There’s nothing quite as noticeable as a nice smile. If you have the money, an orthodontist can fix your crooked teeth or overbite for a few thousand dollars. It’s pricey, but if you keep wearing that retainer, it works. But some people, including teenagers, are trying to better their smiles on their own using elastic bands, and are causing irreparable damage in the process.
Social media is peppered with videos of these do-it-yourself orthodontists, mostly individuals claiming all you need to fix your own teeth is a rubber band. Doctors say the trend is very troubling and extremely dangerous.
“When you have braces on it controls the movement of the teeth in all dimensions — rotational, forward, backwards, up and down — they’re all connected together and they’re stabilized,” says Dr. Karen Cottingham, of Cottingham Orthodontics in Indianapolis. “Certainly you can move teeth with elastic hairbands, but you have no control over that movement and you can actually damage the teeth, the supporting bone structures underneath, and it can even result in the loss of teeth,” said Dr. Cottingham. 
Dr. Cottingham, who has been an orthodontist for 17 years, says people who choose, say, a rubber band over professional treatment, risk causing their teeth lifelong damage. That damage is potentially so great that last year, the American Association of Orthodontists issued an alert, warning about the dangers. 
According to Dr. Cottingham, many orthodontists – well aware of the cost of braces – offer a free consultation, and will work with patients to find an appropriate treatment plan for the individual. Though of course not all orthodontists are created equal, and personal experiences can vary.
“Go and see a licensed orthodontist in your area, don’t take treatment into your own hands, said Cottingham. “It takes years to learn how to do this properly and so you definitely shouldn’t play around with that yourself.”
In February, The New York Times reported on a man named David Campbell who tried to fix the gap between his front teeth using elastic bands as a child. The teeth began to protrude when the elastic got stuck under his gums – an experience Campbell called “pretty traumatic.” He now has veneers.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true,” said Dr. DeWayne McCamish, an orthodontist in Chattanooga Tenn. “There are unintended consequences that could possibly occur.”
People who use elastic bands to straighten their own teeth usually see damage within 4-6 weeks.
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.