Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Mail-Order Orthodontics. Is it a Mail-Order Mistake?

My social media feeds (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Yahoo) have been bombarded lately with advertisements about a direct to consumer (mail-order) orthodontic treatment option with Invisible aligners that is 3x faster and 60% cheaper than traditional braces.  In fact, from what the advertisement says, you do it yourself, without even having to see an orthodontist or dentist.  

Say what?!?!  

Cheaper, faster and more convenient?  There must be a catch, right?  RIGHT.

I'd like to unbox this looking more closely at the three different selling points of DIY aligners:

1) Time
2) Price
3) Convenience, no Doctor Visits

It is totally misleading that mail-order aligners work “faster" than seeing an orthodontist.  This marketing ploy is founded on the principal that their treatment takes 6 months, while traditional orthodontic treatment usually takes 18 months.  In reality, if a patient ONLY wants their front teeth aligned, an orthodontist can do it in 6 months with invisible aligners or braces—the same amount of time as DIY aligners.  There is more to orthodontics however than just straightening the front teeth.  That’s why a typical orthodontic case can take around 18 months. 

With a traditional case, the first 6 months are usually the initial straightening stage and the following 12 months are usually the bite correction stage.  Mail order aligners on average take only 6 months because they DO NOT correct your bite.  Therefore, when these direct to consumer companies say they are 3x faster than traditional braces, they are not comparing apples to apples.  They are comparing a limited treatment option to only align the front teeth (6 months), to a comprehensive orthodontic case where your bite is being fixed (18 months).    That’s where they get the 3x faster statement, 6 months versus 18 months.

Check out this case.

I straightened these teeth after only 2 months.  It took ONE appointment.  By this reasoning, I can straighten teeth 9x faster than traditional braces and 3x faster than mail order aligners.  I win. 

Mail-order aligners are not faster than seeing an orthodontist.  If a patient wants limited orthodontic treatment with clear aligners or braces, it can be done in approximately 6 months by an orthodontist. Discuss this with an orthodontist so you can understand the pros and cons of limited treatment. Don’t try and do it yourself thinking it will be faster and better.

The cost of orthodontic treatment is usually determined by the total treatment time.  Shorter cases typically cost less, while longer cases typically cost more. 

As I stated above, the average direct to consumer aligner product takes approximately 6 months.  Therefore, they have priced their product around $2000.  This is significantly cheaper than a traditional orthodontic case (both regular braces or aligners) that takes almost 18 months ($4000-$6000).  With that said, using the same logic as we used to destroy the speed argument above, these mail-order aligners are not truly cheaper.  They are just selling you a limited 6 month option. 

If a patient is interested in a limited 6-month orthodontic treatment option, just ask you orthodontist to weigh the pros and cons of a 6 month plan.  Many orthodontists would entertain the idea of doing limited treatment (at a lower cost than full treatment) if the patient understands the risks and rewards.  Chances are good the cost would be similar to a mail-order aligner.

Thus, the mail order argument that it is 60% less expensive is again, misleading and false. 

The lack of doctor supervision is the BIGGEST concern someone should have about the mail-order aligner business model.  

Orthodontic treatment is an on-going medical procedure which requires an initial diagnosis and on-going supervision throughout treatment.  As aligners are changed, the teeth are moving and changing.  While the mail-order companies have a doctor “review” the treatment plan, without seeing the patient, they do not have enough information to make a proper plan. Also, there is no guarantee it is an orthodontist reviewing your case.  It could just be a general dentist with no formal training in orthodontics.   If orthodontic tooth movement is not done correctly, it can lead to bone issues, tooth loss, gum disease or bad-bite changes.  Look at the on-line reviews and you will quickly see a trend regarding failures with mail-order aligners.  While there have been successes, without a doctor’s supervision, treatment cannot be altered, improved and changed as needed.  

Also, most orthodontists utilize specific techniques such as attachments (resin buttons on the teeth) to assist with clear aligner treatment.  With the mail-order products, these essential buttons cannot be utilized.  

To put it simply, there is too much risk involved with orthodontic treatment that is not supervised on an on-going basis.  


To summarize, DIY Mail Order Aligners are not cheaper, not faster and not as safe as seeing a trained orthodontist. 

If you live in/around the Akron area, we treat both children and adults with braces or invisible aligners. Our practice is in Barberton but we promise you it will be worth the drive if you are 20-30 minutes away.  Give Barnett Orthodontics a call at 330-745-4497 or contact us through our website or Facebook page to learn more.