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Published: January 31, 2019

DIY Orthodontics - A Dental Turf War?

The National Post recently published an article with a similar title. The article asks the pointed question: is a comparison of DIY orthodontic treatment to traditional orthodontic care, the equivalent of Uber to Taxi's or Netflix to Blockbuster?

It’s a fair question, after all we live in a time and culture where everything is examined in the light of: “Is there a better way to do this? Can technology improve the way things are done? Is it done this way just because it’s been done this way for so long?”

It’s an interesting question and on the surface one that needs to be answered about all industries and professions. But there are, and must be limits to the assumptions. Leaping instantly to the notion that a technology based alternative to orthodontic care is equal, or better than the original simply because other technology based solutions have successfully replaced original business models, is not only misleading, the very premise of the statement is flawed.

We have to stop and ask some questions like: does this make sense? Can technology accurately interpret and make application of the many, many nuances of every individual’s bite? Why do orthodontists have to go to school for so many years to learn what, apparently a camera and an algorithm can claim accomplish in seconds?

We asked Kelowna Orthodontist Dr. Suzuki for a comment on these “mail-order smile systems” and this is what he had to say: “These new DIY Orthodontic systems pose potential dangers to dental health. They simply have not been around long enough to know what the long-term effects of attempting moving teeth without the direct and constant supervision of someone with extensive training in professional Orthodontics.  It’s akin to attempting to do a dental filling yourself or extracting a tooth yourself.  Yes it’s cheaper but are the risks worth it?  Perhaps the real question we should be asking is: “are these treatment plans that much cheaper than other time-tested and proven orthodontic solutions?   We will see – but my guess is that it’s not going to turn out well for the DIY’ers.  The fact of the matter is that moving teeth orthodontically is very complex and difficult to do well.   Buyer beware – check the credentials of the person performing the treatment for you and ask them how many patients they have treated in the past and whether they have the training to complete treatments with braces if the treatment with aligners does not turn out well".

So, we go back to the question raised in the NP article – can DIY Orthodontics really be compared to Netflix, or Uber? Is this just the frantic concern of an industry that is worried it’s about to see the end of its meal ticket wave? No, the difference is that industries like Taxi’s and Blockbuster failed to change with the times, failed to embrace technologies, failed to think differently about what they do, and what clients want. That is not the same with the Orthodontic industry, there have been tremendous technological advancement embraced by the industry that have reduced cost, increased efficiency and improved results.

We have to acknowledge as a society that there are limits – at least currently - to what technology can accomplish and comprehensive orthodontic treatment is almost certainly one of these limitations. The “human involvement” factor cannot be escaped when it comes to orthodontics. And not just any human factor, but one that is “schooled, trained, experienced, and yes certified as a specialist” kind of human factor.

In the end, we will see how many choose to embrace this new technology, and honestly hope that they see good results.  But if they don’t – they can always go to the orthodontist 🙂

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