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The influence of social media in orthodontics

Social media has brought significant changes to the field of orthodontics. Its increase in use has led to adjustments within dental offices to fit social media’s expectations, and it has altered patients’ perceptions about selective procedures. Offices have modernized to meet social media’s new standards, and some have even created interactive social media pages to engage with patients. In addition, individuals have become more educated in dental subjects they are unfamiliar with and can discover the benefits and risks of procedures prior to initiating treatment.

With the touch of a button, social media can modify patients’ decisions as well as shift dentists’ credibility. Posted pictures and testimonials can directly impact current and potential patients. In this article, we will explore the two sides of social media’s influence on orthodontics: how it has helped diminish barriers of care by providing an educational self-teaching platform, but also how it has posed new obstacles for the dentist and their patients.

Social media as a learning platform

It’s common for patients to conduct research and seek outside resources before initiating dental treatment. Due to the globalization of social media and the widespread promotion of orthodontic treatment by famous influencers, more individuals are interested in achieving a beautiful, perfect smile. With the aid of different social media platforms, patients can discover the benefits and risks of orthodontic treatments and choose the one that fits their lifestyle best.

According to an August 2015 study, educational audiovisual information found on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other sources had resulted in a significant improvement in patients’ dental knowledge. These platforms serve as additional resources that can help patients create a treatment plan of their preference. For example, patients who are indecisive about metal or clear retainers can use social media platforms to educate and familiarize themselves with the different treatment options. In addition, social media and the internet at large can aid patients in choosing the correct location before initiating treatment. Review sites that allow sharing of photos, testimonials, and ratings serve as a resource to aid patients in locating a practice that matches their needs and desired results.

While social media can be a helpful first step in providing information to patients, orthodontists must be sure to provide proven, clinical information and data about procedures to their patients (from the ADA or the American Association of Orthodontists) so they aren’t solely relying on social media.

Social media and the impact on public perception

Once it’s finally time to remove metal brackets or when all trays are finished, in the case of clear aligners, patients are willing to share their beautiful new smile on the internet for their family, friends and even strangers. However, it is important to note that pictures posted on social media can change the public’s perception of the dentist’s professional credibility, even if dentists themselves post the pictures. This can, therefore, alter a patient’s willingness to become a client, according to a March 2021 study. Orthodontists should be aware of the public’s perception and be extra cautious about what they’re sharing online. 

With the surge of popular apps such as Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter and others, clear aligner companies have discovered they can gain a larger clientele by using famous influencers to promote their products. Clear aligners, which is the most advertised orthodontic product by social media influencers, have increased from approximately 100,000 to over 235,000 from 2013-2017. The increase in use of clear retainers managed by non-licensed orthodontics is concerning to dental professionals. Patients fail to recognize that orthodontics and teeth alignment go beyond aesthetics and neglect the function of their dentition. 

Short-term savings by using non-licensed clear aligners can lead to serious oral health issues in the future. For instance, it has been reported that some customers were diagnosed with crossbites, misalignments and other serious dental problems after use. Not only are the aligners ruining clients’ teeth, but they are also causing other complications such as headaches, strain in the neck and jaw muscles, migraines, painful chewing and more. At the end, people are spending more money fixing issues that arose from the use of clear retainers rather initiating treatment with a licensed orthodontist from the start.

Overall, social media has caused numerous changes in the field of orthodontics and will continue to do so as technology advances. Even though it provides educational benefits, it also brings drawbacks to the orthodontist as well as the patient. Without noticing, patients are being persuaded by influencers into a treatment plan that may not be the best option for their case. In addition, ratings, shared pictures and testimonials can influence current and potential patients by altering the public’s perception of the dentist’s professional credibility. As additional social media platforms develop, only time will be able to dictate any further outcomes they will have in the field of orthodontics. Without a doubt, patients should always be sure to consult their orthodontist about what they see on social media.

~Bernardo Caldas, Nova Southeastern ’23, District 5 Wellness Chair

Bernardo Caldas

Bernardo A. Caldas is a third-year dental student at Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine. He was born in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil, and earned a B.S. in biology from the University of Central Florida.

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