Gap bands and DIY braces are potentially harmful methods of at-home orthodontics involving the use of elastic bands to move teeth in order to close a gap between them. The idea is to apply pressure to the teeth causing them to come together which, in a sense, is orthodontics (meaning “straight tooth”), but without any professional supervision.
The internet is full of YouTube videos of people (not dental professionals) who will show you how to close your teeth gap using ordinary hair rubber bands. Gap bands are also sold by companies who claim their products successfully straighten teeth at a fraction of the cost of braces, and in just a few weeks.
Elastic Bands in Dentistry
The fact is that the use of elastic bands in dentistry is not new. In early dentistry, elastic bands were commonly used as a means to extract teeth. A band would be placed on a problem tooth and over time, the band would work its way up the tooth and around the root, which destroyed the soft tissues and bone. The tooth would then fall out on its own in 4-6 weeks.
The science behind these early tooth extractions has not changed. If an elastic band placed on teeth for the purpose of closing a gap slides up into the soft tissue, it can cause major damage. Because saliva can soften the band, friction is lessened and movement can occur. The band can also naturally move up the teeth as they move closer together because your teeth are smaller at the roots. Elastic bands can move unknowingly (especially at night) and the wearer may not realize what has occurred. Once this happens, a gap band can get lost under the gums making it extremely difficult to retrieve, and if the wearer is unaware, even more damage can be done.
Another potential hazard of gap bands is moving the teeth too quickly, which can result in permanent structural damage. Excess pressure on the root can cause damage to the bone and even cause the tooth to erupt out of its socket.
Complications of Gap Bands and DIY Braces
- Poor retention: The teeth will move, but without orthodontic aftercare, the likelihood that the teeth will return to their original positions is great.
- Bone or gum damage: Moving teeth at an improper pace can hurt the jaw structure and bite. A band that cuts into the gum line can deprive the gums of oxygen and nutrients which can harm or kill the tissue.
- Malocclusion/misaligned bite: Straightening your teeth at home only considers appearance. Your teeth can look straight but not be lined up with the remaining teeth correctly. Misaligned teeth can cause premature wear and even fracture the teeth that end up absorbing most of the pressure.
- Aspiration: Elastic bands can come loose and inhaled into trachea (windpipe). This is a medical emergency that may require anesthesia and bronchospcopy to remove a foreign body from the larynx (voicebox), trachea or bronchi.
- Tooth discoloration: Damaging the blood supply to the root can cause the tooth to darken.
- Tooth fracture: Cracking of a tooth can result from improper movement
- Tooth loss: An elastic band that inadvertently travels under the gum can destroy the roots by cutting off the blood supply. Pulling the roots together too quickly can loosen the teeth causing tooth loss.
- Infection and periodontal disease: Many of the bands offered on the internet are made of cheap, non-sterile materials. If the bands cut into the gums, they can cause infection to spread through facial spaces or the bloodstream.
- Latex allergy: Some patients have reported having a reaction to latex while using gap bands.
Other homemade braces that are being tried involve the use of paper clips, brackets, or wires to create makeshift orthodontic appliances. Many online stores offering these supplies are located in countries where no dental approval is needed to make braces. Any use of oral materials not approved of or given to you by your dentist or orthodontist should not be used to straighten teeth.
Orthodontics is a complex medical field that takes years of training and experience to master as Dr. Greenberg has achieved. Trying to save money and get fast results can end up costing you more than braces and could have devastating long term or permanent effects on your dental health.
If you need additional information or have experienced complications with Do It Yourself Braces (DIY braces) or aligners and would like to make an appointment with our orthodontist, Dr. Greg Greenberg, please call 972 335 1300 Monday through Thursday, or submit an online appointment request and we will respond within one business day.