Clear aligners have grown immensely popular in recent years. While Makeshift Invisalign is probably the most well-known, a full course of Invisalign treatment can cost up to $10,000. There are certainly other companies claiming fast, discreet orthodontic treatments, but while it is tempting to save money, using a cheap alternative can have serious consequences for your smile.
The most common Invisalign replications on the market are the mail-order, “do-it-yourself” clear aligners. You’ve probably seen an ad or passed by a pop-up store at the mall with vendors offering easy, DIY teeth straightening kits. It usually just takes a few minutes—a technician takes a digital impression of your teeth, creates your aligners, and sends you home with your new DIY kit.
Sometimes it’s even easier. Some companies only need a photograph of your mouth to create the aligners and ship them to you. No other commitments are required for the rest of the treatment course.
Another trend involves people creating their own devices to move their teeth. These use all kinds of materials, including 3D printing of plastic molds. Gap banding, where people wrap rubber bands around the teeth to close gaps between them, has some following, although dentists and orthodontists strongly discourage the practice.
As you may guess from the lack of expert medical oversight in these DIY methods, they should be avoided for numerous reasons.
Invisalign is a doctor-supervised treatment that makes subtle movements over a period of 12 to 18 months. This process requires a personalized teeth alignment plan administered by experienced Invisalign dentists. Importantly, it involves changing aligners over the course of the treatment based on comprehensive diagnostic records like X-rays. Patients can have upwards of 20 different sets of aligners throughout their treatments.
DIY teeth aligners do not employ this level of sophistication. They are molded to your first scan or teeth imprint and worn for months without adjustments. This fails to take into account the way your teeth move with time, rendering these aligners useless after some time—or likely to make undesirable changes to your smile.
That’s right. Not only will makeshift Invisalign fail to give you your desired smile, but it could also destroy the one you have.
DIY aligner kits are advertised for their simplicity and one-touch treatments, but this is hardly a benefit. To achieve quick results, these aligners are molded in a way that shortens the treatment period.
However, moving teeth is an intricate procedure that should not be rushed. Applying crude pressure can cause teeth to fall off, jawbone damage, and shrinking gums. Often this damage only becomes evident once the harm is done.
Consider—would you buy a product that claimed to fix a broken bone overnight? Just like healing a bone, moving teeth into their correct alignment takes time.
For some people, makeshift aligners can lead to other complications. Forgoing a dental checkup before using aligners also prevents the diagnosis of cavities or gum diseases like periodontitis. Moving teeth in an area of the jaw affected by periodontitis can cause the teeth to be pushed out and cause irreversible damage to the bone.
Considering 47.2% of adults over 30 years have some form of periodontal disease, it is much safer to seek professional medical services instead of DIY methods.
Even if you don’t have periodontitis, wearing incorrectly-placed aligners causes irritation and inflammation of the gums and supporting structures of your teeth. This can cause infections that may go unnoticed by a non-medical professional. Unfortunately, most DIY aligner providers do not offer routine appointments to ensure everything is going safely and correctly.
Left untreated, tooth infections can spread to other areas of the body and affect multiple tissues and systems. The complications of spreading infections are severe and potentially life-threatening.
Makeshift teeth straighteners can cause more harm than good, prompting the need for professional help to correct the damage. Amateur teeth straightening hacks and tutorials have surged the internet recently, but these fail to show the risks involved.
In one case study by the American Association of Orthodontists, a seemingly simple DIY fix using a rubber band resulted in a patient developing acute, severe gum disease and 75% loss to the bone that held the banded teeth in place. It took three years and nine months to repair the damage, not to mention the huge costs of multiple surgeries and treatments.
While this is an extreme case, the cost implications of corrective and restorative treatments are much higher than professional cosmetic dental procedures. For example, replacing a lost tooth can exceed $20,000 in treatment costs over a lifetime, an amount much higher than a course of Invisalign treatment administered by an orthodontist.
The lack of doctor supervision is not the only reason makeshift aligners are cheap. One of the reasons companies offer DIY clear aligners for less than half the cost of dentist-approved ones is the materials they use. Most mail-order DIY aligner kits are made with cheaper, non-dental-grade plastic.
These lower-quality clear aligners are not as durable as Invisalign and may injure the teeth and gums when they wear and tear. Another more concerning factor is the risk of ingesting chemicals such as bisphenol-A, more commonly known as BPA. BPA is an industrial chemical used in plastics that can leach into foods and beverages and may cause health problems in those exposed.
Dentist-provided Invisalign aligners are made with FDA-approved medical-grade polyurethane resin that does not contain BPA.
Orthodontists have a legal duty to provide a certain level of competent care to their patients. If they do not adhere to this standard and cause harm to a patient, they may be liable for dental malpractice.
Patients who have suffered an injury or have a dispute regarding their dental treatment may also report it to their state dental board. These measures are in place to protect the patient’s safety and uphold laws governing the practice of dentistry.
Unfortunately, these laws cannot protect people using most DIY clear aligners in the market. This is because the companies require customers to sign consent forms that release them from liability in case of a dispute or injury.
As much as you may want a quick, inexpensive fix for that one crooked tooth in your smile or slight overbite, remember your teeth and health are worth the investment. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to orthodontic treatment. That’s why it’s always best to choose professional medical services over DIY solutions.