Is it safe to straighten teeth at home?

Teeth straightening has historically been the domain of orthodontists and dentists. Recently though, we’ve seen a worrying number of teens and adults take matters into their own hands and experiment with ‘DIY braces’.

Orthodontists and dental associations across the globe were quick to condemn DIY braces, and photos soon surfaced of self-treated cases ‘gone wrong’. The worst of these resulting in loose and missing teeth. It was clear that straightening your own teeth using elastic bands and other household objects is a very bad idea.

DIY braces highlighted a demand for a low-cost alternative to treatment with an orthodontist. This prompted the introduction of ‘home teeth straightening’ kits, which lie somewhere in between seeing a professional and doing it yourself.

Typically, you’ll start by answering a few questions online to see if you’re a potential candidate. Next, you’ll take some impressions (moulds of your teeth) at home and send these off to a dental professional who will assess your ‘teeth’ and create your treatment plan.

If you’re suitable for treatment your clear, removable aligners will arrive in the post ready to wear. At the end of your treatment you’ll be given the opportunity to purchase a removable retainer to hold your teeth in their new position.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of home teeth straightening kits – you have the convenience of straightening your teeth from the comfort of home, and it can be considerably cheaper than seeing an orthodontist. However, could they end up costing you more in the long run?

The pitfalls of home teeth straightening

As orthodontists we appreciate that orthodontic treatment is a big investment, but patients should think twice before taking matters into their own hands.

Lack of clinical supervision

This is probably the main disadvantage of straightening your teeth at home. Specialist orthodontists spend five years training as dentists and a further three years training as orthodontists. If you’re having your teeth professionally straightened, you’ll benefit from this expertise every step of the way.

During your consultation they’ll carefully examine your teeth and take impressions and X-rays (if necessary) to make sure you’re suitable for orthodontic treatment. If you are suffering from tooth decay or gum disease, for example, these need to be tackled before orthodontic treatment.

During your treatment, you’ll see your orthodontic team approximately every six to eight weeks, so they’ll keep a close eye on your progress and dental health. We can’t always predict how teeth will move, so these appointments are really important for making sure everything is on course.

Inadequate retention

Some orthodontists will continue to review your progress even once you’ve finished wearing your braces – when your teeth are most at risk of moving. They’ll also be able to provide you with both removable and fixed retainers for the best protection against orthodontic relapse.

While many home teeth straightening companies give you the option to purchase a removable retainer, they won’t be on hand to make sure it fits correctly, which is vital for keeping your teeth straight in the long term.

Inferior results

Clear, removable aligners are now a popular way to straighten teeth. However, they’re not suitable for everyone and certain problems are best treated using a fixed brace. Most teeth straightening kits are therefore designed to treat very simple cases and they’re unlikely to improve the way your teeth bite together.

Even where these simple cases are concerned, you may find that your treatment is compromised by a lack of clinical involvement. Typically, orthodontists will need to make small adjustments to your teeth during aligner treatment. This might involve fitting small, tooth-coloured attachments to your teeth to move them in a certain way, or carefully reshaping your teeth so you get the best result.

Importantly, you’ll be able to review your smile with your orthodontist before you finish your treatment to make sure you’re both happy with the final position of your teeth.

Is home teeth straightening safe?

The consensus among orthodontists is that it’s a risk that’s not worth taking. The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), which represents 18,000 dental professionals, has already lodged complaints in 36 states in relation to one company. They allege that an orthodontic service that involves no X-rays or appointments with a clinician is illegal and creates medical risks.

Ultimately, some individuals will experience good results from home teeth straightening kits, but we would advise patients to do their research and visit an orthodontist for a professional consultation before popping their impressions in the post.