You can find lots of things online, including how-to guides and tutorials. But some tutorials or how-to videos are better than others. In fact, some of the information you or your teen might come across on the internet can be downright dangerous. Take the recent trend that encourages teens to take their orthodontic care into their own hands: numerous videos feature teens who have reportedly closed spaces between their teeth using what's known as a gap band.
The trouble is, gap bands and other risky do-it-yourself (DIY) orthodontic treatments will likely do more harm than good in the long run. No matter what condition your teen's teeth are in, it's a good idea to talk with them about the dangers of gap bands.
What Is a Gap Band?
A gap band is a small, elastic rubber band, similar to the rubber bands or ligatures that orthodontists often use as part of orthodontic treatment. Some websites sell gap bands that claim to be designed specifically for closing gaps between the teeth, while teenagers in some videos promoting the use of gap bands claim to have used tiny hair elastics to straighten their teeth.
To use a gap band, a person slips it around two teeth. The pressure on the teeth supposedly helps to pull them together, eliminating any spaces and potentially straightening the teeth. Although this sounds effective, it can have dire consequences under the surface.
What Are the Risks of Gap Bands?
The major issue with using gaps bands to attempt to correct teeth alignment issues is that the bands can cause permanent damage. In 2017, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) reported that around 13 percent of member orthodontists had seen an increase in the number of patients who had tried to straighten their teeth at home. Nearly 40 percent of those orthodontists had to provide corrective treatment to the patients who had used elastic bands or another DIY method in an attempt to fix their own teeth.
One of the big risks of using elastic bands to try and fix your teeth is that the bands can inch their way up under the gums. There, the band can irritate the roots of the teeth, destroying the bone and soft tissue and eventually causing tooth loss.
A paper published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases points out that although elastics are often part of a professional orthodontic treatment, many orthodontists try to avoid using them as the risks of damage to the teeth are considerable.
In the long run, using gap bands to try and correct an issue with the teeth can cost much more than braces or another form of orthodontic treatment. The AAO estimates that the cost of replacing a lost tooth can be more than $20,000 over the course of a person's life.
How to Talk to Your Teen About Gap Bands
In a selfie-driven world that's full of perfect-looking smiles on social media, your teen might feel a lot of pressure to correct what they perceive as flaws, such as a gap between the front teeth or teeth that aren't perfectly aligned. That's why it's so important to discuss the risks of gap bands with your teen and to work together to find ways to increase their confidence without trying out something so dangerous.
One option is to ask your teen if they've heard of gap bands and what they think about them. If your teen has expressed concerns about the appearance of their smile, you might consider scheduling a consultation with an orthodontist to learn more about safe ways to close a gap between the teeth or correct a misalignment. An orthodontist might also be able to put your teen's mind at ease, reassuring them that there are no major issues with their teeth.
Getting the conversation started can be tough, but working with your teen to find a way to solve the problem and improve their confidence (and their smile) will be worth it in the long run.