The demand for clear aligners has exploded in the last few years globally (>20% annual growth rate) and even more so recently due to the “zoom effect”. This demand is particularly noticeable in adults.
With the increased availability of direct to consumer (DIY) clear aligners it is so important that the dental profession educates patients and steps in to guide patients through safe and effective orthodontic treatment.
General dentists (aka YOU) are the key to this!
More Zoom calls, more social media, billions of dollars of advertising around clear aligners means more awareness around teeth straightening.
A survey by RealSelf, a medical platform, showed that 76% of people in the UK want to improve something about their face or body with 40% considering taking action over the next 12 months (n= 1000).
43% of UK respondents were looking to improve their smile. With just over 50 million adults in the UK, that is a lot of demand.
You might think that demand is concentrated among millennials (you’d be right, 62% of millennials are planning a form of cosmetic treatment this year), but don’t write off the over 50s who are increasingly looking to improve their smiles.
Not all patients who want clear aligners can be seen by a specialist ortho!
- There aren’t enough of them, with only 1300 specialists in the UK and long NHS teen waiting list they can’t do this alone
- Orthodontists are busy doing complex work on kids, teens and in hospital
The other two avenues that exist are DIY and treatment via their general dentist.
- Adult relapse cases are often simpler and can be managed by GDPs.
- Initial cases that are slightly more challenging will benefit from some specialist support, but the treatment itself may still be carried out by GDPs
We can all agree that the DIY route is unsupervised, unregulated, and potentially unsafe. Therefore the general dentists are….just right!
- You know the patient well; the patient is comfortable with you, and lives locally
- You can take control of all parts of the patient's treatment under one roof. Including stabilisation before, cosmetic finishing, and lifelong retention afterwards! – an end to end service
- You can be supported by specialists when needed (through 32Co!) to help you provide outstanding, safe treatment.
Let’s face it, patients are being affected by the hundreds of millions of GBP spent on marketing DIY clear aligners. They have no idea how complex orthodontics can be, and the risks they are taking doing this unsupervised (how could they?).
Whether you like it or not, this is happening on your turf.
It is your responsibility to educate patients and to point them to the latest GDC guidance [link] which effectively outlaws DIY aligners, even if you don’t want to provide clear aligners yourself. It can be difficult to know how to discuss the importance of having a dentist, involved.
◈ As a dentist, we can even struggle sometimes taking impressions or scans accurately. It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect the impression quality of a DIY kit will be good enough for ideal treatment as this is the foundation that treatment is based upon!
◈ We need to validate whether or not orthodontic treatment could be harmful! Without those checks and balances, it can be extremely dangerous to start orthodontics. What’s the purpose in having straight teeth if you may lose one (or a few!)
"Clinical judgements about the suitability of a proposed course of orthodontic treatment must be based on a full assessment of the patient’s oral health. At present, there is no effective substitute for a physical, clinical examination as the foundation for that assessment" - GDC on direct to consumer Clear Aligners
◈ DIY aligners lack all of the tools that dentists may need to deliver the best outcome. We use things like elastics and IPR; and in certain cases, a specialist may be required from the beginning
◈ "DIY Dentistry is the gateway to an orthodontic clinic” - sadly, there is evidence of patients having extremely worrisome outcomes and ending up having to see a specialist to fix something that could have been appropriately treated if supervised.
◈ Educate your patients about the warnings made by dental bodies globally - the American body had to intervene after it saw 935 complaints on the Better Business Bureau website in a very short space of time, about the poor outcomes patients were having!
Whether you decide to take on clear aligners in your practice or not (although, we hope you do), you are the patient’s first port of call – take the time to educate them!