rays, etc.)
- Clinical, in-person examination of teeth, bite, jaw alignment
- Photographs of your facial profile, face front, internal and external of mouth and teeth
- Digital scans and other impressions of your teeth (both before and during treatment)
- Regular in-person checkup visits during treatment
- Multiple treatment options available, so that you know you’re getting the best treatment option for your situation (invisaligners aren’t necessarily the best choice in every scenario)
- Evaluation to ensure that your gums and teeth are healthy enough for orthodontic treatment (dental care may be needed first)
While we strongly discourage use of these direct-mailing orthodontic treatments, there may be a few cases in which they would be safe and appropriate. For people over the age of 18 with minor teeth gaps or teeth crowding, a reputable mail-to-home orthodontic service may be able to deliver you the results you desire. However, the AAO recommends doing thorough research first, and being evaluated in-person by an AAO orthodontist before pursuing treatment of any kind.
If you’re looking for a reliable, AAO orthodontist in the Kingwood area, Kimbrough Orthodontics is here to serve you. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about your orthodontic needs, provide you with a through evaluation, and outline a treatment plan that will fit your needs—and your mouth—perfectly. (281) 358-8551