CDS News

  • September 14, 2016

Do-it-yourself dentistry?

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Do-it-yourself dentistry?

Clearly dental professionals would view these so-called dental kits as folly, even dangerous. But to others, they could represent an internet-driven “disrupter” that shifts the balance of control to the consumer and away from “the industry.”

What prompted this thought was hearing about the use of a home computer to perform an eye exam. I was astounded. As someone who has worn glasses and later contact lenses since I was 12, I had a hard time imagining not seeing my optometrist, who has my trust to monitor changes in my prescriptions and the health of my eyes.

Intrigued, I googled “do-it-yourself dentistry” and was rewarded with pages of kits and YouTube videos that allow the adventurous to perform their own dental procedures – along with a number of “DIY dentistry gone wrong” stories.

What would lead someone to attempt DIY dentistry? Turns out there are a few compelling reasons.

Cost. Fear. Time.

The New York Times had an account of a 27-year-old Atlanta man who wanted invisible aligners to correct overcrowding. When he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – pay the $4,000 to $6,000 tab for Invisalign or ClearCorrect aligners through his local orthodontist, he paid about $125 for a kit that allowed him to make dental impressions at home. Those were sent on to an unseen dentist who fashioned a series of clear aligners, which had to be re-ordered as his teeth shifted. The total cost: $600.

One online site complains that regular dental visits “can put a dent in your wallet” and goes on to send readers to medical supply stores for a mirror and dental pick to clean teeth at home. 

Fear is a powerful motivator too. A man in England recounted the terror and pain he experienced as a child when he had baby teeth extracted, a fear that carried into adulthood and a spotty dental record. When he began suffering from a decaying tooth, he searched the internet, armed himself with a pliers and whiskey and pulled the tooth himself. “I knew it would be more painful this way, but at least I’d be in control,” the man told The Daily Mail in 2015. 

Another man cited in the Daily Mail piece, a busy professional with a young family, said he didn’t have “time” to see a dentist, so he bought a temporary filling kit online and fashioned a crown to cover a chipped tooth. He’d top it off every three weeks or so and eventually used “superglue” in hopes of making it last longer.

Wince away. 

Bernard Golden, a Silicon Valley expert on cloud computing and a columnist for CIO.com, an online publication for chief information officers, examined how once-sacred professions are ripe for “disruption” in this age of “I’ll Google it.” 

Writing about DIY eye exams, Mr. Golden said, “It holds the very real potential of dramatically changing the way revenue is distributed throughout the eyewear industry. In other words, disrupting the existing vision correction industry by displacing the prime role of optometrists in examination and dispensing prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses.” 

Mr. Golden looks at the issue through the lens of consumer value. “We’re in the early days of seeing how cloud computing is enabling the creation of entirely new ways of delivering value via digital-based offerings, often with surprising changes for everyone involved, from the product or service originator to the final end user.”

Naw. That couldn’t happen in dentistry. Or could it?

It’s certainly troubling, but thanks to the Internet, people today think they have options to what has traditionally been unassailable expertise. Think of that next time you see your optometrist.

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society. CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing problems dentists and staff members experience in the office. Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist. Suggestions? Email suggestions for topics to be covered to the Chicago Dental Society.
Photo: AtomStudios / Shutterstock.com