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Patients Get What They Pay for with Do-it-yourself Dentistry

As so-called "do-it-yourself" dentistry becomes popular online, dental experts warn the dangers far outweigh the potential cost savings.
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
PUBLISHED: Tuesday, September 27, 2016

It’s becoming a disturbingly common trend in dentistry: patients who take matters into their own hands and try their luck at do-it-yourself (DIY) dentistry. Just running a quick Google search brings up all sorts of options for home dentistry kits that promise to help patients take perfect teeth impressions to make their own full sets of dentures and other dental devices. There are online instruction manuals for everything from constructing and implanting fillings to tooth extraction. What patients don’t realize is the real danger they put themselves in by performing these dental procedures on themselves at home.

So why are patients taking matters into their own hands? One major reason is economics. Since the recession in 2008, many people seem to consider dentistry to be an “optional” part of their healthcare. A huge part of this problem, even today, is that people can’t afford to purchase dental insurance if they don’t have coverage offered by an employer. They also can’t afford to pay the out-of-pocket costs for dental treatment. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, about 108 million Americans have no dental insurance.

It’s not just money that’s a factor in people forgoing dental care. In today’s busy world, many people skip dental appointments simply because they don’t have the time. This is a problem that’s been noticed by Greg M. Vallecorsa, DDS, who thinks that “some patients seem to have a lot of other things going on in life and don’t feel that it’s important enough to get in to be seen.” He thinks patients might also put off visits to the dentist because they aren’t in pain or having any other noticeable symptoms of dental problems.  

One big area of DIY dentistry involves patients taking their own teeth impressions for the creation of custom dentures and other devices. But there’s not a whole lot of information available as to the actual quality of DIY tooth impressions. Consumers can order impression kits from several online companies. They receive the impression material, plastic trays, and instructions. But even though this seems simple enough, experts say it’s dubious to claim that inexperienced consumers can create dental impressions matching the quality of a product produced by a professional who’s been through two or three years of orthodontic training. Some consumers have reported using impression kits only to have the finished product fit improperly. Other patients have used retainers made from impressions that did not extend to the second molars, resulting in super-erupted teeth.

Examples of DIY dentistry extend far beyond teeth impressions. It’s possible to purchase DIY filling kits on Amazon that claim to supply the buyer with enough material for up to 15 tooth repairs. This is only supposed to be a temporary measure until a licensed dentist can see the patient. Many people choose to skip the dental appointment and live with temporary fillings as permanent solutions, often for months, and often by reapplying some of the mix to the temporary filling as needed.

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