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Dentistry DIY

Tackling projects yourself is OK for many things—orthodontia is not one of them.

Thanks to this wonder called the Internet, anyone with access to Wi-Fi can learn and potentially master subjects and tasks seemingly unimaginable years ago when encyclopedias were all the information sources some of us had at the house—if that. From fixing, building, and creating to even diagnosing a medical condition, there’s a Google answer and YouTube video for almost anything. Knowledge is power, right?

Well, not exactly all of it. If you’re one of the many people contemplating an ambitious do-it-yourself project to straighten your own balky teeth with a plastic tray rather than consulting with an orthodontist, well, don’t believe that all those perfect, gorgeous smiles you see online and on social media were products of this craze.

“We live in a new society. Today, people want this done cheaper, faster, and hopefully unnoticeably and maybe at home and maybe not come into the office; that would be better,” says Colorado Springs orthodontist Chad Watts, who holds a doctorate in dental medicine. “With scanning technologies now, patients can do this on their own. There’s a problem with that because there’s a technique, a way, to move teeth, and you can’t do it on your own. We want to believe a computer can move your teeth.”

A generation ago, there was a one-way route to perfectly straight teeth: metal braces. Case closed. But, by the late 1990s, the first of the clear aligners—Invisalign—took on the traditional braces market as an alternative and completely changed the landscape in which people approached the topic of orthodontia. Suddenly, there was an alternative to heavy metal. But does it work? You bet it does, right? Just look at all those before-and-after photos (wink, wink).

Then, other choices followed, including braces that actually go on the back of the teeth and others made of ceramic and clear brackets that make them practically invisible to the naked eye. But can they meet the results of the traditional metal?

“I am in favor of traditional braces since you can accomplish more with them, and there are clear brackets now that work as well as metal traditional brackets,” says Michele Matthews, a doctor of dental surgery, who specializes in orthodontics in Colorado Springs. “If you’re going to spend that much money, I just think that, with braces, you can take a tooth and move in three dimensions and make it more stable.”

It’s not that Invisalign and its competitors won’t do the job; it’s more about the scope of teeth alignment and/or other dental issues. “If you want something simple, the aligners can be effective for that,” Matthews says. “In the end, it depends on the goals of the patient. Braces and aligners both have their place.”

Before anything, an orthodontist will give a prospective patient a complete consultation, explaining the differences between the options and case studies to illustrate the process.

“A lot of people might walk in and have their hearts set on Invisalign,” Watts says. “Those are good for minor crowding, and it’s a good touch-up product. But it’s not changing the foundation of the biting structure. I’ve done cases where patients spend a year in Invisalign, they get burned out because they’re not seeing results, and I finish them in braces. Sometimes, it takes that education and process to get people to understand what’s best for them in the long run.”

And that long run shouldn’t include a DIY orthodontia journey, which is now actually creating an unexpected benefit for local practices. “With a place like SmileDirectClub, there’s no oversight,” Watts says. “Now, I’m getting patients coming through my doors who have had six, nine months with these home aligners, and their teeth are worse than when they started. They paid half the price with no result. We’re here to clean that up.”