Navigating Benefits

The Risks of Mail-Order Orthodontic Treatment


  • If you're looking to straighten your teeth, orthodontic treatment can now arrive in the mail

  • The mail-order variety of treatment doesn't require office visits since molds of your teeth are created by you at home

  • This quick-fix may be appealing and less expensive, but comes with risks to your dental health that could make it more expensive in the long run

Posted by July 24, 2018

More people are doing their shopping via the internet these days, and every day, there seems to be new kinds of products available. You can even purchase dental treatment online! That’s right—if you’re looking to straighten out your smile, your orthodontic treatment can now arrive in the mail.

While this might sound convenient and may be less expensive, it could pose potential risks to your dental health. It’s important to understand why these do-it-yourself methods for straightening teeth may not be the safest (or most cost-effective) options, and how they factor into your company’s dental insurance plan.

Traditional vs. Quick-Fix Options

Everyone would like to flash a smile that sports beautiful and straight teeth, which is why orthodontic treatment is so popular with kids and adults alike. However, many people are less than eager to invest the time and money for traditional braces—making quick, low-cost fixes found on the internet exceedingly appealing.

Traditional in-office treatment performed by an orthodontist requires X-rays, initial workups and treatment planning. Your orthodontist will decide what type of braces will be the most effective for your situation. Once the braces are placed, or customized aligners are ready for you to wear, regular follow-up visits are necessary to tighten bands or evaluate the need for new aligners. Normally, treatment takes between one and two years. Following treatment, retainers are typically worn to stabilize and set the position of teeth.

The mail-order variety of orthodontic treatment doesn’t require office visits, since you create the scans or molds of your own teeth. In some cases, a scan may be done at a retail location. Aligners are then mailed to you, along with instructions on how to wear them. Furthermore, these companies often advertise that your treatment will be complete in three to six months. While they might claim that your initial treatment plan is done by a dentist or orthodontist, you’ll likely never see or speak to any licensed professional.

The Risks Involved With Mail-Order Options

Aligning your bite correctly and moving your teeth to a straighter position involves a slow shifting of the bone and ligaments around the teeth. If this is done incorrectly, too quickly or isn’t monitored closely enough, irreparable damage can be done to your teeth, bones and jaw, according to a warning issued by the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO).

Some companies are even advertising rubber bands (called “band gaps”) that can be put around teeth in order to close gaps between them. The AAO says that unsupervised use of rubber bands is not only substandard dental care, it can result in tooth loss if the band slides underneath the gum tissue.

An article published in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics notes that orthodontists use elastics all of the time in their offices, but only in specific ways under close supervision—they do not condone self-treatment with elastics purchased on the internet.

Repairing damage that results from poor quality of care may require costly procedures that need to be completed by a team of various specialists. In situations where the mail-order treatment doesn’t produce the desired results, orthodontic treatment will need to be redone. Either one of these scenarios will be much more costly than if the treatment had been done by a licensed orthodontist in the first place.

Considering Orthodontic Insurance

When it comes to paying for treatment and considering dental insurance, employees typically have questions concerning whether or not their company’s plan has benefits for orthodontics (and how much is covered). The mail-order programs often advertise that insurance frequently covers some of their charges—but most dental plans state that treatment is only covered when done by a licensed dental professional. For orthodontic treatment, this would mean a dentist or orthodontist. It’s important to make sure your team members understand this.

Self-treatment at home, without proper supervision, would likely not be considered a covered expense under most insurance plans. This is because insurance companies do not want to pay for treatment that doesn’t meet the quality standards of dentistry. They know that when those standards aren’t met, there is a good chance the treatment will fail, causing additional expenses to be incurred.

Orthodontic treatment is a significant investment in your dental health. So, if you have doubts as to where to go for treatment—or if any of your colleagues are considering self-treatment as an option—consider this list of questions from the AAO before making the final decision.

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