It seems we all want everything faster and cheaper. This is true in electronics, in retail, and even in medicine and dentistry. Recently, a company called Six Month Smiles arrived on the dental scene promising orthodontic treatment that is shorter and less expensive. What is it and does it really work?
Six Month Smiles is literally a “braces in a box” kit provided to general dentists with all of the parts included. To become a Six Month Smiles provider, a dentist merely pays a fee and attends a two-day seminar. After only two days of training, he can then submit models and begin providing treatment immediately. Within a couple of weeks, the newly trained dentist receives a kit that contains the braces (which have been positioned on the models by technicians at the Six Month Smiles facility), the wires, the o-rings, and even the adhesive needed to attach the braces to the teeth. At the “braces on” appointment, the brackets are placed using mouthpieces provided by the company and the wires are installed. Patients are then sent away and tooth movement begins.
Can the Six Month Smiles system actually move teeth? Yes, it can. Can it make the front teeth look better? Yes, it can. Is it a substitute for regular braces? In some cases it might be. So what are the pros and cons of Six Month Smiles treatment and is it the right treatment for my teeth?
First of all, I need to reveal my bias. I am a board-certified orthodontist with 20 years experience treating the most difficult cases. The Six Month Smiles company does not market to me. They market their service primarily to general dentists who want to add orthodontic services to their practices. I have not taken the Six Month Smile certification course, but I have studied their system and talked to dentists and patients in my community who have used it. More importantly, I have been providing orthodontic treatment for 15 years longer than the Six Month Smiles company has even existed.
Six Month Smiles treatment, just one example of “short term orthodontics,” can straighten crooked teeth. The best cases for such limited treatment are patients with a great bite in the back, mild alignment problems in the front, and either mild crowding or slight spacing between the teeth. The main movement patients will experience after braces are glued to the teeth and the flexible wires inserted is expansion. The front teeth will move forward and outward. If the bite is good in the back and the crowding or spacing is mild, the amount of expansion will be minimal and may actually be beneficial in some patients.
The cases in which “prefabricated” braces will be the least successful are the seemingly simple ones where there is an undetected bite problem, where the upper front teeth do not overlap the lower front ones very much, or patients whose front teeth should not be flared any further. Most of the patients that I have re-treated after their Six Month Smiles experience were unsatisfied because of how flared their front teeth appeared and how their bites felt worse following treatment. Short term orthodontic treatment generally focuses on the front teeth and does not concern itself with how the upper and lower arches come together.
Braces are just a tool. They can move teeth only as well as the doctor using them. Just because the Six Month Smiles company puts the brackets on the models for the dentists who have attended its seminar does not mean that these doctors suddenly know anything more about diagnosis and treatment planning than they did before. Getting braces on the teeth is only the beginning. Knowing what to do at subsequent appointments and how to finish treatment is even more important. Just because I can buy a set of power tools from Sears does not mean that I’m any more of a carpenter afterwards than I was before.
In no way am I trying to suggest that orthodontists are smarter than dentists. There are some dentists who can straighten teeth with the best of us, and some of them are doing so using the Six Month Smile system. The key to the results you’ll receive from any treatment lies in the training, experience, and talent of the doctor providing it.