Teens take dental care into their own hands, with questionable results

April 29, 2017 by Sammy Caiola, The Sacramento Bee

In this age of do-it-yourself everything, orthodontists say teeth straightening is one task you should leave to the professionals.

Inspired by , 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 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.

"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 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."

Most people try the "gap band" method because they're self-conscious about their teeth but don't have the money to purchase braces, Andre said. Braces cost somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000 depending on insurance contributions, according to the Consumer Guide for Dentistry.

While not everyone who tries to straighten their own teeth will cause damage, Kwong warns anyone considering it to consult a professional and not take the risk.

"People get lucky sometimes," he said. "It's hard to predict who's going to be lucky and who's not going to be lucky. If (these kids) miss something, if they don't catch something, if something happens, it's tens of thousands of dollars in dental work to fix these problems. And some things may be irreversible."

Dr. Kelly Giannetti, a Sacramento, Calif., , said she's recently seen patients who tried to fit themselves for a night guard or snore guard, which can result in misaligning the "bite" between the top and bottom teeth. She believes orthodontists might be seeing more of those cases because of social media.

"Sometimes, especially nowadays, most kids get a lot of their information online, watching YouTube videos," she said. "Everything right now tends to lean more toward DIY. Sometimes they don't realize are part of your health, and health isn't a good thing to do yourself."

Explore further: DIY teeth-straightening: don't try this at home


Related Stories

DIY teeth-straightening: don't try this at home

March 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—An orthodontist recalled a patient who devised her own means of straightening two wayward teeth.

Tooth loss linked to an increased risk of dementia

March 8, 2017
In a study of 1566 community-dwelling Japanese elderly who were followed for 5 years, the risk of developing dementia was elevated in individuals with fewer remaining teeth.

Buck teeth: Correct them once in early adolescence

December 18, 2013
Children with prominent front teeth, colloquially known as buck teeth, often require orthodontic work to straighten their teeth and improve both their bite and appearance. This can be done in one stage during early adolescence ...

'Smart' retainer keeps patients (and teeth) in line

December 11, 2015
Innovative research is underway at the UCSF School of Dentistry to produce a Bluetooth smart retainer for orthodontics patients. The goal of the SmartByte retainer is to increase the amount of time a patient wears the device, ...

From one generation to the next, dental care changes

May 18, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Stephanie Crowe, a mother of three from Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., still remembers dreading a visit to the dentist as a young girl. It was often a painful experience, and her family's dentist showed little empathy ...

Recommended for you

Small molecule inhibitor prevents or impedes tooth cavities in a preclinical model

August 10, 2017
University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers have created a small molecule that prevents or impedes tooth cavities in a preclinical model. The inhibitor blocks the function of a key virulence enzyme in an oral bacterium, ...

Understanding genetic synergy in cleft palate

July 19, 2017
Like all of the individual elements of fetal development, palate growth is a marvel of nature. In part of this process, ledges of tissue on the sides of the face grow downwards on each side of the tongue, then upward, fusing ...

Use of prefabricated blood vessels may revolutionize root canals

June 12, 2017
While root canals are effective in saving a tooth that has become infected or decayed, this age-old procedure may cause teeth to become brittle and susceptible to fracture over time. Now researchers at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, ...

Recreational cannabis, used often, increases risk of gum disease

May 24, 2017
Columbia University dental researchers have found that frequent recreational use of cannabis—including marijuana, hashish, and hash oil—increases the risk of gum disease.

Grape seed extract could extend life of resin fillings

May 9, 2017
A natural compound found in grape seed extract could be used to strengthen dentin—the tissue beneath a tooth's enamel—and increase the life of resin fillings, according to new research at the University of Illinois at ...

Crooked bite may indicate early life stress

April 13, 2017
Research has repeatedly confirmed that the first 1,000 days after conception strongly influence a person's life expectancy and susceptibility to chronic diseases. The primary marker used to identify early life stress is low ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.