There are now many businesses offering relatively cheap orthodontic treatment (braces) from home. It can be difficult for patients to know if home aligners are safe and effective …or a scam.
The businesses selling home aligners usually require their customers to take their own moulds of their teeth at home and post them off. Sometimes appointments are offered in a shop for someone to take customer’s moulds or a scan of their teeth. Sets of clear braces (seemingly similar to Invisalign) are then provided every few weeks in an attempt to straighten their teeth.
Most of these companies have pictures showing seemingly impressive results and are advertised on social networks like Instagram and Facebook. The social media presence and reviews can give the appearance of legitimacy.
There are however, many reports of home aligner companies putting profits above patients health and safety.
Are home aligners safe?
Straightening or aligning your teeth (known as orthodontic treatment), is a complex dental treatment with many associated risks. These risks are sometimes not properly assessed or managed with home aligner treatment.
Who can provide safe orthodontic treatment?
Orthodontic treatment should always be provided by a dentist. This is both to get the best results and also for your safety.
Dentists spend 5 years training to be able to provide general dentistry and are regulated by the General Dental Council, but even this usually isn’t enough training to provide orthodontic treatment. Dentists usually have to go through special extra training to get the knowledge, skills and experience they need to be able to plan and provide safe, effective orthodontic treatment.
Anyone who has not undergone both an undergraduate course in dentistry as well as special extra training in orthodontics simply wont be able to understand the complexities of your dental problems or understand the best way to safely straighten your teeth and the risks involved.
A consultation with a dentist who has training in orthodontics is the best way to ensure you get appropriate and safe treatment. For this reason, in the UK, orthodontic treatment can only legally be provided by a dentist who has undergone the special training required.
Dental practices are set up with lots of protocols and procedures in place, and are regulated by the Care Quality Commission to help keep patients safe. A dental practice is therefore the best place to be assessed for and to receive orthodontic treatment.
What are the risks with home aligners?
A promise of quick cheap orthodontic treatment sounds too good to be true …and often is.
Excessively shortened roots
Orthodontic treatment which is too fast can cause problems. Repositioning teeth can cause their roots to shorten, especially when teeth are moved too quickly. Dentists always take X-Rays before any orthodontic treatment, partly to check on the length and strength of the roots of your teeth and assess the risk and impact of your roots shortening.
Bad results and hidden problems
Home aligners do not always achieve a good result.
While smiles can superficially look better in pictures on Instagram, Facebook and in adverts, promotional photographs won’t show any “hidden” problems.
Poorly planned and designed home aligners can cause problems with the way you bite leading to trouble eating, headaches, toothaches.
As well as spotting dental problems like short roots, any cavities, cracks or gum disease, dentists eyes are trained to spot signs of oral cancer and other conditions of the mouth that can be easily left undiagnosed and untreated without a dental examination.
Never-ending or incomplete treatment
Some home aligner treatment never achieves a satisfactory result and requires additional aligners (often at an additional cost) in an attempt to get a better result. Many patients eventually loose motivation or run out of funding and get left with a compromised or bad result.
The need to see an orthodontist to fix problems
Sometimes after home aligner treatment, some patients have such a bad result that they have to visit and pay for an orthodontist to correct the problems caused by bad home aligner treatment. The total cost of bad home aligner treatment and corrective treatment with an orthodontist is usually much more than the cost would have been to simply have treatment with an orthodontist at the beginning.
Some patients using home aligners are left with irreparable damage to their mouth and teeth, which cannot be fixed by a general dentist or orthodontist.
What should you look for when choosing where to get aligners?
When choosing how and where to get orthodontic treatment, there are some things to look for to help ensure you receive safe treatment:
- Your treatment should be provided in a dental practice where they have all the equipment, resources, protocols, regulation and assistance to treat you safely.
- You should expect to meet your treating dentist face-to-face for an examination.
- You should know your treating dentist’s name and contact details so you can contact them if you have any problems.
- The website of the dentist providing your orthodontic treatment should give your dentist’s name, qualifications and registration details along with a link to the General Dental Council so you can verify the dentist’s registration and qualifications.
- The website should also have information about how and where to complain if something goes wrong.
- You should not be asked to take your own moulds, instead the dentist providing your orthodontic treatment (or their dental nurse, hygienist or therapist) should take your moulds for you in the dental practice.
- Information for patients and the public on Aligners or braces sent directly to your home from the General Dental Council.
- Press release on Remote orthodontics from the British Dental Association.
- Statement on Do-it-yourself braces from the British Orthodontic Society
Share your story
If you’ve experienced any problems with home aligner treatment not mentioned above, please share your experience below so that we can help to warn other people.