Orthodontist: Some things — like braces — should not be DIY

The “do it yourself” trend has never been bigger.

With YouTube videos to offer step-by-step instructions, with just a few clicks many people often gain false confidence that they can fix their own car, make complex updates around the house and create craft projects worthy of a museum.

The popularity of interior design and mechanic television shows are proof that people are looking to save money by working on projects, oftentimes without the proper expertise. However, a quick Google search for “DIY fails” or “Pinterest fails” shows that not everyone should be attempting to try to do what highly trained experts should be doing for them.

The same principle is true with orthodontic work, but consequences can be dire. A recent rash of teens and adults attempting to do their own orthodontic treatment has experts like me and my colleagues extremely concerned.

Don’t believe me? National outlets like the Washington Post have reported on this new trend of “DIY Braces” and the dangers that come with untrained patients attempting to do the work of highly specialized doctors. Internet sensation and design student Ashely Dudley made headlines a few months ago with his 3-D printed braces.

Innovation is great, but 3-D printing braces when you are unaware of the structural issues you’re facing isn’t smart. The dangers of this approach to orthodontic work are many.

Using clear aligners that are received each week in the mail from online companies is not only potentially damaging, but could end up being much more expensive in the long run. Trying to move a tooth inward, when there is not adequate room for it, may damage neighboring teeth. Trying to move a tooth outward may make it impossible to close all the teeth together, which could create jaw joint and facial muscle imbalances, as well as putting excessive biting pressure on a few teeth.

It is also possible that moving a tooth when there is inadequate gum tissue to support the new tooth position could result in the loss of the tooth completley. A trained orthodontist may be able to reverse the damage done by DIY care, but surgery and long-term alignment issues are not uncommon. I would not attempt to fix my own broken arm or cure a disease with home remedies, nor should the general public attempt to move their own teeth.

In all types of health care, there is an important factor that cannot and should not be replaced by computer algorithms and apps — the human factor. Patients need to understand that orthodontic treatment should be led by a highly trained specialist. A certified orthodontist can provide patients with the best possible outcome. Orthodontists are experts in diagnosing, treating, and preventing structural oral issues. We receive additional formal education beyond dental school and have access to the technology needed to provide positive outcomes for our patients.

By creating a specific treatment plan for each of my patients, and by checking in on their progress frequently throughout their treatment, I provide them with individualized, hands-on care. Each case is different because everyone’s mouth is different. My years of schooling and experience have prepared me for all of the different factors that can affect a patient’s treatment progress and outcome.

Doing it yourself is a worthy goal for making birthday cakes and painting homes, but not health care — and definitely not orthodontic work. Orthodontic work is not only about providing a realistic treatment plan, but to ensure that each patient finishes their treatment equipped with a beautiful smile, a healthy bite, sound gum tissues and the confidence they need to succeed.

The risks of DIY braces are just too high to chance your health and your smile.

Hime is a native of San Antonio and has practiced orthodontics in Austin for 28 years. He is past president of the Texas Association of Orthodontists and was an Associate Professor in Orthodontics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for over 10 years.

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