Are Direct-to-Consumer Clear Aligners Effective?
By: Orthodontist Nicolas Branshaw
In recent years, we have seen a rise in at-home dental products meant to straighten or fix teeth. Direct-to-consumer companies often set up kiosks in malls or pharmacies and offer digital scans of your teeth. While this is a useful technology in understanding the placement and shape of your teeth and bite, digital scans do not provide full insight into your oral health. Creating a beautiful smile takes much more than a scan or impression of your teeth.
For most of us, we view ourselves as patients when seeking care from a doctor. In doing so, we place trust in our providers to look out for many facets of health while diagnosing us and developing care plans. When we look at the direct-to-consumer model, the company sees us as consumers. Given the choice, would you prefer to visit your doctor if a problem arises or work with a customer service department to solve what may become a serious medical issue? Due to the consumer mentality, you may not receive the care that you need, or have the results you may have hoped for. A lack of professional medical support and a level of uncertainty with the procedure may cause long-term issues.
Many of these products, while they can shift teeth, reduce cost by removing a medical team's direct oversight. Diagnostic records, X-rays, and imaging contribute to plans that consider tooth, bone, gum, and jaw health. There is more to treating a smile than moving the visible portions of the teeth, and that is where an orthodontic specialist is crucial to establishing a healthy bite and smile.
Risks of Direct-to-Consumer Aligners
Opting for the “do-it-at-home” option may cause more complex issues than tooth misalignment. Long-term effects of mistreating teeth may result in needing expensive corrective procedures. In the end, you may have to pay an orthodontist to finish what the “do-it-at-home” company could not treat.
If teeth are not monitored, you may experience:
- Trauma to the teeth and gum tissues
- Loss of a tooth or excessive bone loss
- Bite misalignment
- Chipped or fractured teeth
You may not know that clear aligners are strong enough to move teeth and bone. The software used to create clear aligner trays for direct-to-consumer products scans only the visible tooth; missing your bone, gum, and jaw health. Occasionally, the software also misses discrepancies in the sizes of teeth, which contributes to jaw alignment.
Without considering both aspects of oral health, companies are unable to build an accurate care plan that would deliver the best results the way a medical provider would. Ignoring these factors can lead to alignment and spacing issues, causing trauma to the jaw, affecting your bite, and may even cause a tooth to move outside of the bone.
When utilizing traditional orthodontic methods, patients receive constant support and even have the option to adjust the plan or seek alternate solutions should a problem arise. During at-home treatment, limited support staff is available to consumers if an issue arises. As a result, the best care and medical advice is not readily accessible.
Differences Between Direct-to-Consumer Aligners and Orthodontic Treatment
The movement of teeth in the presence of gum disease or cavities will speed up bone loss and the size of cavities. Many contracts for direct-to-consumer products state that you need to have approval from your dentist before using their products. Some contracts even recommend that your dentist monitors your oral health throughout treatment. Unlike an orthodontist, who is a trained medical professional, direct-to-consumer companies do not take responsibility for your oral health before, during or after treatment. This means that if any medical issues occur or treatment does not go as planned, it’s on you to correct it, not them.
Many orthodontists offer Invisalign as an alternative to braces for individuals looking to use clear braces for cosmetic and comfort reasons. When working with an orthodontist, the process is more controlled. We work with you to build a care plan to ensure you’re maintaining good oral health. Since we see you every four to six weeks during treatment, we can address any issues immediately before they cause larger, more costly problems.
If you’re considering direct-to-consumer aligners, talk with your dentist or orthodontist first to be sure you understand your options. If you are looking for a dentist or orthodontist to start the conversation, request an appointment below. My team and I are always happy to provide a complimentary orthodontic consultation to address any concerns you may have.