The PROS and CONS of At-Home Teeth Straightening
With more teeth-straightening options than ever, it can be a bit confusing on what method or brand of braces or aligner product to trust to achieve a smile that is intended to last a lifetime.
There are now many options that you can purchase directly from a manufacturer and use by yourself in your own home. These come in the mail and are often referred to as “do-it-yourself braces” or “DIY braces.” These products are clear aligners, or a series of custom-made plastic trays that you can wear for 1-3 weeks at a time to incrementally move your teeth according to the manufacturer’s prescribed treatment plan. DIY or in-home braces often promise three appealing benefits:
Manufacturers’ Stated Benefits of DIY Teeth Aligners at Home
- Shorter treatment time
- Convenience (you don’t have orthodontist or dentist visits)
- Lower cost than other options
The Reality of Using DIY Teeth Aligners at Home
Treatment duration: The only way to know what your actual treatment time will be is to obtain a professional diagnosis. Treatment duration is determined by the orthodontic issues that need to be addressed and how severe they are. Examples of such issues include crowded teeth, gaps between teeth, overbite, underbite, and crossbite, to name a few. The technical term for this is malocclusion, which is derived from two Latin words that in essence mean “bad bite.”1
In reviewing the claims presented on several leading aligner websites, you will find most DIY products do not require an in-office examination of your teeth and claim results in as few as 3-4 months. Others describe the average treatment time to be about 12-18 months.2
If you were to see an orthodontist, a diagnosis would be made from a combination of a visual exam, 2D and 3D imaging, or traditional putty molds. For DIY aligner kits, you do not meet with a doctor. The manufacturer will send you a kit to take a dental impression that you mail back along with some pictures. Once scans or impressions are received, the manufacturer will make a diagnosis and determine a treatment plan using proprietary software. You will then receive a series of custom-made clear aligners in the mail to change out and wear over the course of your treatment period.
Selling Convenience: Not having to see a doctor every 6-8 weeks is positioned by mail-order aligner companies as a convenience benefit. It may feel that way, until you have a problem, or your treatment does not progress as planned. Aligners purchased through an orthodontist require in-person (or during the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth) visits so that the doctor can see that treatment is progressing as planned, course correct if needed, and even change the treatment plan or products used, if necessary.3,4
Consumers may not be aware that, similar to traditional braces, clear aligners may have attachments or other tools to address the orthodontic issues being fixed through treatment. This may be decided in treatment planning or adjusted during treatment when you are seeing an orthodontist as part of your treatment vs doing a mail-order smile kit.
Cost: Because the business model of mail-delivery aligner products is to eliminate the overhead cost of seeing an orthodontist as the overseer of your treatment, these manufacturers can offer their aligner systems for less money than those that include the close guidance of a trained specialist. You can see this by reviewing the costs outlined on manufacturers’ websites. Some manufacturers promise you a finished smile at half the price of the leading in-office, doctor-prescribed aligner treatment. Other manufacturers offer pricing that is even less than that. But these prices do not involve the expertise of in-office professional guidance.
An Orthodontist’s Involvement: Whether you have access to a dentist, orthodontist or customer service agent available to you varies with what DIY product you use. Some DIY companies say customers will have access to one of their licensed dentists or orthodontists if you have questions or problems. Others claim to work only with licensed orthodontists. Spark™ is available only through trained, licensed orthodontists.3 For background, orthodontists are dental school graduates who have gone on to specialize in orthodontics and have roughly 3700 more hours of training in the growth and movement of jaws and teeth than general dentists.1
At-home Teeth Straightening Kits Don’t Always Provide a Happy Ending
If you want to correct your smile with braces at home with a mail-order aligner, do your homework first. With some online research, you will see that not all treatments with at-home aligner products end with the expected smiles that were promised. Orthodontists we work with have been asked by patients to fix smiles that are crooked or did not turn out as they expected from at-home treatments, especially if the case was more severe. DIY aligners are not for every situation. Unsatisfactory results with at-home aligner kits were the focus of a Jan. 23, 2020, article in the Los Angeles Times.5 The Times article also addressed California Governor Newsom’s legislation that took effect that month to provide greater visibility into the licensed specialists assigned to overseeing treatments behind the scenes, require x-rays before treatment planning, and to give disgruntled consumers a chance to register their complaints, which manufacturers had tried to squelch.5 You can learn about cases that have gone wrong by reading online reviews, joining Facebook communities created for this purpose, and by checking out different manufacturers’ Better Business Bureau ratings.
If you are asking what the best at-home teeth aligner systems are, also ask yourself what are the best options for an aligner prescribed through a doctor and familiarize yourself with those options.
There are Alternatives to At-Home Aligners
There are several alternatives to DIY aligners through mail order and conventional braces. Ormco, one of the world’s leading orthodontic companies trusted by orthodontists, offers an alternative to at-home products with its Spark™ Clear Aligner System. Spark Aligners are nearly invisible and offer several key benefits. Made with TruGEN™, the latest innovation in clear aligner material, Spark Aligners are more clear, more comfortable, and stain less.3 Additionally, Spark’s TruGEN is designed for faster treatment (more efficient tooth movement vs. the leading aligner brand).3 With polished, scalloped edges, patients find Spark Aligners are more comfortable than the leading aligner brand.3 Spark is available through trained orthodontists who are with you every step of your treatment journey.3
Visit Sparkaligners.com to learn more about the Spark Clear Aligner System or to find an orthodontist trained to use Spark for a free consultation. Ask your orthodontist about special payment plans and if your insurance will help cover a portion of the cost of your treatment.
1 Source: AAO: https://www.aaoinfo.org/blog/parent-s-guide-post/glossary-of-terms/
2 Source: A review of the top three direct-to-consumer aligner websites
3 Source: https://sparkaligners.com/spark-difference/
4 Source: The Truth About Orthodontics, by John W. Graham, DDS, MD, page 49, paragraph 2
5 Source: https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-01-23/teeth-straightening-boom