Updated 07 March 2017

Here’s why you shouldn't straighten your teeth at home…

It is dangerous to use things like rubber bands, paper clips and other tools to avoid going to the orthodontist.

An orthodontist recalled a patient who devised her own means of straightening two wayward teeth.

"The patient tried to close a gap between her lower incisors by wrapping string around the two teeth," the orthodontist explained.

But the "do-it-yourself method" brought only trouble.

"I was horrified to see the string deep in the gum and the severe mobility in the two teeth," the unnamed orthodontist said.

Don't try this

Examples of people attempting to straighten their own teeth – often using dubious "how-to" guides accessed on the internet – is on the rise, according to a survey by the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO).

People are resorting to the use of potentially dangerous objects such as rubber bands, string, paper clips and fake retainers to circumvent the orthodontists' office, the AAO said.

But this type of jerry-rigged orthodontics can lead to permanent damage, the group warns.

"What most people don't understand is that moving teeth is a biological process that involves bone that dissolves and rebuilds as teeth are moved into their new positions," AAO president DeWayne McCamish said in a news release from the organization.

"Moving teeth is best done under the direct supervision of an orthodontist after an in-person assessment, including complete diagnostic records," he said.

Social media encourages DIY

Social media has played a significant role in the dangerous do-it-yourself orthodontics trend, McCamish added. "There are literally hundreds of videos on YouTube alone, with 'tutorials' on how to straighten your own teeth," he said.

In the new survey, AAO members were queried on their experiences with patients who attempt to straighten their own teeth.

The survey found that nearly 13% of the orthodontists said they'd had patients – ranging from the age of eight to over 60 – who tried to fix their own teeth by pushing on their teeth, biting on pencils or using a variety of household items, including paper clips.

In some cases, those who tried to straighten their teeth caused irreversible problems, the survey authors noted.

"It's really a shame when someone comes in after attempting DIY orthodontic treatment and we determine that the damage they've done to their teeth is so extensive that teeth cannot be saved," McCamish said.

Better safe than sorry

"By the time a lay person recognises something is wrong with their teeth, it may not be reversible, even with professional help," he said.

"The cost of dealing with replacing a lost tooth can easily exceed $20,000 (±R260 000) over a lifetime and certainly be much less than ideal," McCamish said. "You have to remember that the goal of good orthodontic treatment is obtaining a healthy, beautiful smile for a lifetime – shortcuts can be disastrous."

Dr Imraan Hoosen, Health24's oral health expert, says that it is better to see a dentist first who will advise you after a thorough consultation whether the time is right for a visit to the orthodontist.

Of the orthodontists who said they'd had patients who tried to straighten their own teeth, 39% said they had to then provide treatment to correct damage that had been done as a result.

Most of the orthodontists polled believed that their patients would actually have saved time and money if they had received professional help to straighten their teeth.

"If it's a matter of economics, many orthodontists do an initial consultation at no cost and with no obligation," McCamish explained. "It's an opportunity to get the expert's opinion about your problem, options to resolve it and, in so doing, avoid the unintended harmful consequences that could result from DIY treatment."

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Ask the Expert

Oral health expert

Dr Imraan Hoosen qualified from the Medical University of South Africa in 1997. Together with his partner, Dr Hoosen now runs a group of dental practices around Johannesburg (Lesedi Private Hospital, Highlands North Medical Centre , Brenthurst Clinic, Parklane Clinic, Simmonds Street Medical and Dental Centre, Soni Medical Centre- Newclare). Dr Hoosen can be contacted on 011 933 4096.

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