According to the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, approximately 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. In response to this epidemic, countless remedies are being marketed as the ultimate solution to obesity in the United States. Media outlets are continually churning out stories about the latest diets, pills, exercise techniques, support groups, medications, and forms of bariatric surgery. But one emerging weight-loss therapy offers a simple solution to excess weight without the restriction of dieting or the risks or costs associated with gastric surgery. At last, the nearly 200 million Americans who are overweight may be able to lead significantly healthier lives thanks to this cutting-edge, effective, easy-to-use… dental retainer?
What It Does
Weight-loss retainers are a simple, non-invasive, low-cost option for people who are overweight to moderately obese. The retainer occupies the roof of the mouth, reducing the size of the oral cavity and limiting bite size. Since it takes the body 20 minutes to signal satiety, the retainer buys wearers valuable time by forcing them to eat slowly. The ultimate goal is to promote learned behavior change in wearers so that they can eventually eat sensibly, chew thoughtfully, and recognize when they have reached the point of satiety on their own.
Dentists must obtain certification to fit weight-loss retainers. The retainer is crafted from a mold of the mouth taken on the first of two visits. The wearer simply inserts the removable retainer before eating.
Two brands of weight loss retainers, the DDS System™ and Scientific Intake™, are safe, modestly priced, and effective in treating moderate obesity. While the DDS System™ entails the use of a simple plastic and metal retainer, Scientific Intake™ adds an imbedded microchip to monitor user compliance. Both brands target people for whom diet and exercise aren’t working but who are not overweight enough to qualify for gastric surgery.
In clinical studies, participants using the weigh-loss retainer alone ate 23 percent less food, or 500 fewer calories, per day, and lost five pounds in the first month. No follow-up studies have been conducted to track the permanence of their weight loss.
Comparisons to Other Weight-Loss Treatments
Although they are useful treatments for those who are moderately overweight, weight-loss retainers are less effective than bariatric surgery in treating morbid obesity. Additionally, user compliance can be a problem, since wearers must consistently remember to use the appliance. The retainers cost roughly $500, a fraction of the cost of most gastric surgeries, but they are not covered by insurance.
Proponents of weight-loss retainers herald their simplicity and effectiveness in promoting behavior modification. The retainers offer wearers a model from which to develop healthier eating patterns. For users who assimilate their message and make the necessary lifestyle adjustments, the retainers are a source of empowerment and a starting point for change.
Or are they?
Recent research suggests that, while caloric restriction and exercise can yield a 10 percent weight loss, less than 5 percent of patients are able to keep all the weight off for more than five years. Even gastric bypass patients can succumb to weight gain. Can a removable dental appliance really stand up to such formidable odds?
Furthermore, even with the strongest support, behavior modification requires tremendous feats of the mind and will. Of the millions of Americans suffering from obesity, how many are truly able to change deeply entrenched lifelong behaviors and mindsets?
And, finally, there stands the issue of dignity. As one weight-loss blogger laments, “Do I really need a retainer to help me learn to take smaller bites? Why don’t I just wear a mask?!” Despite any benefits of the weight-loss retainer, the desire for autonomy may prevent its acceptance by the public at large.
There will be people for whom weight-loss retainers initiate a significant life change. For those who do experience the benefits of this new dental appliance, the debate is of no significance. For others, perhaps merely having a new option will instill hope and encouragementin the journey toward restored health.
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