Advancements in Orthodontics

When deciding to have a specialized procedure, it is important you select a professional who actually specializes in that field. You wouldn’t have your family doctor perform a liver transplant; neither would you have a general dentist perform your orthodontia! Look for an orthodontist who is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists. This specialty requires an average of four years of dental school and a minimum of two years in an accredited residency program. A board certified orthodontist will offer you the best results. Board certification is not mandatory; it does show that your orthodontist has gone the extra mile to provide the best possible care. The newest technology and techniques are available to the board certified orthodontist, ensuring you receive the next level of excellence.

Orthodontia has changed immensely over the last several decades. In addition to advanced equipment, the methods used are also progressive. If you had braces years ago, you may be interested to learn of all the advancements in orthodontia over the past forty years. Patients today don’t have to endure the drawn out, messy and sometimes painful orthodontia of the years past; the technology and even the types of braces have evolved making the braces wearing experience much easier.

One of the biggest advancements is the induction of better dental x-ray equipment. Digital x-rays give the orthodontist immediate, precise images of the patient’s teeth and surrounding tissue. Additionally, there are more x-ray advancements that are changing the way orthodontists can view scans. Some orthodontists are using 3D scanning equipment which provides a full set of x-rays in one 360-degree scan and creates 3D images of the patient’s jaw, teeth and tissue. There are several benefits to the equipment for both doctor and patient: the process is more efficient, easier, less expensive, garners better results and delivers less radiation than standard x-rays. If you suffer from TMJ disorders, the 3D imaging makes it easier for the orthodontist to diagnose and treat your condition. The 3D model of the head and jaw provide both general dentists and orthodontists with the ability to see the patient’s dental formation and to more accurately treat their patients.

Many orthodontists today use digital technology to take impressions of their patients’ teeth. This new technology allows orthodontists to digitally create impressions as opposed to manually. The digital scanner can take pictures inside a patient’s mouth and the pictures are available for viewing minutes later. Previously, impressions included the application of goopy putty onto a patient’s teeth; a long, untidy process. Today, a precise digital impression utilizing air and light produces 3D pictures of each individual tooth. Digital impressions are so accurate that one set of pictures will usually suffice for your entire treatment and your images are available almost immediately. The pictures can be used to show you any dental issues you may be experiencing and to help your orthodontist determine your treatment plan. Digital scanners offer accurate measurements and in turn, provide better quality results than the old impressions. In addition, digital models are better for the environment because the scanner does not use any wasteful materials and the process is decidedly more comfortable for the patient.

Another great advancement is the braces themselves. Modern orthodontists use smaller, redesigned brackets, indirect bonding and heat sensitive wires, to name just a few. Overall, patients experience less discomfort and shorter treatment times. Previously, orthodontists applied metal bands to teeth; today, self-ligating braces can be applied in a fraction of the time. Traditional braces required the doctor to tie the braces together with a thin, stainless steel ligature wire. The newer version features a small sliding door built into the braces that keep the wire in place. The self-ligating braces also cause less friction and offer less force in the patient’s mouth, providing a more comfortable braces wearing experience. Research has shown that self-ligating braces are more hygienic because less food and bacteria get trapped in the brackets. Not only are these types of braces better for the patient, but they provide the orthodontist with more treatment options. Situations that required extractions or expansions previously can now be treated without conventional methods and in less time. Everyone wins.

And while the braces have morphed over the years, so have the arch wires, the wires that connect the brackets on the teeth. Stainless steel has commonly been used for arch wires because it is inexpensive. The problem with stainless steel arch wires are they stretch out, requiring more tightening appointments and more overall discomfort for the patient. In the late 1970’s, a wire made of a combination of titanium and nickel was introduced. In the last ten years, copper has been added to the mix, making a wire that warms up to body temperature. This pliable wire has memory shape, and when working through the bracket, unravels crowded teeth more efficiently than the cumbersome metal wires of the past. The lighter consistency of the wires is more comfortable for patients and there are fewer maintenance appointments.

New bracket placement processes have also expedited the braces experience. Each bracket is placed according to its “job” and it is imperative that the bracket be attached to its tooth with the utmost precision. An orthodontist can use the traditional, direct method, where each bracket is attached by hand on each tooth. The newer method, called the indirect method, is where a model of the patient’s teeth is made by an orthodontic laboratory. The braces are virtually put on the model and the orthodontist can view the placement of each bracket, solidifying the patient’s treatment plan in advance. The lab then makes the braces based on model and the orthodontist can place the braces an arch at a time into the patient’s mouth. This saves a tremendous amount of time and gives the orthodontist more control and better precision.

As technology evolves, the processes of orthodontia become easier and more accurate. Whether the decision to get braces is a medical one or an aesthetic one, knowing the advancements available to you can help you make a better informed decision about your orthodontia care, truly giving you something to smile about!