Online Orthodontics – Does it work? Is it safe?

Straightening teeth has become a huge part of dentistry. Not only to improve the aesthetics of your smile, but also to improve functionality. Many of us have thought about changing our smile and for some, treatment can be life-changing.

As of June 2021, there are over 300,000 Australians undergoing some form of orthodontics, with more than a quarter being over the age of 18. The popularity of online orthodontics is rising and is fast becoming “the new alternative”, but may cost you a fortune later on!

What is online orthodontics?

Mail-order clear aligners have become popular recently, with many online social influencers promoting them on their feeds.  Advertisements focusing on convenience and cost savings have also been plastered all over social media. This hits these companies’ target demographic of impressionable young teenagers and adults with limited resources to access a dental professional. 

A quick search of “online braces” will bring up about many websites claiming to be able to straighten your teeth at a fraction of the cost. However, for some of these companies, the people “designing” your new smile are not even qualified dental professionals.

Some states in the US have enacted rules that render these services illegal. Major medical organisations such as the American Dental Association have alleged that these companies are dangerous and are practicing medicine illegally. The ADA has filed complaints in the US with the FTC, FDA and at least 36 state boards.

How do they operate?

As all these companies operate online, they operate quite differently than a dental office. To get your aligners in the mail, they first send you a DIY kit. You are required to take your own photos and moulds of your teeth and then send them back to the company. From there, a “technician” will design your future smile. They then will fabricate a series of aligners to wear and mail them directly to your door. The greatest appeal of this process is the potential of having straight teeth without leaving your own home.

One of the biggest challenges with DIY kits is that people can struggle to take accurate photos or moulds of their teeth. Which means potentially the aligners may not fit correctly, or the end result might vary from the actual design. Accuracy in orthodontics is critical, as one small increment could change the smile completely. 

The goal of these companies is to make money, and not about the health of your teeth. From simple to complex movements, a dental professional will always consider many factors before starting aligner treatment. At Bite Dental Studios, we will not commence any orthodontic treatment without first completing a comprehensive examination of the teeth and gums.

What’s the difference?

When you visit a dental professional or orthodontist for an initial consultation for orthodontics they consider other factors such as jaw movement, tooth root movement, facial alignment, and oral health. They will also take an x-ray to have a look at the tooth root and bone structure. They then assess whether you are a good candidate for orthodontics. Online companies simply look at the top of the teeth and align them in accordance with a computer simulation.

Traditional orthodontists or dental professionals diagnose and propose a treatment plan in order to align the teeth in the best possible way to suit your jaw. They review the progress closely, having appointments every couple of months. Sometimes for aligners, dental professionals can also place tooth coloured bumps called “attachments” on the teeth. In some cases, some tooth movement can be impossible without them. 

By having appointments physically, they are able to check the progression of the movement of the teeth and can make revisions quickly and efficiently. In short, you get what you pay for.

What are the risks? 

When there is an issue with the online aligners, many find that they are forwarded on to a customer service representative, instead of an actual dental professional. 

Without regular visits to a dental professional for check ups and adjustments, there is no way to monitor whether teeth are moving too quickly, not quickly enough or whether there are any underlying issues with the health of the teeth or gums that could hinder the effectiveness of treatment.

There have been many cases where patients require further long term treatment due to online aligners. The additional cost and inconvenience associated with further treatment negates any of the perceived initial cost-savings or benefits of DIY orthodontics.

A second opinion

If you have ever thought about aligning your teeth or changing your smile, our brilliant Dr Nick McKeon has you covered. With keen interests in orthodontics and Invisalign technology, Dr Nick can help you achieve the perfect smile.

From Dr Nick:

In the two decades that I have been practicing dentistry there have been remarkable advances in the world of digital dentistry.  Additionaly, there has been a drive to improve patients’ access to dental care and treatments.  In many ways it would seem that direct to patient clear tray aligner orthodontics is the culmination of such processes. 

However, these direct to patient aligner systems often produce poor results and in some cases they are even dangerous to the teeth.  Computers that assess the teeth and program a straighter smile may end up coming up with a straight set of teeth but may not account for and respect the shape of the jaw or the facial profile.  This may result in teeth that are straight but don’t align to the face. Worse still, there have been instances where teeth have been moved outside of bone and have been lost. 

There are many directions of tooth movement where clear tray aligners need an attachment to act as a handle for the tray and help the plastic trays grip on to the tooth.  This is a simple routine procedure in the dental chair but impossible to do with direct to patient aligner systems.  This compromises the movements that can be successfully achieved and is often the reason for a poor end result.

If you are looking for a solution to straighten your teeth, it is best to be assessed by a professional with knowledge and experience.

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