Mail-Order Braces are No Substitute for Face-to-Face Treatment

That beautiful smile earned through years of orthodontic treatment isn’t what it used to be since you lost those retainers, but companies have emerged that offer to help inexpensively return your smile to aligned perfection.

What’s the catch? You may never see an orthodontist in person, and you’ll be expected to handle much of the diagnostic work like taking impressions of your teeth yourself.

Two major players have emerged in this mail-order orthodontic treatment model. Both say they are targeting adult patients who underwent conventional orthodontic treatment in childhood and have experienced relapse. However, one company claims to take patients as young as age 15.

Technology has advanced orthodontic treatment over the years, but has this latest advancement gone too far?

“It definitely raises concerns for me as an orthodontist,” says Dr. Yan Razdolsky, a Buffalo Grove Invisalign provider. “These mail-order systems resemble Invisalign treatment, without the same level of face-to-face interaction with your orthodontist.”

Orthodontics is not a commodity, not a product on a shelf, Dr. Razdolsky says. It is an exact science based on solid knowledge of biology of tooth movement, growth and development. Unsupervised tooth movement can lead to tooth loss

and jaw problems.

While the hype from coverage in the New York Times and Today Show has focused on the mail-order aspect of this treatment, that’s not an entirely accurate picture. Reading through the Dental Provider section of one company’s website reveals what we already know to be true: there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction when it comes to orthodontic treatment. Some of the plans outlined involve “one or two visits” between the patient and an orthodontist, and advanced cases deemed not appropriate for this treatment method can be referred to orthodontists who are “endorsed local providers.”

That company seeks orthodontists interested in becoming endorsed local providers, but Dr. Razdolsky sees potential drawbacks for orthodontists who are involved in this type of treatment, including possible liability. Lack of ethics is even more of a concern, he says.8704200665_e2a9169e91_o

From what we’ve read in our research of this mail-order treatment model, the key diagnostic tool that appears to be missing from treatment is digital X-rays.

“We do not start a single patient in our office without 3D X-rays,” Dr. Razdolsky says.

Dr. Razdolsky has mentioned in previous blog posts how valuable our office’s i-CAT 3-D cone beam digital imaging system has been in treatment.

“I’ve even compared orthodontic treatment prior to the i-CAT to practicing blind,” he says. “The 3-D images provide such clarity and quality that I’ve identified countless long-term health risks in patients that not only weren’t visible with the naked eye, they wouldn’t have appeared in traditional X-ray images, either.”

Those health risks have included degenerative joint disease, bone cysts, and undiagnosed damage caused by periodontal disease, among other conditions. All of these conditions would have created negative consequences for orthodontic treatment if they hadn’t been diagnosed and addressed prior to treatment. The potential for these conditions going unnoticed via this mail-order braces treatment is a real concern.

One mail-order company’s founder stated in a Nashville Business Journal article that due to recent trends in “telehealth” and “teledentistry,” he thought his new company could borrow from those practices.

Is this company latching on to one element of advanced technology, while dismissing another, infinitely more important, piece of diagnostic technology by not incorporating X-rays into treatment planning? Critics of these mail-order orthodontic systems warn against trusting your orthodontic treatment to a voice over the phone and not an orthodontist who sees your teeth every four to six weeks to visibly confirm that treatment is going according to plan.

Excellent treatment methods are available for patients who want to minimize their time in braces and in an orthodontist’s treatment chair, Dr. Razdolsky says.

Systems such as Invisalign typically give you three sets of aligners at each appointment, each of which is worn for two weeks. That enables you to schedule appointments every six weeks, and total treatment time averages nine to 15 months.

SureSmile boasts treatment times that are 30 percent faster with far greater precision than traditional braces and require fewer office visits.

If you’re considering orthodontic treatment and you want to achieve ideal results, please call our office today to schedule a consultation. We believe there is no substitute for face-to-face treatment.