According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentists, each year, Americans spend about $2.75 billion on cosmetic dentistry services. The kicker: Most of that cost is probably not covered by insurance, and even when plans do cover procedures such as veneers or braces, they may not cover all of the associated costs. With the average cost of braces hovering around $5,000 per person, but going as high as $7,500, and the average dental insurance policy only covering about $2,500 for a lifetime, that can equate to a significant out-of-pocket investment.
Naturally, most patients want to save money on these costly treatments in any way they can. From dentist shopping for the best price to interest-free payment plans, a number of options are available for patients of any budget. But recently, a new product entered the marketplace, promising to deliver professional results at a fraction of the cost. The company offers clear, temporary aligners that fit over the teeth, just like Invisalign. But the difference is, unlike Invisalign, these aligners are sent directly to the patient by mail, and nearly the entire treatment is done from the comfort of the patient’s home – without any dentist supervision whatsoever. And, according to dentists and orthodontists, this is causing some major problems.
“The trouble with the braces-by-mail concept is that the dentist or orthodontist supervision you get from traditional treatment plans is often critical to the success of the treatment,” says Dr. Alexandra George, a cosmetic dentist from Wexford, Pennsylvania. “Whether the treatment isn’t working and the aligner needs to stay on a bit longer, or even if the patient isn’t wearing the aligners and just needs to be reminded, going it alone can’t help with any of that.”
And that’s where the major danger lies. According to George, those tiny details that nobody but your dentist or orthodontist might notice can be the difference between a successful orthodontic treatment and total chaos. In fact, many consumers have already taken to social media sites to complain about shipment delays, bad customer service and, yes, even painfully unsuccessful treatments.
“A dentist is going to notice not only how your alignment changes from month to month, but also whether the aligners need any slight adjustments. Slightly adjusting the positioning of one tooth may not seem like a big deal – and it may not be a big deal aesthetically – but sometimes there can be a potential for it to become a major problem, and that’s not something you can prevent if you’re not under a dentist’s care,” says George.
But what can be said to the naysayers who believe dentists and orthodontists only take issue with these services because they don’t want to lose customers? George can answer that.
“We don’t have customers, we have patients,” she says. “And as doctors, our concern is for our patients’ health. Besides, how are you saving any money on these so-called low-cost treatments when you will just end up needing to fix them later?”