In this age of do-it-yourself everything, orthodontists say teeth straightening is one task you should leave to the professionals.
Inspired by social media, some people are turning to rubber bands, fishing line and paper clips to perfect their own pearly whites — a practice that orthodontists warn could lead to gum irritation, misalignment and tooth loss.
A quick search on YouTube reveals thousands of tutorials about how to straighten teeth without braces, many posted by users who appear to be teenagers. People online say they’ve successfully closed spaces in their smiles by stretching small rubber hairbands over their teeth to pull them closer together. Others recommend do-it-yourself molds and retainers, which are widely available for purchase online.
While these beautifying projects might be cheap at first, they carry a risk that could ultimately cost thousands of dollars, said Dr. Jeffrey Kwong, an El Dorado Hills, Calif., orthodontist. If a rubber band slides to the top or bottom of the teeth and wedges into the gum line, retrieving it is nearly impossible without professional help, Kwong said. If left in the gums, the band can cause an infection or weaken the ligaments around the tooth to the point where it falls out.
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“The rubber band will start chewing away at the ligaments and making the tooth become loose,” Kwong said. “We only have so much gum tissue. If the teeth are moved too far beyond the point of where there are hard tissues, that could be a problem as well.”
A recent survey from the American Association of Orthodontists found that 13 percent of orthodontists are seeing patients who have tried DIY teeth straightening. The organization could not provide numbers on how many patients experienced dental problems after their experiments, but said in a statement that “some of these DIY teeth straightening attempts have caused severe damage including tooth loss and leading to costly repairs.”
This spring, the organization put out a consumer alert warning orthodontists and parents to look out for the worrying trend.
Brandon Andre, a 24-year-old musician and photographer from Los Angeles, said he doesn’t see the danger. Last summer, Andre wanted to close the gap between his two front teeth but couldn’t afford to see an orthodontist, he said. Instead he purchased elastic hair bands for $5, which he placed on his teeth daily for about six weeks. After some soreness and bleeding, the teeth started moving closer together, he said.
Andre detailed his experience in a nine-minute YouTube video, which has more than 273,000 views. He did address the possibilities of long-term damage in the video but said it wasn’t a problem for him.
“It wasn’t enough to sway me to not want to do it,” Andre said of the orthodontists’ warnings. “Luckily for me I was successful and had no problems, and it totally changed how I felt about my image. But it’s not going to work for everybody.”