COMPANIES offering so-called do-it-yourself braces over the internet have been warned by the General Dental Council that they could face prosecution for illegal practice.
The GDC has responded to growing reports that providers of direct-to-consumer orthodontics are offering services which may not include face-to-face patient contact with a registered dental professional.
The regulator issued a statement saying it is gathering evidence about the "potential risk of harm to patients" from this and other types of remote dental care.
Orthodontic work, it said, falls within the practice of dentistry as defined by the Dentists Act 1984. This requires dentists and dental care professionals to be GDC-registered and to adhere to its Standards for the dental team.
Registered dental professionals who do not comply with these standards put their registration at risk, the statement said, and anybody practising dentistry while not registered with the GDC "could be subject to prosecution for illegal practice".
The GDC emphasised the importance of an initial clinician/patient discussion to ensure the suitability of a proposed course of treatment and to allow the patient to ask questions and provide informed consent.
It said: "We are continuing to gather evidence about the potential risk of harm to patients from 'direct-to-consumer orthodontics' and other forms of dental care offered remotely.
"We have contacted providers of these services to seek clarification on the procedures they follow and how GDC registrants may be involved."
The regulator also invited "further advice and information from the dental professions" and said it would issue a follow-up statement once it had evaluated the evidence.
Until further guidance is available, the GDC said dental professionals must consult their indemnity providers should they need further advice. Complaints received relating to these matters would continue to be addressed through existing processes.
The move follows a national campaign launched in January by the Oral Health Foundation and the British Orthodontic Society (BOS) to warn people of the dangers of "DIY orthodontics".
It highlighted the risks of buying braces online, without seeing a trained professional.
Announcing the campaign, BOS president Jonathan Sandler said: "If you embark on any orthodontic treatment without a suitably trained clinician taking the time to examine you and make appropriate recommendations, you could be in real danger of having potentially life-threatening conditions missed, as well as inappropriate and dangerous treatment carried out.
"One of the issues with 'DIY orthodontics' is that it offers just one narrow solution when there may be a more appropriate one for the patient – if you have a hammer, it is amazing how often everything looks like a nail. The value of informed choice cannot be over-estimated.