Dentists have told the BBC that demand for Instagram smiles has left people with damage from wearing clear braces or “aligners” ordered online. One man said aligners weakened his front teeth, leaving him unable to bite into an apple.
Smile Direct Club, the largest company selling clear aligners remotely, says they straighten teeth faster and cheaper than traditional braces. Its aligners have been successful for the majority of users, it says.
But some dentists and orthodontists believe customers of so-called remote dentistry are unaware of harm that can be caused by aligners if not fitted by a dentist in person. Jamie, a father from Glasgow, turned to Smile Direct Club (SDC) after being quoted £4,000-£6,000 for straightening his teeth. The US-based remote orthodontics company was offering clear aligners for about £1,800 without the need to see a dentist in person.
According to SDC, its platform has improved access to oral care and “has enabled successful treatment for more than 1.8 million people”. The “overwhelming majority” of users have had an “excellent experience
But Jamie now says he would never do it again.
“I can’t bite into an apple because I can’t trust that my front teeth are strong enough any more,” he says.
Before starting treatment he was sent a DIY impression kit to take his own teeth moulds. The other option, a 3D scan of his mouth done in an Smile Direct Club shop, was unavailable because of lockdown. Within weeks he’d received a six-month course of aligners, with the name of the dentist overseeing him labelled on the box.
But after six months, he posted on Reddit: “One of my front teeth has become wobbly, my enamel feels all funny, like the aligners have rubbed some of it off, the aligners have made my gum recede making it agony
In traditional dentistry, train-track braces and clear aligners are fitted by dentists and orthodontists themselves, or a trained orthodontic therapist, after an in-person consultation.
The health of the hard and soft tissues of the mouth, the teeth and gums, and whether the roots of the teeth can sustain a movement, are some of the factors dentists consider. X-rays are instrumental in this process.
Once someone starts wearing braces, regular appointments allow dentists to monitor how teeth are moving and to spot and address complications.
SDC’s website says users will “have regular virtual check-ins” with a UK-registered dentist “remotely from beginning to end” – but Jamie says he was not once connected to the dentist overseeing him or told to see a dentist about his issues.
Customer service eventually put him in touch with a “dental expert” via web chat, who said the issues were normal and would subside. It’s unclear what qualifications are required for this role.
In other news – Ireland leader Leo Varadkar says he has regrets over NI Protocol
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He told the BBC the measure was working but said he understood why unionists felt it had “weakened the union. Learn more