There are lots of "do it yourself" projects you can complete successfully with just a little time and effort. However, "do it yourself" braces is not one of them. Despite that, there are a rising number of videos on YouTube instructing on how to fix your teeth at home, and even more online sites selling braces kits for those who want straighter teeth but want to avoid the orthodontist.
"There's a common misconception in the general public that braces are simple — you push on the tooth and it moves where you want it," says Jeffery Iverson, DDS, MS, an assistant professor at the University of Utah School of Dentistry. "Orthodontics is very complex. Human physiology, occlusion, biomechanics, craniofacial growth and development, tooth size, shape and morphology, as well as the patient's overall lifelong dental health, must be taken into consideration."
The most basic method of DIY braces is placing a rubber band around teeth in an attempt to move them together. While this may cause teeth to move, it can also cause a number of complications like tooth fracture, gum damage, root damage, tooth loss, or serious medical complications.
"Blood circulates just below the surface of the oral mucosa, and the placement of toxic, non-sterile items in the oral cavity can injure it and is a good recipe for infection," says Iverson. "These infections can spread through the blood or through facial spaces, and these infections could become life threatening."
He has seen the damage a simple rubber band can do firsthand. "I saw a 12-year old patient during my residency that tried to close some spaces in her lower mandibular incisors using a rubber band," Iverson says. "X-ray evaluation revealed severe bone loss on the distal roots of the mandibular lateral incisors."
The child ended up needing surgery to remove the rubber band, which had done lasting damage to her teeth.
Another option gaining popularity involves companies that will send consumers kits to take impressions of their teeth, and then will send them clear alignment devices. They claim the process is overseen by a qualified orthodontist and that the kits should only be used by those with a "mild" alignment problem. However, Iverson has his doubts.
"If overseen means a doctor looks at some pictures and impressions over the internet and the patient is never seen in the beginning, throughout treatment nor has the final result evaluated at completion, I could see multiple problems with that type of treatment," he says.
Iverson also says treating even a mild alignment problem is more complex than simply taking teeth impressions and fitting a device. "In an orthodontic office every patient receives a set of orthodontic records, which include orthodontic x-rays," he says. "I don't see where these companies are providing an x-ray evaluation on their patients, so many potential problems could possibly be missed."
There are also "black market" braces options available, which can cause even greater damage. The materials being used may not be sterile or may even be toxic. There is a chance they could come loose or be swallowed. Then there is the issue of removing them. "Removal of DIY braces can fracture the teeth or extract the teeth depending on the method of cementation," says Iverson.
The bottom line? If you want straighter teeth, see an orthodontist — face to face.
"It takes a trained orthodontist to position the teeth in their correct positions so detrimental damage doesn't occur," says Iverson.