If you want to fix your crooked teeth in a hurry, there are braces that claim to do the business in six months or less. Not only is the treatment faster — it’s also cheaper. But are these short-term solutions too good to be true? We look at the concerns surrounding these quick fixes and consider the different types of braces available.

The latest fit hitting dental clinics is short-term orthodontic treatments such as Six Month Smiles and Rapid Smiles Express. “Straight teeth. Less time. Clear braces” and “achieve your dream of straight teeth and a beautiful smile in just two to four months” are some of the boasts found in the marketing materials.

Otago University chair of orthodontics Professor Mauro Farella isn’t so sure these products can always deliver on their promises. His concern with short-term orthodontics is the result might not address all of a patient’s problems and they may need further dental work.

Most comprehensive orthodontic treatments last for more than 20 months and are based on evidence-based science tailored to the patient, which these systems are often not.

Prof Farella says these short-term treatments are typically used to straighten the “social six” — the six front teeth — and in six months it is often not possible to fix more complex problems, such as malocclusions (bad bites).

“Most comprehensive orthodontic treatments last for more than 20 months and are based on evidence-based science tailored to the patient, which these systems are often not,” Prof Farella says.

Dr Noel Ananthan, a Six Month Smiles instructor, agrees conventional comprehensive orthodontic treatment is the gold standard and says this is made clear to patients. “However, tempering that is the reality that many of our adult patients do not wish to undertake the scope and timeline of comprehensive orthodontic treatment.” They just want a cosmetic fix to their teeth, he says.

Rapid Smiles Express is also a cosmetic treatment and focuses on straightening the six front teeth. It doesn’t claim to be able to fix bites. The company says it’s ideal for people who had braces as a teenager, have had subsequent problems and want to straighten their teeth.

Dentists can offer these cosmetic treatments after completing a short course.

For instance, dentists wanting to use Six Months Smiles attend a two-day course. The Six Months Smile guide for dentists states “no ortho experience is required”.

Rapid Smiles providers are required to complete a “general orthodontic residency”, which consists of 12 days’ training over one year.

In comparison, orthodontists are qualified dentists who have undergone an extra three-year full-time university degree in orthodontics and treated more than 100 patients under supervision. Only then can they register with the Dental Council of New Zealand as specialist orthodontists.

Marketing of some short-term treatments — especially the focus on how these products can boost a dentist’s bottom line — has drawn criticism. The Six Month Smiles guide quotes a dentist saying introducing Six Month Smiles to his practice increased revenue 40 percent.

New Zealand Dental Association chief executive David Crum says while there is a place for short-term orthodontics, it’s very limited.

“I am very much against manufacturing companies attempting to undermine the health care element of dentistry by promoting the profit motive.”

He says dentistry is a business, so requires financial return, but it’s important for practitioners to retain their ethical balance and deliver what’s in the patient’s best interests.

Dr Ananthan says Six Month Smiles is a valid treatment option for adults who only want a cosmetic fix. “If they do not want to go through 20-plus months of treatment and want the space in between their teeth closed, why should they not be offered that solution?”