Why This DIY Braces Trend Is So Dangerous

Photo: Ralph L Blair/ Getty Images.
"Cheap easy braces!! Without going to the dentist!!!!!" reads the title of singerforeverlove's YouTube video, one of the many "DIY braces" tutorials now available online. "I wanted to get braces but, of course, braces are really expensive..." the teenage girl begins. "So today, I'm going to teach you how to make [them at home]... It's gonna hurt, especially the first few days...but don't [give up], because it's totally worth it in the end." She goes on to demonstrate how to straighten teeth and close gaps over time by tying Goody elastics around your pearly whites. (Shudder.) While this video was posted three years ago, the DIY-braces trend has been gaining a lot of momentum recently, especially as teens — many of whom can't afford traditional orthodontia — feel increasing pressure to have "perfect" teeth. The American Association of Orthodontists even issued a consumer alert (warning: the image is pretty graphic) last September advising against the use of elastics as "gap bands." And the obsession doesn't stop there. In countries including Thailand, Indonesia, and China, fake braces were considered a fashion statement among certain sets circa 2012. They have reportedly led to the deaths of two Thai teens — and to Thailand banning them completely. Juan Rendon, DDS, MSD, of Jefferson Dental Clinics in Texas, understands that those attempting this at-home "hack" are trying to save money (the average cost of braces in the U.S. was about $5,200 in 2012), but he points out that they'll likely spend more trying to reverse the damage in the long run.
"It seems very attractive that you could possibly move your own teeth, but when you move a tooth, the color of the tooth might change because you are damaging the blood supply," says Dr. Rendon. "You’re also going to have problems with your gums. When the gums are subject to pressure, the blood supply is cut [off], which changes the shape of the gums and can cause severe inflammation and infection." Tanya Vaysman, DMD, of Upper Eastside Orthodontists in New York City, echoes Dr. Rendon's point, listing additional risks like bone loss, root damage, and even tooth loss. (Eek.) If your teeth aren't healthy from the get-go, this at-home procedure could also exacerbate existing problems. What makes traditional braces safer than rogue rubber bands? The biggest difference is that orthodontists are able to carefully control the direction in which the teeth move. (They go through an average of four to eight years of post-undergraduate schooling to learn how.) "When we do brace fittings, when we do alignments, what we normally have is a wire that is going to work as a template to keep the shape of the arch," says Dr. Rendon. "We know how much we’re moving; we know if the teeth are sliding through the wire, and eventually, the roots start moving in the same direction we want to move the teeth." While we may advocate for DIY beauty every now and then, some things are best left to the professionals. “When you take health care into your own hands, you have problems — whether it’s teeth or anything else," says Dr. Vaysman. And while $5 may seem like an appealing price for a gleaming, gap-free smile, you only get one set of adult teeth — so treat them with care.

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