The age of sites like Pinterest has ushered in a new era of ‘do it yourself’ or DIY projects. Coupled with the increasing affordability of 3D printers and the broad reach ‘how to’ videos available on sites like YouTube, it’s easier than ever to attempt projects many never dreamed would be possible to do from home. One such project? Do it yourself braces. We spoke to Dr. Stephen Hill of Allen, TX about why this is one project that’s better left to the experts.
You may have seen the videos on YouTube of teens and young adults who have fashioned their own ‘DIY’ braces, and are boasting seemingly impressive results. One entitled "Cheap Easy Braces!" has received over 1.2 million views. In it, a young woman shows how she closed a gap between her teeth over time by pulling them together with an elastic. In yet another video, a Washington-state woman claims to have closed the gap in her own teeth in under two months by using $5 of hair elastics. A college student in NJ even recently made headlines for using his school's 3D printer to fashion his own "Invisalign-style" braces.
So what’s so bad about DIY braces? After all, braces can cost thousands of dollars, and many insurance plans won’t cover them. DIY is better than nothing, right? "That couldn’t be more wrong, "says Hill. "For so many reasons." First of all, says Hill, "these videos can be seen as the success stories- but I use the word success lightly because there is no telling what problems these DIY treatments might cause down the road." Worse still, for every person who will see positive results with this type of experiment, there will be many more that cause irreparable damage to their teeth. In addition to actually worsening your bite, causing new gaps in different places in your mouth, and having no way to retain your new results, some people who have tried DIY braces have developed infections so severe they’ve actually lost teeth.
Says Hill "The reason we go to an orthodontist to get braces is because orthodontists are trained in the proper way to safely adjust teeth." So what are the main differences between orthodontic care and DIY care? Well, for starters, an orthodontist takes a more holistic approach. Says Hill "You don’t just walk into the orthodontist off the street and walk out with braces 20 minutes later. Some steps must be taken before you can even begin treatment." According to Hill, every treatment starts with x-rays of the mouth to ensure the bones are healthy before attempting to move the teeth. "That’s not something you can do at home," says Hill. Then your orthodontist will take impressions to get a full picture of where the teeth are and how best to realign them. Orthodontic treatments are not a ‘one size fits all’ – and many treatment plans may require more than one phase or orthodontic device. "And then there’s the issue of timing," Hill explains. "If you don’t leave the braces on long enough, or follow up with a retainer, the teeth can move right back to their original position."
So what’s a patient to do if they need braces, but simply don’t have the cash or the insurance coverage? "Call around," says Hill. "Many orthodontists offer to finance, or they will allow you to pay in installments." It may cost more, but it’s worth the expense to have it done right the first time. And according to Hill, if that’s not motivation enough, "Go back to YouTube and search ‘DIY Braces Gone Wrong’ and see for yourself."