Op-ed: Unsafe orthodontics give you no reason to smile

State Rep. Tom Murt warns against using orthodontic treatment and appliances through the mail.

By State Rep. Tom Murt

A recent trend has evolved whereby out-of-state dental labs are offering orthodontics treatment and appliances through the mail without a patient ever having a face-to-face exam or consultation with a dentist or an orthodontist.

These mail order braces and at-home teeth-straightening kits have become quite popular. They are often marketed as being affordable and convenient for busy people. They are promoted as an ideal solution for attaining that perfect smile, but they are not the remedy they claim to be and can even be harmful to your health and result in more serious dental issues.

Orthodontists do not simply straighten teeth. Orthodontics are often thought to be only a cosmetic treatment, but the truth is that teeth that are asymmetrical or teeth that have an incorrect bite affect more than just a patient’s smile. Orthodontics treatment is often used to address dental problems, including speech impediments, jaw or TMJ discomfort, gum disease, tooth decay, grinding and clenching of teeth, difficulty in chewing and eating, and in the treatment of certain causes of sleep apnea.

Orthodontics treatment is also used to reposition teeth in order to improve how they align and bite together.

Straightening teeth involves moving bones. This requires the work of highly trained dentists, orthodontists and dental assistants and the use of state-of-the-art technology, X-rays, medical equipment and numerous in-person consultations. Taking an impression of your teeth through a do-it-yourself mail order kit, mailing the impressions to a dental lab, and hoping for correct and effective treatment that will result in straight teeth is neither safe nor advisable.

Orthodontics is a specialized field of dentistry and should be practiced only by specially trained professionals. Manipulating and altering a patient’s bite and teeth should be done only under the care of a trained and licensed professional and never through the mail.

Mail order orthodontics can be a very dangerous practice that needs to be addressed in order to protect Pennsylvanians, or in this case, dental patients. Allowing long-term medical care of a patient without ever having to see a healthcare professional is an arrangement we would not allow in any other medical scenario.

Braces or teeth-straightening appliances are not appropriate for every patient. Some patients have undiagnosed gum disease or periodontal problems that make braces inappropriate and even hazardous for that patient. These periodontal problems cannot always be manifested through photographs or through molds that are taken by and sent by the patient through the mail for review by a dental lab technician. In some cases, before braces are prescribed by an orthodontist, a patient will be required to visit a periodontist so the patient’s gum health and strength can be clinically assessed. A periodontist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of periodontal and gum disease. This assessment frequently utilizes X-rays to observe the health of the bone below the gum line. This is another assessment that cannot be made through the mail.

One of the critical factors for the success of adult orthodontics is the health condition of the patient’s gums, as adult patients are more susceptible to gum disease, which weakens the teeth-supporting tissues. If gum disease is not treated before wearing the dental braces, the already weakened jaw bone may not withstand the applied pressure and suffer permanent damage that could cause tooth loss.

I have written legislation (HB 412) that will protect Pennsylvania patients seeking dental or orthodontic treatment or appliances. My legislation requires patients to see a dentist or orthodontist, and be cleared for orthodontic treatment, whether it be through the mail, or through the traditional in-person approach. ••

Rep. Tom Murt represents the 152nd Legislative District and is the chairman of the Disability Caucus and the Human Services Subcommittee on Mental Health.