If there was one thing that we weren’t prepared for when starting this column, it’s the immense popularity of DIY dentistry. From misinformation on cheap veneers to putting hydrogen peroxide directly on the enamel to whiten and brighten, it seems many TikTokers love the idea of getting that movie star smile on the cheap. Now we have another trend to make dental professionals squirm: DIY teeth straightening.
Popular videos on the platform include people ordering $12 straightening kits from Amazon, designing and 3D-printing their own adjustments, or using elastic bands to pull gapped teeth closer together.
Although this practice seems quick and easy, dental professionals and orthodontists warn that there can be serious side-effects.
“It’s definitely not something we would consider safe,” says Dr. Brian Phee, president of the Canadian Association of Orthodontists. “Every person is unique, every person has different health issues, everyone’s tissues are different. You definitely cannot do a one-size-fits-all when it comes to orthodontics.”
Jeremy — who has asked for his last name to be withheld because of his work as an advocate to end misleading information regarding oral health on social media — is a dental hygiene student and registered dental assistant in Seattle, Washington. He explains that the damage from these practices can last for the rest of a patient’s life.
“There’s a lot of things that you don’t know about teeth until you start to study and learn them,” he says. “If you try and do things yourself, you can cause permanent damage that will last with you for a lifetime.”
The pitfalls of getting straight teeth the DIY way
Although this seems like it could be a quick and easy way to get the perfect smile, Phee explains that if it done improperly, moving teeth can damage the roots of the tooth, the ligaments, gums or bone that keep the teeth nestled in place. And if the teeth aren’t healthy to begin with, the pressure from an elastic band or retainer can cause cracks and breaks in the tooth itself.
“If you lose the bony support around the teeth, which you can’t see, that’s something you cannot replace,” says Phee.
Orthodontists will typically have scans or X-rays done to determine how far the teeth can be moved and how quickly. This allows them to see the underlying structure of the mouth and any risk areas like hidden cavities or other concerns. Orthodontists and dental professionals will also check in every few weeks, to make sure that the teeth are moving safely within the jaw.
Jeremy explains that moving the teeth too quickly can actually cause them to fall out in extreme circumstances, which is why many straightening protocols — as with braces — can take years. Too much force on the tooth can cause it to detach from the periodontal ligament that works to suspend many of the teeth in place, not only impacting physical health, says Phee, but also mental health.
And while dental implants are good, they’re not a perfect replacement for natural teeth and can affect the types of food a patient can eat. The procedure for getting an implant or crown can also be costly, require downtime and, in some cases, be pretty painful. DIYers also tend to target the very visible front-top row of teeth, where damage will be the most visible.
Position is also important
Alignment is also important, more so than having teeth that are perfectly straight. Pulling teeth into an awkward alignment just so they stay straight can be uncomfortable and lead to more problems down the road.
“A lot of times we don’t just straighten teeth so that they look nice, that’s kind of a side-effect,” says Jeremy. “ … A lot of the times we straighten teeth because maybe your teeth overlap too much, you have an overbite where you don’t bite down correctly, maybe your lower teeth are over top of your upper teeth so that when you bite down, your teeth aren’t touching correctly in the front.”
Repercussions of DIY dentistry could last a lifetime
The repercussions of moving your teeth on your own may not become visible for years after the fact, when the damage caused early on in life is exacerbated by age-related declines in bone density or as other health issues begin to crop up. This could mean that TikTokers advertising success with their tooth-straightening endeavours may not realize the damage until time has passed, or anyone who’s already tried “fixing” one part of their mouth may go onto another area, causing further damage.
“When you see people in their 70s and 80s that have other health issues, the last thing they want is to lose more teeth or not be able to eat well,” says Phee. “You wish you could kind of get hold of everybody out there that’s in their late teens, early 20s and explain if you just do some good general maintenance, you can hold on to these things for a long time.”
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