At-Home Orthodontics: Getting What You Pay For

A college student in New Jersey made waves in 2016 when he 3D printed his own invisible orthodontic aligners for $60 and it made people wonder; if he can do it, why pay for in-office care?

We get it, orthodontic treatment is expensive. With the national average for orthodontia ringing up around $5000* for comprehensive treatment, people are looking to cut out the middleman, or in this case, the orthodontist.

And while the average person can’t (and shouldn’t) 3D print their own aligners at home, the story certainly played a role in bringing at-home orthodontic companies like SmileDirectClub into the spotlight.

And now with more than 700,000 people having gone through at-home orthodontic treatment with SmileDirectClub alone, it has us wondering – do you really get what you pay for?

*Journal of Clinical Orthodontists

But first, what’s tele-orthodontics?

Tele-orthodontics is another way of saying direct-to-consumer. It boasts cutting out office visits with an orthodontist, letting you conveniently get straighter teeth at home. Still, organizations like the ADA and the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) are uncomfortable with the idea of unsupervised orthodontics, despite at-home orthodontic company claims that they work with providers who have Invisalign experience.

Moreover, Bloomberg cites two key factors driving the growth of tele-orthodontic companies. More sophisticated 3D scanning and printing has led more consumers to want invisible braces – whether Invisalign or its tele-orthodontic competitors. Secondly, in October 2017, Invisalign lost exclusivity on 40 patents that kept clear aligners name brand.

Should I choose an orthodontist over an at-home kit?

A clear aligner is a clear aligner, right? Why should you pay more to go through Invisalign treatment with an orthodontist over an at-home orthodontics company?

First, not all aligners are created equally. They’re similar, sure, but Invisalign is only available in-office with a licensed dental professional.

Secondly, the price tag associated with orthodontics isn’t for for the materials. When it comes to aligners you’re paying for the expertise and supervision of the orthodontists involved.

Most at-home orthodontics companies have dentists and orthodontists who review your initial case and put together a treatment plan, but what about after that? At milestones over the course of treatment, you’re requested in send in selfies for them to check your progress, however, the AAO says is impossible to assess overall progress through photos.

Thirdly, at-home orthodontic kits work fast. Six months fast. On average, Invisalign treatment takes 12-18 months to complete. When teeth are shifted too quickly, damage can be done to the bone and gums and can lead to changes in your bite, causing additional wear and damage over time.

However, under orthodontic care, teeth are moved more slowly into an aesthetically pleasing, straight smile that also takes into consideration your bite how it will serve you for the next several decades.

Lastly, molds and 3D scans are not likely to discover pre-existing decay, cavities, or gum disease in the way that an in-office exam and x-rays will. Proceeding to orthodontic care without first addressing these conditions can be dangerous for your overall oral health.

Who can use at-home orthodontic services?

The majority of at-home orthodontics customers are adults who had braces as teens but forgot to wear their retainers and resulted in minor shifting. Having already been through orthodontics (and the price tag associated with it), it seems like it would be worth it, right?

But because tele-orthodontics rely on DIY dental molds or pop-ups with 3D scanners, they focus more on the aesthetics of your smile and less on the functionality.

At-home straightening aligners are only meant to correct very mild orthodontic concerns and come with a disclaimer that use may alter your bite.

If you’re not a candidate for an at-home straightening service, you’ll most likely be referred to an orthodontist offering Invisalign.

Still want to try at-home orthodontics? Ask these questions first.

Even if you’re planning to use an at-home kit, we recommend you at least consult with an orthodontist in person first or get your regular dentist’s okay to go ahead. X-rays will help your dentist see if there are things that could complicate treatment, like impacted teeth or wisdom teeth that haven’t erupted yet.

The AAO has a comprehensive list of questions you should ask any at-home straightening companies before you commit to treatment. Here’s just a sample of things to think about before deciding to move forward with treatment:

The American Association of Orthodontics really wants patients do their research before they make the decision to start at-home treatment.
  • As part of the treatment, are comprehensive diagnostic records like x-rays taken before getting started?
  • As part of the treatment fee, are there any in-person visits to a dentist’s or orthodontist’s office during treatment?
  • How do you know if your teeth and gums are healthy enough for orthodontic treatment?
  • Who can you speak with about your orthodontic treatment?
  • Who is responsible for detecting any issues that may occur during treatment?
  • If an issue arises during treatment, how will it be handled and who will be responsible for handling it?
  • If a doctor is involved, how can you contact them over the course of your treatment?
  • If an emergency happens, does the company have a dentist or orthodontist in your area that you can see in-person? If not, who would cover the costs associated with seeing a dentist or orthodontist in your area?

Do your research before committing to treatment of any kind. Know what’s expected of you on your end as far as the commitment to wearing your aligners at all times except for eating, drinking, and cleaning them. Figure out what level of support you can expect from your provider and stay in contact with your regular dentist throughout treatment.

At the end of the day, orthodontics comes down to getting what you pay for. So, it seems to be more than worth it to invest in a healthy smile that’ll last a lifetime. At Dental Depot, we’re proud to offer both Invisalign clear aligner treatment and traditional Damon bracket braces.

And remember, #RetentionIsForALifetime!

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