The importance of ‘Buyer Beware’ in the field of orthodontics

The importance of ‘Buyer Beware’ in the field of orthodontics

Dr Asif Chatoo reflects on the implications of a new study of Instagram posts mentioning orthodontic systems –

New research undertaken by UK based academics and published by The Angle Orthodontist highlights the extent of misleading and bogus claims made on social media platform Instagram in the realm of orthodontic treatments (1).

With a focus on “heavily marketed orthodontic products associated with common treatment modalities” such as Class II correction, use of self-ligating brackets, clear aligners, non-surgical accelerated tooth movement, surgical acceleration, and myofunctional orthodontics, the academics scrutinised three hundred relevant Instagram posts and – shockingly – found that less than 2% could be described as being ‘objectively true’.

Most of the posts featured a photographic image while 18% were videos and according to the paper, nearly all made claims that were not supported by evidence.  Of the 300 posts identified, only 25% were in English. The other 75% were translated using Google translate.

Emeritus Professor Kevin O’Brien, an international authority who has an informative blog and whose mission is to challenge “orthodontic quackery”, writes about the findings, expressing his disappointment in the high number of untrue claims (2).

In its recommendations, the study recommends that claims about medical and dental treatments on social media should be more highly regulated to protect patients.

I agree totally. There are several important issues here.

  • Our patients have a right to receive information that guides them towards the right choice of treatment for their needs.
  • The most important choice made by patients is not the product or system but the experienced provider who will ideally offer a range of options
  • Orthodontic treatment can be irreversible which makes it important to choose the right clinician for your needs first time – and not choose a provider on the strength of social media claims

With a touch of serendipity, the role played by social media in fuelling the boom in cosmetic treatments was explored in an article in the Sunday Times (3)  last weekend. While the claims were made about cosmetic medical treatments, rather than dental, the article reinforced the harm that can be done through misleading social media posts.

The situation highlighted by both the research and the article poses a dilemma for all clinicians who are providing treatments that are either partly or wholly chosen by patients wanting to improve their appearance. If we do not promote our clinics, using social media to link to websites providing ethical and objective information, there is a risk that specialists are drowned out by unscrupulous marketing.

Some years ago, the British Orthodontic Society produced excellent guidance:

Orthodontics for Adults: The Why, How, Who and Where on adult treatment (4) .

Among the important points it makes are:

  • In general, no brace is predictably quicker than any other
  • Be wary of quick solutions to potentially complex problems

I would be very happy if everyone on social media who is exposed to claims about orthodontic products and systems could be reminded of this advice; I would also be happy if marketing companies had to comply with the General Dental Council’s Standards (5), principally:

  • Be honest and act with integrity
  • Find out about laws and regulations that affect your work and follow them

There have been rulings by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in relation to orthodontics (6) which shows that the ASA will make a stand and rule against companies or practices making misleading claims. How will they cope if misleading claims on social media escalate?

And then, as if all this confusion wasn’t bad enough, there is the worrying growth in aligners being sold ‘direct to consumers’.  These companies claim that their treatments are 30% quicker than traditional orthodontics. The jury is out on the quality of treatment which is not being overseen by a clinician from start to finish.

The General Dental Council has issued a statement (7) to guide patients while the Care Quality Commission, whose job is to regulate practices, has said that all direct-to-consumer providers should be registered with them (8). A treatment which a patient oversees themselves?  As has so often been said, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.



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