Technology is always progressing, and in the field of orthodontics, this means faster and more efficient ways to measure and treat both common and complex abnormalities.
Ali Husain, D.M.D., M.S.D., of Delaware Orthodontics in Wilmington, and Jonathan Johnson, D.M.D., of Johnson Orthodontics in Rehoboth Beach, agree that it’s an exciting time for orthodontists and their child, teen and adult patients. Here’s what they’re using now.
Many parents start taking their children to the dentist as early as their first year of life to get a head start on proper oral care and cavity prevention. What many might not realize is that it’s equally important to see an orthodontist by age 7.
“Many parents bring their children to me and are surprised by what we can do for them,” Husain says, noting common issues like teeth crowding and spacing. For these patients, it’s best to devise an orthodontic plan while the patient’s mouth is still growing and changing.
Other common issues include overbites, crossbites and underbites, which can be corrected with spacers, braces and, if needed, surgical techniques before the child’s remaining teeth come in.
“If you treat a patient while they are still growing, you have a chance to manipulate how the growth happens by directing teeth to come in a certain way,” Husain explains.
Johnson says patients nowadays are surprised and happy to learn that his team can treat teeth without using the uncomfortable molds from decades past.
“We do everything digitally now,” he says. “From the 3D intraoral scans to using cone-beam 3D X-rays, we can create a virtual model of each patient’s mouth and jaw. This reduces anxiety for our patients, and it also allows us to streamline our process to be more accurate and efficient.”
Adds Husain: “No one liked the old molds. They took a long time and were uncomfortable. Now, technology can do the same thing but with no discomfort…and it creates this personalized plan for our patients that is no longer a one-size-fits all.”
With this process, patients can also better visualize the outcome.
“When we create a digital model, we can show it on the screen instantly, demonstrate our plan for treatment and show the patients how their teeth and bite will improve over time,” Johnson explains. “It gives them confidence because they can see what we are working toward.”
Patients who wait until their teen years to begin orthodontic treatments might feel nervous about how wearing braces will affect their appearance and lifestyle.
“A lot of my teen patients are concerned about braces because of how they will look and how long they will need to be on,” Husain says. “New technology allows us to make custom braces, which means they fit better and work more quickly.”
In the past, braces came in a variety of “off-the-shelf” sizes but often had to be adjusted to fit a patient’s mouth. Now, braces can be created to fit the patient exactly. The length of time each patient needs to wear braces varies, but Husain and Johnson have seen a reduction thanks to 3D-printed braces.
At his practice, Husain’s team also uses a 3D scanner to create a digital model of the teeth. A 3D printer then builds appliances designed specifically for every patient.
Changes still won’t happen overnight and treatment durations vary, but generally, Husain says, “With this technology, we are seeing better results in a shorter time frame.”
With the advent of better technology, orthodontists are drawing more adult patients who were never treated before or who are just eager to improve their smile with simpler and less noticeable methods. Adult patients are often interested in smile-improving products and procedures that were previously out of reach when they were younger, either because of finances or lack of access.
“When I opened my practice, I thought it would be predominantly children and teens,” Johnson says. “However, I have found there is a need in the adult population. We can do so much with clear aligners these days, and that allows adults to fix their smiles without having to go the traditional route of braces.”
Clear aligners (often called Invisalign) can also be used by teens in certain cases, says Johnson.
Husain and Johnson both use cone-beam X-rays, or CBCT, on their adult patients. These are like CT scans of the face that look for impacted teeth, cysts or tumors—but with far less radiation.
“This three-dimensional image allows us to better identify tooth position, asymmetries, teeth that are impacted and other issues,” Johnson explains. “This is a significant advantage and helps us better diagnose patients.”
They can also detect abnormalities in the jaw and throat that indicate airway issues or risk for sleep apnea.
“While we do not diagnose these potential health concerns,” Johnson points out, “we talk to our patients about seeing their primary care doctor to follow up.”