The videos are easily found on YouTube-- mostly kids and young people, showing how to make do-it-yourself, or DIY, braces using rubber bands, paper clips, bobby pins, or aluminum foil.
A video gave a Fresno girl an idea to make her own brackets with earring backs. Gabby, 12, is now under an orthodontist's care after trying DIY braces to straighten her teeth.
"I felt really insecure about my gap between my teeth so I started doing it."
It's a trend that is spreading fast among Gabby's friends.
"I heard it around, kids talking about it-- so I ended up looking it up and then trying it."
Gabby watched a video of how earring backs could be used as "brackets" on the teeth, simulating the look of real braces. Her orthodontist, Dr. John Bayrakdarian described how Gabby crafted her homemade braces.
"She did put earring clasps on her front four teeth and she did use super glue to put them on. And from far behind it looks like braces but actually they are not."
But a few days later, it started to hurt and Gabby told her mother, who took her to the doctor to remove them.
"We see how the rubber band is going all around her 10 teeth on the top. And what's happening here is that the rubber band is getting embedded in the gum tissue here," said Dr. Bayrakdarian.
Dr. Bayrakdarian said fortunately, there was no permanent damage to Gabby's teeth from the DIY braces, but the potential injury can be severe even to the point of losing teeth.
"It reaches the periodontal ligament that holds the teeth to the bone. And once this periodontal ligament and the blood supply is damaged, and then the tooth gets loose."
The trend is so troubling the American Association of Orthodontists issued a warning about DIY braces after seeing a spike in the number of patients who've tried it.
Dr. Bayrakdarian talks to the parents of his patients to watch for what might seem like a harmless craft project.
"See if there's anything new going on there. Sometimes they do it secretly. If they're using certain types of rubber bands or things like that, be aware."
Orthodontists acknowledge one of the motivators of DIY braces is the cost of real ones. But Dr. Bayrakdarian says it costs more to fix the damage caused by homemade braces and sometimes that damage is irreversible. He also said there are several financial plans to help make braces more affordable for families.
Gabby is happy her family found a way to get her real braces, and she doesn't mind smiling now with a mouthful of metal since her teeth are being moved the right way.
The American Association of Orthodontists said replacing a lost tooth can cost more than $20,000 over a lifetime. Kids who lose a tooth because of damage from DIY braces would have to wait until they are 18 years old to have an implant put in to fill the space.
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