Today at TechSling, we’ll be digging into a topic that many of you may not have considered previously: orthodontia’s relationship to current and emerging technologies.
Looking at a set of braces, your first thought may not be that some kind of advanced technology is at work, but of course, orthodontia is so much more than what we can see from a hidden smile.
Orthodontia has a long and notable history of making use of the best technology available to achieve ideal results for each patient.
In addition to touching on some of the technologies that orthodontia has utilized in the recent past, we will also examine a few cutting-edge technologies and techniques that have yet to be implemented on a wide scale but could potentially revolutionize orthodontic practice as it applies to conditions that are notoriously difficult to manage.
Our expert consultant for this article is Dr. Shivam Mehta, an Assistant Professor in the Developmental Sciences/Orthodontics department at the acclaimed Marquette School of Dentistry in Milwaukee Wisconsin
Mehta is also an avid orthodontic researcher who has focused on Mini-screw Assisted Rapid Palatal Expansion (MARPE), Acceleration of Orthodontic Tooth Movement, Osteogenesis Imperfecta, and 3D Imaging (CBCT), all of which make use of advanced technologies.
Mehta has more than 29 publications in peer-reviewed journals, has received four grants, and has given fifteen scientific presentations alongside world-renowned researchers.
A longstanding relationship
Mehta explained that orthodontia and technology are interconnected, both past and present, in the hopes of achieving the best possible results.
Tooth movement alone is complex and sometimes difficult to predict, but orthodontic practice can often include many other aspects of maxillofacial structure and behavior.
Many decades ago, it just wasn’t possible to obtain accurate imaging of underlying structures, but digital imaging has been enormously helpful in this area, and this technology continues to advance.
“Technology is widely used in orthodontics, especially with the widespread adaptation of digital imaging. In addition, the technology of digital scanning has changed the way we take records for patients in orthodontic practice. Also, 3D printing in orthodontics has opened new avenues for the fabrication of aligners, retainers, and appliances for orthodontic patients.”
The latter point, on 3D printing of various appliances, is especially interesting, as each appliance, needs to be personalized for each patient.
While this level of customization was previously cost-prohibitive in certain instances, 3D printing offers a relatively fast and affordable option with an incredible degree of accuracy and even a variety of materials.
Still, advanced 3D imaging stands as one of the most significant technological advancements in orthodontics.
Specifically, a method called Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT) can be used to evaluate and analyze head and neck structures.
The result is a 1:1 three-dimensional visualization of these structures, which, as Mehta noted, is vastly superior to 2D radiographs since these can distort structures via the superimposition of multiple structures.
Just one example of how these advanced and accurate images can be helpful in practice is that they can help identify ideal insertion sites for orthodontic mini-implants as part of correcting complex malocclusion, which refers to the misalignment of the teeth.
But technology is advancing orthodontia beyond practice as well, aiding also in research efforts.
Tech + research
Research is vital to the advancement of orthodontia as a whole, and it can be especially vital to the search for better treatment methods for rare and complex conditions.
Mehta has been an active researcher for years, and he is passionate about finding better forms of treatment that will help real-world patients with their conditions.
He sees research as the best way to test and consider new technologies and treatment methods.
But it’s a circular connection between research and tech, as tech can aid in research efforts as well.
“Research and technology are closely connected, as credible research can help to evaluate the accuracy and reliability of new technologies and techniques in orthodontics. At the same time, better technology can help orthodontists to conduct research more productively and efficiently.”
In his own research, Mehta has been particularly interested in tooth movement and rapid palatal expansion through various means, including the MARPE method mentioned earlier.
He highlighted the usefulness of CBCT imaging in his research.
“By combining my long background in research on rapid palatal expansion and new technology such as CBCT, I have accomplished multiple credible state-of-the-art research projects regarding orthodontic treatment outcomes.”
Since CBCT has been so instrumental in Mehta’s work, we thought we’d take a closer look at how this imaging system aids researchers.
How tech helps
It’s difficult to illustrate just how different CBCT imaging is from standard radiographs, but a simplified example may give a rough idea.
Imagine you’re building a house. You have a highly detailed blueprint of the plans for the house, as well as a basic breakdown of the land on which the house will be built.
Now imagine that, instead of the blueprint, you had a full 3D model of the house that allows you to examine any detail you want with excellent clarity.
Naturally, the 3D model will give you a much better sense of the house layout and structure, making it much easier to plan ahead or make alterations as needed.
Although it’s a rough analogy, this is more or less what it’s like to go from a 2D radiograph to a 3D image generated via CBCT.
Mehta explained that CBCT gives a much better idea of how certain treatment options will fare over time.
“Because CBCT is a three-dimensional radiograph, it can help me to evaluate the effects of treatment outcomes on the alveolar bone, roots of teeth, the airway, and the temporomandibular joint without any superimposition of overlying structures.”
CBCT has helped Mehta show that MARPE leads to “more skeletal effects of expansion than conventional rapid palatal expansion.”
Without this imaging technology, it would be drastically more difficult to determine the long-term effects and outcomes of an emerging treatment method.
With this information in hand, patients can make more informed decisions about which treatment option they would like to pursue.
Acceptance of new tech
But are practicing orthodontists generally willing to accept and use new technologies as they come about.
The short answer is yes, but it does take time to prove the effectiveness of a new technique or treatment option, which is precisely why researchers put new techniques and technologies through their paces long before they become part of standard practice.
But once credible research has been completed and published, Mehta feels that orthodontists are generally quite open to new technologies if they have clear utility.
“Orthodontists are usually very accommodating of new technologies, especially if it can improve diagnosis and treatment planning.”
It seems that many orthodontists recognize the importance of discovering and utilizing new technologies, and since the patient’s well-being is at the center of their work, this makes perfect sense.
Of course, new technologies and methods will continue to emerge in the coming years.
Toward the end of our conversation, we asked Mehta for his opinion on whether we will continue to see major technological advances in orthodontics in the next ten years, and his answer was a resounding yes, and on multiple fronts as well.
Here’s what he had to say on the subject.
“I am positive that the technologies in orthodontics will continue to advance at a rapid pace. I think such technological advancements will contribute to better diagnosis with tools such as higher resolution CBCTs and technologies to decrease the radiation of 3D imaging. Additionally, improvements in direct-to-print and aligner technology would definitely be something to look out for in the next ten years.”
New technologies in all of these areas of orthodontia could be game-changers, which is good news for both orthodontists and patients in need of orthodontic treatment.
Higher success rates attached to specific treatment methods could even encourage more people to seek orthodontic treatment for the first time, cutting down on the intimidation factor that some currently associate with treatment.
Orthodontic treatment needs to be as personalized as possible, and the technologies we’ve mentioned here, along with other technologies that may soon be discovered, could help increase the level of personalization, making sure that every patient has at least one viable treatment option to address their specific condition.
Mehta theorized that the rapid pace of technological advancement in orthodontia could be linked to advances in other areas of technology.
There’s a lot of room for cross-pollination in tech, as this article has made clear.
As a result, the practice of orthodontia, stands to make leaps and bounds that will result in massive real-world benefits and many more smiling faces.