Whether you’re watching TV or scrolling through social media, you’ve likely seen ads for invisible aligner companies. They all claim to fix your teeth for less, promising a personalized plan without the need for braces. You don’t even have to set foot in an orthodontist’s office! Sounds easy, right?
One of the biggest selling points these companies boast is cost savings. They claim to offer their services at half or even a quarter of the price of traditional braces. The cost savings comes from cutting out the middleman—also known as the licensed orthodontist—and shipping all the necessary equipment straight to you for a DIY smile fix. But when you cut costs with your health, what else are you sacrificing?
The American Association of Orthodontics (AOO) and the American Dental Association both strongly discourage patients against using mail-order aligner services. They argue these services do not offer patients the care and counsel required for effective treatment. The AAO has filed 36 complaints to state dental boards against the most popular mail-order aligner companies. All of them allege regulatory and statutory violations.
Why are orthodontists so against technology that makes it easier than ever for patients to straighten teeth? Tech companies point to fear of competition. But there are many serious reasons why orthodontic care, even seemingly minor fixes, deserve professional attention.
Photos and impressions can’t catch all issues
There’s much more to a healthy mouth than what you see in the mirror, or in a photograph uploaded to the virtual orthodontist. When you visit the dentist’s office, the dental hygienist and dentist perform comprehensive evaluations to address any issues or underlying diseases. Your teeth, bones, and gums must be healthy to undergo orthodontic treatment. Any health issues must be addressed before you begin the process of moving everything. Skipping the in-person consultation puts you at risk for further issues down the road, stemming from preexisting conditions.
Creating an accurate mold takes skill
Mail-order kits come with the materials to make your own mold of your mouth, which the company uses to create your aligners. If you’ve ever had a mold taken at the dentist’s office, you know it can be an intense process that feels like a suction cup on your teeth—and that’s with an expert doing it! If you make an error, you may have to order (and pay for) another kit to try again. Worse, you may end up just using your iffy mold and creating aligners that won’t fit and may damage your teeth.
You may be missing the necessary equipment
Many orthodontists offer clear aligner products, complete with attachments mail-order kits can’t offer. During an in-office treatment, orthodontists place small bumps on several teeth that help the aligners better grip the teeth. Without these professionally installed pieces, some teeth corrections are impossible with aligners.
You can’t course-correct mid-treatment
The company providing mail-order aligners might offer you a nifty video showing how your teeth will move throughout the process. But not everyone’s teeth move the same way and even the best orthodontist (or best computer program) can’t predict how your teeth will move. With mid-treatment check-ups, your orthodontist can evaluate how well your teeth are doing and make any necessary adjustments to achieve the desired results.
Poor treatment may cause worse dental issues
You ordered the aligners to fix your smile for cheap, but you may end up with issues that are less pretty, more painful and more expensive. Without supervision, your aligners can move your teeth in a way that causes root damage, gum recession, and loose teeth, which are no fun to treat later.
You’re unlikely to have important conversations
Orthodontists can learn a lot more about their patients from a quick in-person chat than they ever could from a virtual-only relationship. With mail-order services, any human interaction you have is likely with customer support and not a dental professional. Are you likely to email a stranger just to let him or her know that you’ve noticed the aligner hasn’t been fitting as well in the back? Probably not. But when you’re sitting in the chair and the orthodontist asks if the aligners feel okay, you’re much more likely to start that conversation.
If you need orthodontic work and are considering using a mail-order service, consult your dentist first. Obtain a referral to an orthodontist and explore your options. You may be surprised by what you’re able to afford thanks to new technology. Proper care of your mouth is an investment in your lovely smile.