There is a recent dental craze sweeping social media. That craze is DIY braces.

It seems that every other scroll showcases a sponsored advert from companies such as Smile Direct Club, Frank Smile or Your Smile Direct. Click further and you’ll notice that their whole marketing campaigns surrounding DIY mail-order braces are built on one thing… cost.

These companies claim that you can save a third of the cost of clear aligners compared to if you see a dentist. And they’re not wrong. They will save you cash.  This is because there are no visits to a dentist throughout the process, with either yourself or a shop assistant doing the leg work.

Yes, if you are basing a decision about your health solely on ‘the cheapest price’ then I can’t argue – they are cheaper.

But don’t be blinded by this constant barrage of slick selfies and seemingly radical results. It’s important to know why you are paying more for treatment provided by a dentist before you agree to straighten your own teeth.

Let’s compare DIY braces to teeth straightening professionally by a dentist.

photo of clear aligners

Do you know if your teeth are safe to straighten?

Let’s look at what happens when you visit a dentist prior to getting the green light for teeth straightening.

Firstly, your dentist will do a full examination. They’re looking for both suitability and safety. During this examination, they’ll check you don’t have gum disease or cavities.

Next, they’ll take X-rays of any teeth they’re going to move. The x-rays show up the health of the roots, any root canals or implants. Some people have extra teeth hiding in their jaw which need identifying.

Your dentist will ensure your mouth is healthy before you start straightening, or if you’re unsuitable they’ll correct any disease to allow safe teeth alignment.

Now let’s see what happens if you do this yourself.

You decide you want straight teeth, your mouth feels in ship-shape so you take your own moulds. Nobody to put you off and no hoops to jump through.

Brilliant.

Your teeth straightening journey starts in a week or so.

But what if…

What if you have a 3-unit implant-retained bridge needing to be brought out of crossbite?  What if you have generalised stage 3 grade B periodontitis? You have no idea what I’m talking about… and that’s exactly my point.

Things can go wrong if you do not have healthy teeth to start.

Let’s revisit why your dentist does a full examination prior to treatment.

What happens if you have advanced gum disease and move these teeth? There’s a risk they could become loose and fall out.

And if you straighten an implant? Well, it won’t move.

If you have an extra tooth under your gum? That tooth invading its space may lose its root and fall out.

A full and thorough examination is essential before you straighten your teeth.

The end result will be different between DIY braces and dentist

On paper the clear aligners from your dentist and those on mail-order are similar. They’re plastic trays which move your teeth to a straighter position.

But there is a crucial difference in how your dentist will get you to your destination.

As simply explained as possible, without seeing a dentist, the only way your teeth can align is by expanding them outwards. This creates space as your teeth are now in a wider arc.

However, this can pose risks in certain patients.

Gum recession is one of those.

If you have a thin gum type, then this arc widening could cause your gums to shrink. This would mean you have straight teeth, but your teeth look longer, gums will look uneven and your teeth will become sensitive. You’ve created a new cosmetic problem from your cosmetic solution.

As mentioned previously, another risk is loose teeth.

As well as assessing for gum disease, your dentist will check the thickness of your jaw bone and decide if it’s of good quality for orthodontics. If you bring your teeth out of the bone safe zone there is a risk your teeth can become loose and fall out.

Your dentist can plan to prevent these, DIY braces cannot.

There are two crucial weapons in your dentist’s armoury that give potentially better, faster and safer results.

The first is the use of attachments. These are little pieces of white filling that give your aligner trays something to push against. Straightening with attachments allows your dentist to straighten more severe crowding than DIY aligners, potentially in less time.

The second important tool is the use of IPR (or interproximal reduction). This is minor shaping between your teeth to create space, meaning your teeth aren’t pushed out of the bone as far. The result is less gum recession later on.

OK, say you accept the risks and opt for DIY teeth straightening. But something has gone wrong. Then what?

shows DIY gone wrong

Who is going to fix this if you don’t have a dentist?

“Well, I can just go to a dentist” I hear you say!

Not necessarily.

The NHS does not provide clear aligners for teeth straightening so they’re not going to be able to help you.

What about a private dentist?

Like people who have treatment abroad which goes wrong, dentists at home are reluctant to help due to the burden of blame. If a dentist starts to treat you then there is a chance they may be liable for it in the future and they will not take this risk.

If they do offer to help correct work that has gone wrong, then the chances are it’s going to cost a lot more than what it would have done initially.

Seriously, think about this.

Would you take your car to be fixed at the hairdressers? Why not?!  I’m sure that’d be safe on the motorway.

The local butcher could fix your roof on the weekend. No chance that would leak over the Winter.

With teeth straightening you’re not simply moving furniture around your living room. Your teeth are alive. They have nerves, a blood supply, they can get infected and cause pain. They’re fully integrated into the complex fabric of the human body and there are multiple considerations to make before you move them from A to B.

Be very careful.

Is this a new craze or pure craziness?


AUTHOR OF ‘Are DIY braces safe?’

Dr Gareth Edwards Dentist AuthorDr Gareth Edwards BDS (Hons) MFDS RCPS (Glasg)  qualified as a dentist with honours. He has a keen interest in aesthetic dentistry, and is a certified Invisalign and Six Month Smiles provider, practicing in the Bournemouth and Poole area.

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