Patients looking for a seemingly more convenient way to get straighter teeth may soon have another option. With the advent of by-mail orthodontics, a crop of companies have begun to pilot at-home orthodontic kit sales and kiosks in stores and malls. But is this a good idea? After all, we all lead busy lives and convenience is important - but some dentists think this do-it-yourself trend could be very, very dangerous.
Dr. Gary Lederman is a dentist based in Bellmore, New York. He treats patients for a variety of oral health conditions that require orthodontic intervention – from crooked teeth to temporomandibular joint disorder. He sees this new trend of by-mail orthodontics as potentially dangerous.
"The problem with these by-mail orthodontics services is there is almost no professional medical support," he says. "Basically, patients are relying on their own ability to heal themselves. There is a very high potential for things to go horribly awry, and without medical supervision, things could go from bad to worse a lot faster."
That’s because, according to Lederman, if the patient isn’t following directions, loses or breaks an aligner, or if there is simply a problem with the way the teeth are lining up that causes the teeth to move in a way they shouldn’t, it may actually take longer to get the problem fixed – especially since, in the case of misalignment, the patient probably won’t know what to look for on their own.
"And the whole idea is to do it faster and with less intervention, so that doesn’t jibe well," he says.
Another problem? With by-mail treatment done largely from home, without weekly or monthly visits to the orthodontist or dental professional, should a dental professional be needed, up-front costs may not be clear.
"To be treated by a dentist or orthodontist, you have to use one who is in the program you choose. That narrows down your selection right there. You may not live near or like the options available to you. It's also not clear if that is an extra charge," Lederman says.
And what about the cost of the treatment itself. Many stores will sell the starter kit, but once the kit is submitted, patients may experience some serious sticker shock. That’s because the intro kit can’t tell you the final price because every mouth is different. So, you don’t know how much your treatment will be or for how long it will last until you pay for and submit the welcome kit, once your impressions are reviewed. And by the way, they’re reviewed in a lab by professionals you will never meet.
"It’s very impersonal, with a high potential for things to go wrong," says Lederman.
Not exactly the deal you’d bargained for.