Alexa, “straighten my teeth.”
With the increasing number of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) invisible aligner solutions coming onto the market, you may think we are not far away from this scenario.
Google “straighten my teeth” or “orthodontist in my area” and one or more search results will be direct-to-consumer products that offer simple, quick orthodontic treatments, limited to the front six teeth for mild crowding or spacing.
The process involves completing an online questionnaire and purchasing an impression kit for less than $100. The consumer takes an impression and photos of the teeth at home and then sends them to the company. The doctors working for these companies review the case and then pass it on to Invisalign, which manufactures the aligners and mails them directly to the patient.
Issues with DIY solutions
Sounds easy, but there are a number of issues that consumers should be aware of:
- Teeth are part of a complex system. This includes the bone, gum tissue and the Temporomandibular joint (jaw joint, or “TMJ”). The entire system must be considered to make a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Orthodontists examine the patient’s entire oral cavity, as well as the head and neck region and evaluate digital x-rays of the patient’s teeth, jaw bones and bite. Prior to moving teeth, they assess for other conditions such as joint disorders, periodontal disease and functional problems. An assessment of your teeth, bite and jaws using pictures taken on a smartphone can lead to potential errors in diagnoses and treatment and oftentimes lead to irreversible changes the teeth.
- The movement of teeth is complicated. Invisalign provides a simulation of teeth movement and straightening, but real-world biology and biomechanics must be taken into consideration. In my experience of almost twenty years of using Invisalign, the technology is fairly accurate, but the human body is unpredictable in how it responds to new movements and materials. When the body decides to react in a way not predicted by an algorithm, it is essential to have a doctor who is monitoring treatment make course corrections before things get out of control. Orthodontists have three additional years of training in biomechanics after dental school; we closely monitor changes to keep the teeth and supporting structures healthy and to prevent dangerous side effects.
- Most DIY aligners only move front teeth by tipping the crowns of the teeth. If the teeth are being tipped into place and not moved in their entirety, they are far more likely to tip back when treatment is finished.
Consult an expert to see if invisible aligners are for you
New technology is exciting and it certainly creates more opportunities for different options of care. However it is not for everyone. Adults looking to straighten their teeth with braces or aligners are strongly encouraged to seek consultation with an orthodontist. Orthodontists, as dental specialists, are highly trained and work closely with patients using aligners and braces in a real setting every day.
Dr. Tina Reed completed her orthodontic training at the University of California – San Francisco in 2000. Her Master’s thesis while at UCSF is part of a long-term clinical study on the effect of female reproductive hormones on Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disease. Dr. Reed is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists, the Western Pennsylvania Society of Orthodontists, The Great Lakes Association of Orthodontists and the American Dental Association. She has been in private practice for twenty years and currently practices in Pittsburgh, PA. www.tinareedorthodontics.com