If you are planning to straighten your crooked teeth the cheap way by buying plastic braces online, be aware that your teeth could end up in worse shape than before.
Such teeth alignment aids are being sold freely on the Internet, with prices ranging from $7 to $50. This is a far cry from the $3,000 to $10,000 that orthodontists charge for straightening teeth.
Made of hard plastic, these devices are supposed to be worn overnight and purportedly push the teeth into proper alignment over a period of a few months.
But the Association of Orthodontists (Singapore) fears such products, which are offered on online platforms like Carousell and Qoo10, could be harmful.
Dr Mohanarajah Senathirajah, president of the association, said everybody's teeth and jaws are different, so braces need to be "tailored to target specific problems".
"Using the generic, one-size-fits-all appliances that can be bought from the Internet potentially puts the user at risk," he said.
Dr Senathirajah explained that such devices could adversely affect both the development of the jaw and the alignment of teeth, especially if the side effects of using them are not closely monitored.
Side effects, he said, include "unwanted tooth movement which can potentially worsen the bite, or even cause exposed roots that can lead to tooth loss".
Dr Mohanarajah Senathirajah explained that such devices could adversely affect both the development of the jaw and the alignment of teeth, especially if the side effects of using them are not closely monitored. Side effects, he said, include "unwanted tooth movement which can potentially worsen the bite, or even cause exposed roots that can lead to tooth loss".
Some websites tell customers that any pain and soreness caused by wearing the devices are "normal" and people should continue wearing them in spite of the pain.
Dr Priscilla Lu, an orthodontist at the National Dental Centre Singapore, noted that such over-the-counter devices may have not been tested by the Health Sciences Authority and so, nothing is known about whether the material that they are made of is toxic.
Other problems with using these devices, Dr Lu said, include "poor fit, discomfort and pain from poor fit, ulcers from the device pressing on the gums, and potential gum recession if the device is abrading on the gums excessively".
Based on online comments on platforms that sell these aligners, hundreds have been bought.
An enthusiastic buyer wrote: "Good quality. I've used it for two days and the gap between my two front teeth has closed slightly."
Meanwhile, another said that "its universal size is uncomfortable for me. Not strong retainers as I thought".
One user complained that it was "too painful to continue for more than 15 minutes", and another remarked that she could "feel teeth tightening but I'm afraid my teeth will get loose and drop off".
When braces are fitted by an orthodontist, the force placed on each tooth is "low and constant, gradual and dynamic", said Dr Lu. That is why before a patient is started on treatment, the dentist would take X-ray scans to assess the roots of the teeth that lie within the bone.
Dr Senathirajah said: "Unlike shopping for clothes on the Internet, such a practice of selling medical products should not be taken lightly as it may cause more harm than good."