By Susan Richards
The term do-it-yourself or DIY should evoke images of rolling up your sleeves and replacing the valve in a running toilet or experimenting with color and texture for wall treatments. Unfortunately, the emerging trend of self-reliant dentistry is much more likely to bring dread to dentists everywhere.
While there’s little debate among dental professionals over the wisdom of desperate or foolhardy patients trying to fill their own cavities or extract their own diseased teeth, there are increasingly high-profile methods of direct-to-consumer (DTC) dental care and even some unexpected gray areas.
The DIY trend has become such a concern that more than 160,000 members of the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontists, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists launched advertising campaigns in 2018 warning patients, parents, and children of the dangers.
When the pandemic struck, the World Health Organization urged dental practices and the population at large to put off any treatment that wasn’t an emergency. More time on social media has exposed the masses to countless ads, how-to videos and “cheap and easy” hacks for everything from teeth whitening to DIY orthodontics to “make-your-own” veneers. DIY dentistry is a recipe for disaster that could result in more extensive and expensive treatment.
Let’s take a look at a few of the worst offenders.
While some people – typically the younger crowd – are tuning into YouTube to learn how to straighten their teeth with tongue exercises or rubber bands, invisible braces are the most commonly sought-after solution. Of course, Invisalign is a household name in the dental profession, dominating the clear aligner field since receiving FDA approval in 1998. One key to its success was in partnering with dentists and orthodontists to professionally evaluate, fit, and maintain the product throughout the treatment.
However, with the expiration on their system patents in 2017 the competition for generic products exploded. Several companies have gained popularity with clear aligners costing less than $2,000 for the process and often accepting some forms of insurance and payment plans.
While these business models will boast dental professionals as consultants, they’re mostly selling patients on the luxury of doing everything at home without setting foot in a dentist’s office. Consumers can cast their own impressions, send them in, and receive their aligners in the mail.
In recent years, SmileDirectClub (SDC) has dominated the invisible braces news in both legal and financial circles. The business, which combines brick-and-mortar practitioners with teledentistry, was embroiled in litigation with the states of California and Georgia that threatens the legal immunity of dental board members, as well as Align Technology, the owners of Invisalign – although they’d eventually go into business together. When SDC went public in 2019 its troubles were compounded by a dismal debut on Wall Street. They’ve since cut expenses and losses and are steadily climbing up in value.
A walk down the toothpaste aisle will inundate the consumer with a multitude of ways to achieve a whiter, brighter smile. Although a more affordable option than professional whitening treatment, even the most mild strips can contain enough hydrogen peroxide to damage tooth dentin according to a study at Stockton University.
On the other end of the spectrum, those trying to seek a more natural path to a whiter smile are drawn to charcoal based products and oil pulling techniques. The former can cause abrasion and loss of enamel and the latter has zero evidence-based benefits.
Another troubling trend in the DIY dentistry movement is the one-size-fits-all veneer. Getting professional caps or veneers can be pricey and not covered by insurance, so manufacturers are exploiting the desire to cover up damaged or missing teeth with extremely inexpensive snap-on smiles. Made of silicone or porcelain mixes, these products are obviously not made for every mouth, so there can be damage to the gums and jaw.
Social media has also seen a rise in promoting at-home dental care with paraffin wax and craft sculpture compounds to repair or replace whole teeth. This can lead to more damage and potential choking hazards.
Missing the Big Picture
Technology has been a boon to the dental industry in recent years, but some of those same tools are being embraced by the DIY community at the peril of the patient. While digital scanning at the mall to get fitted for aligners is convenient, it is not designed to catch caries and periodontal problems. Without proper x-rays and examinations, dental issues may be exacerbated by encasing them in plastic aligners or mail-order veneers.
Similarly, the opportunity to get a 3-D printed mouthguard for bruxism without professional evaluation and fitting can result in further damage by pushing teeth out of correct alignment and harming the jaw joints.
With increasing advances in technology and the constant influence of the non-professional sector of the internet, many patients will continue to seek out options that will help them avoid the dentist’s chair. The ADA has campaigned vigorously to educate the public in the matter of DIY dentistry, but the battle for patient’s health and safety may take place in your office.
As people gradually return to their dentists, it’s important to communicate about more than just COVID-19 protocols. Talk to your patients about their oral health and cosmetic objectives. Recognize and address their concerns, whether they’re fear-based, vanity or financial. And definitely discourage them from checking Pinterest for solutions.
Author: Susan Richards is a staff writer at DOCS Education. With over 20 years of experience in local journalism and business marketing, Susan’s career includes award-winning feature writing, as well as creating content with context for a wide variety of industries.