Clear Aligners a Popular Alternative to Braces
New technology is making straightening teeth less visible, faster
In an already challenging time of life, parents of tweens will need to consider the possibility of orthodontic treatment to combat dental problems such as crowded teeth, over- and underbites, excessively spaced teeth and the effects of thumb-sucking, which impact straight teeth and jaw alignment. For many, treatment – which typically begins between the ages of 9 and 14 according to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) – will include traditional metal, ceramic or self-ligating braces, clear aligners or other appliances. Luckily, the dental specialty of orthodontics has new and emerging technology for doctors, patients and parents to consider that will positively impact his or her smile.
Clear aligners: Invisalign
In orthodontics, “the current trend is the popularity of Invisalign,” says Dr. Robert Stern of Stern Orthodontics in Cherry Hill, NJ. “It’s the best of the bunch.” Like all clear aligners, Invisalign is virtually undetectable. The technology involves a series of thin, removable plastic trays designed to fit a person’s teeth. Each aligner is worn for two to three weeks and moves teeth a fraction of a millimeter at a time. The technology is recommended for ages 11 and up. Although Invisalign has been in existence since 2000, “every year they improve the plastic technology,” says Dr. Ali Husain of Delaware Orthodontics in Newark, DE. “It’s more flexible and resilient.” In addition, Invisalign is used in conjunction with intraoral scanners, 3D computer-graphics technology that has impacted the profession greatly.
Dentists turn to 3D images, printers
“All of dentistry is headed toward 3D imagery,” says Dr. Stern. In addition to intraoral scanners, which digitally capture images of a patient’s teeth and gums, orthodontists are also making use of 3D printers to study and design personalized treatment plans. Prior to the emergence of 3D technology, orthodontists used mold impressions to aid in tailoring a plan for the patient. With this new technology, “it is faster, accurate and more comfortable for the patient,” says Dr. Husain.
Accelerated orthodontics: Moving teeth faster
As it relates to advances in dentistry, Dr. Orhan Tuncay of the Temple University Kornberg School of Dentistry in Philadelphia, says “there’s been an interest in moving teeth faster.” That new school of treatment, referred to as accelerated orthodontics, aims to shorten the time needed to straighten the teeth during treatment. The average orthodontic treatment lasts 22 months. With accelerated orthodontics, treatment could be curtailed to several months or to less than a year. The PROPEL System and AcceleDent are two of the types of this emerging technology. PROPEL involves a minorly invasive surgical procedure, while AcceleDent relies on vibrating technology. Both systems work in conjunction with any current orthodontic devices, including braces and clear aligners. This type of technology, Dr. Stern advises, is an option only for teens and adults.
Parents will have to consider many factors when deciding on orthodontic treatment for their kids. Dr. Tuncay advises parents to ask questions and to only seek the treatment of a trained orthodontist. Dr. Husain says parents should understand that orthodontics is the fun part of dentistry. “We make it fun for kids; we make the environment easygoing and jovial. When treatment is finished, you look better. It’s a different feeling than going to a dentist. Parents should feel excited about coming in and we do our part to help the child.”
“Traditional braces are still most commonly used,” says Dr. Stern. “I think clear aligners will increase over time.”
Nicole D. Crawford is a freelance writer.