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Orthodontists are issuing alerts about a bizarre new online trend: do-it-yourself braces.
The American Association of Orthodontists is so distressed by the idea of DIY braces that the organization put out a PSA warning video about the dangers of trying to straighten your own teeth.
“Nowadays it seems like people believe they can do everything themselves, but while it’s cool to do some things on your own, when it comes to the health of your teeth and gums the do-it-yourself approach can leave you with very little to smile about,” the AAO video begins. “Trying to close a gap or straighten your teeth yourself can increase the risk of infection and serious damage to your teeth and gums, including tooth loss. Replacing lost teeth is expensive and a person may require multiple replacements over the course of a lifetime.”
It’s unclear as to why the trend has recently picked up steam. Back in 2012, one of the earliest — if not the first — YouTube video touting the practice was posted by Shalom DeSota, under the username singerforeverlove. She titled it: “Cheap easy braces!! Without going to the dentist!!!!!”
DeSota, then 14, had a gap between her two front teeth that she wanted to close because she felt self-conscious about it.
"I wanted to get braces but, of course, braces are really expensive, especially nowadays,” she says in the video. "So today, I'm going to teach you how to make homemade braces... I would suggest leaving them in for at least a few weeks.”
DeSota explains to viewers how to loop a rubber band around the front teeth. “It's gonna hurt, especially the first few days it’s gonna hurt really bad and you’re gonna maybe even want to give up, but don't, OK, because it’s totally worth it in the end,” she says.
Now 17 and an aspiring actress, DeSota says she decided to try a DIY fix because she didn’t think her family could afford to pay for braces. “Me and my family were very hard-working,” she says. “We were never rich and we couldn’t afford health care at that time. We had just enough to make ends meet. So we always came up with solutions to our problems by being creative.”
When DeSota originally posted the video, views were sporadic. But recently, it has started getting attention again. The video now has more than 600,000 views — and plenty of comments. “It kind of blew up,” she says. “And now it’s going viral.”
Dr. Christina Carter, an orthodontist, pediatric dentist and president elect of the Northeastern Society of Orthodontists, doesn't approve of the new trend.
While she acknowledges that DeSota did manage to close her gap, Carter says the teen is fortunate she didn’t experience disastrous consequences. “She is one of the lucky ones is what I would have to say."
"There are so many things that can really go wrong,” Carter adds. “The teeth are connected to the gums and the blood supply and there is a risk of infection, of tearing the gums which might not heal properly, and a risk of damaging the attachment between the tooth and gums so the tooth no longer gets the support it needs.”
Even though a rubber band might seem benign, it can wreak havoc in the mouth, Carter says.
“A simple rubber band can actually slide up the tooth and cut all the attachments to it and you can actually lose a tooth,” she adds.
This apparently wasn’t a problem for DeSota. She says her rubber bands broke so often that she was replacing them at least once a day.
Of course, the DIY solution isn’t limited to the odd rubber band. Some companies are selling braces by mail, Carter says, adding that those “can cause irreversible damage to your teeth.”
Another issue, Carter says, is just how much you’re trying to move your teeth. Someone like DeSota might get away with trying to close a small gap, but bigger movements could leave teeth unstable.
"You wouldn’t try to give yourself a nose job and by the same reasoning you shouldn’t try to fix your own teeth," says Dr. Alexander Pozoki, director of the division of oral and maxillofacial surgery and dentistry and an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Ultimately, Pozoki says, “If you do this and lose your teeth, you’re going to have to pay a whole lot more [than the cost of braces] to replace them.”
Fortunately, DeSota’s family now has health insurance, which has given her little sister the opportunity to wear braces and regularly visit the orthodontist.
If her family had health care three years ago, would DeSota have opted for a traditional set of braces? “Maybe,” she says. “But I have always liked fixing things myself.”