Technology, adult patients change future of orthodontics

May 8, 2006
Miniaturized dental implants, three-dimensional imaging, other technologies make orthodontic treatment more appealing.

LAS VEGAS, Nevada--New implant techniques to guide the movement of teeth, projecting virtual jaw bones and smiles on a computer screen and more adults seeking healthy, beautiful smiles are future trends being discussed May 5-9 at the 106th Annual Session of the American Association of Orthodontists in Las Vegas.

"Modern orthodontics goes far beyond straight teeth. Today's orthodontist looks at teeth, jaws and facial appearance," said Dr. Jason B. Cope, a member of the AAO.

"Research has brought new technologies and techniques to the practice of orthodontics that ultimately benefit the patient with high quality results."

The new techniques also help patients better understand the expected results of their orthodontic treatment and are encouraging more patients than ever, in particular adults, to correct their orthodontic problems.

At the AAO's Annual Session, orthodontists from around the United States and Canada and abroad will discuss and learn more about the following trends in orthodontic treatment.

Implants Allow Treatment Without Headgear
Orthodontists are using miniaturized dental implant technology to anchor braces and effect tooth movement in ways that headgear and other orthodontic devices could not. For years, titanium implants have been used to replace missing teeth. Now a similar technique is being used to establish an anchor for attaching hardware inside the mouth.

Called a miniscrew implant (MSI), a small titanium screw is easily placed in the mouth and allows treatment of jaw and tooth alignment without the need of headgear or other orthodontic appliances. After teeth have been moved to their proper place, the implant is removed.

"Miniscrews are especially helpful for patients who find headgear uncomfortable or inconvenient to wear," Dr. Cope says. "The orthodontist does not need to rely on the patient to wear headgear as prescribed because the miniscrew provides a basis for the forces needed to move teeth and align jaws."

3-D Imaging Shows Straightened Teeth and New Smiles
A growing number of orthodontic patients can now benefit from being diagnosed from three-dimensional imaging techniques. The new cone beam computed tomography technology allows the orthodontist to see the patient's face, jaws, and teeth in three-dimensions instead of the traditional
two-dimensional x-rays and photos.

This allows a more accurate diagnosis, treatment plan, and quite often better results. When combined with treatment simulation techniques, some patients can get a glimpse into the future with technologies that illustrate expected results from their treatment.

"The technology gives the orthodontist new tools for planning a patient's treatment," says Dr. Cope. "In some cases, patients can leave their orthodontist's office with a printout of the planned final result, which may help to keep them motivated during treatment, or more importantly, give them a realistic perspective of how their final results may look."

Another exciting technique now possible is laser scanning the patient's mouth or an impression of the patient's mouth, which is then interpreted using imaging software, to produce a digital model of the patient's mouth, eliminating the need for traditional plaster models.

In addition to allowing patients to better understand how orthodontic treatment will improve their teeth, jaws and face, the digital model helps the orthodontist to diagnose the orthodontic problem, then develop a customized treatment plan for the patient by electronically moving the patient's tooth and jaw alignment to determine the most beneficial treatment for each patient.

Once the final result is achieved, a three-dimensional treatment plan and virtual model of the patient's mouth can be shown on the screen.

"Through three-dimensional technology, orthodontists are able to view and manipulate the facial structure in ways we have not been able to before," says Dr. Cope. "This will enable orthodontists to determine the most appropriate treatment approach for the patient, and, for some patients, this may result in fewer orthodontic appointments or reduced treatment time."

More Adults Are Turning To Orthodontics
Today, one out of five orthodontic patients is an adult (18 years of age and older), and the number of adult patients is up almost 60 percent from just ten years ago. Thanks to increased health awareness and advances in dental care that allow us to keep our teeth longer, more adults are choosing to wear braces to improve their dental health and appearance.

Adults now can expect to keep their teeth longer," says Dr. Cope. "And many of them recognize the difference a healthy, beautiful smile can make in their dental health, their overall health and their well being. In fact, many of our adult patients tell us about the difference their new smile makes their self-esteem and confidence."

As technology in orthodontics continues to advance, braces are now sleeker and less noticeable than ever before. Advances have eliminated the "railroad tracks" braces, and some patients can be treated with "clear" braces--braces with ceramic brackets and clear rubber bands that blend in with teeth.

These new materials have replaced traditional hardware for some patients, making it more appealing for adults to correct their orthodontic problems.

Adults, however, also are turning to "quick fix" solutions to achieve beautiful smiles. These solutions, such as veneers and bonding, can help patients achieve desired results so long as any underlying orthodontic issues are corrected first.

Patients interested in these types of processes need to take a team approach to improve their oral health and appearance by consulting their dentist, their orthodontist and other dental specialists, as needed. Otherwise, they may be masking potentially serious issues that may eventually lead to dental decay and periodontal disease.