Misinformation can be a dangerous thing – and when it comes to your teen’s teeth, there’s plenty of misinformation to be found on social media these days about moving teeth.

As orthodontists and other dental professionals encounter more youngsters who have harmed their teeth by attempting at-home care, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) is sounding the alarm about this disturbing trend. Parents need to know about the very real, and potentially expensive, consequences of do-it-yourself (DIY) orthodontics.

It may start innocently enough. A teen sees an online video of a peer who claims to have closed a gap between teeth, or who created a set of fake braces to make a fashion statement. Rubber bands may be used to close a gap. It seems reasonable. Put a strong rubber band around your two front teeth, and the space between those teeth will close. What the audience does not learn from online videos is that wearers of rubber bands sometimes forget about them. If the rubber band that’s put on before bed isn’t there in the morning, a teen may logically think it broke and was swallowed.

But here’s what can really happen: a rubber band can work its way up the teeth and under the gums. Left there long enough, the rubber band severs tiny ligaments that hold teeth in place, until it reaches and strangles the roots of the teeth. This pushes teeth out of the gums (think Bugs Bunny). The damage is sometimes so extensive that the teeth cannot be saved.

AAO orthodontists have also reported the use of string, fishing line and dental floss in DIY teeth straightening.

The cost of replacing one lost tooth can easily exceed $20,000 over a lifetime.

Teens who are trying to replicate the look of braces may use household glue to try to adhere “brackets” (backs of earrings) to their teeth. Not all glues are safe in the mouth. Some may cause irritation or be toxic. There is a danger of accidentally swallowing “brackets” as well.

Tell-tale signs of DIY orthodontics can be foreign objects around teeth, including paper clips, rubber bands, or dental floss; front teeth that appear unusually long; loose permanent teeth, especially upper front teeth; swollen gums; bleeding gums; or unexplained oral or facial discomfort. Consult your family dentist or an AAO orthodontist if you observe any of these signs in your teen.

Moving teeth is a complex biological procedure, and best performed under the direct supervision of an orthodontist. Find more information and AAO orthodontists at www.aaoinfo.org.