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Orthodontist • Grass Valley, CA

Orthodontics Blog

Techno-Braces, Space-Age Wires and Robots

You are not fully dressed until you wear a smile.”

 ~ Evan Esar

Technology has come such a long way in the last few decades.  Most people today know that we now have cars that start at the push of a button, computers that require a fingerprint scan, and cell phones that allow you to track the real-time locations of friends and family (Uh, oh! Your teenager may not like this one!).  Just as technology has advanced our lives in so many ways, it has also tremendously improved the design, shape and function of today’s modern braces.

Modern braces are individually designed to move each tooth in your mouth in a very specific manner.  In other words, each tooth in your mouth has a brace or “bracket” that is specific to its shape, size and form.  Many years of research and development have determined the accurate amount of tip, the perfect angulation and the ideal final position of each tooth.

The design and specifications of these braces came about in the late 1970’s.  Prior to this, the braces that were placed on patients’ teeth were not specifically designed for each tooth and did not have built-in angulations or ideal positions for the teeth.  Orthodontists were required to place bends in the wire to get the teeth to move into the correct position.

The “wire bending” that occurred essentially gave Orthodontists the name “Wire Benders.”  Imagine having that catchy title on your business card!  With today’s technology, Orthodontists rarely need to bend a wire.  The sophisticated braces that are used in modern Orthodontics provide a carrier for the wire.  The wire is engaged into the “bracket” slot and the actual slot has been machined in a specific way to move that particular tooth.  The wire then does its job of moving the tooth into its ideal position.

There have been many advances in wire technology that have helped improved tooth movement.  The wires that are used today move teeth more efficiently, with less discomfort and often in less time.  This is because of space age technology.  In the late 20th century, scientists at NASA developed a metal to be used in outer space.  The result was a metal that changed Orthodontics forever: heat-activated nickel-titanium alloy wires.  Translation:  Wires that react to body temperature and move in a more flexible manner, compared to ordinary metal wires.  This meant that Orthodontists didn’t need to “bend wires” as much.  Thank goodness!  So when you get braces and people finally start to tell you that you have a spectacular smile, you can tell them that thanks to NASA, your smile really is out of this world!

The beauty about this type of wire is that it has the characteristic of maintaining its shape, no matter how crooked or twisted a patient’s teeth are.  This is what allows a patient’s teeth to move more efficiently and consistently over time.  Because of this constant force, the wires are less heavy than traditional wires and therefore cause less soreness.

If you’re wondering what holds the wire in place once it’s placed through the bracket, think of a color catalogue.  Why?  Because tiny orthodontic rubber bands are used to hold the wire in place – and these rubber bands come in different colors, which allow you to have fun with your braces!  Now you can choose rubber band colors to match your hair, outfit, mood and individual personality!

This is quite different from the way wires were held in place during early Orthodontics.  Back then, the wires were tied into place with a smaller, thinner wire called a ligature tie.  These were “spun” down and often patients could feel the wire tightened down on the bracket as the ligature tie was tightened down.  These are still used today for certain “stubborn” teeth and are still very effective in moving teeth.

A more recent development called self-ligation allows the wires to be held in place by a hinge type mechanism.  Despite what the term suggests, self-ligation does not mean that the patient may freely remove and replace his or her own dental wires just for fun (although patients have been known to remove their wires!)

Self-ligating braces basically have brackets with built-in clips or hinges, which essentially hold the wire in place.  This design is very clean and efficient (compared to colored rubber ties) because less food gets trapped around the brackets, making your braces easier to maintain.

As with most elastic products, the Orthodontic rubber bands will break down and lose their elasticity after a few weeks and so the wire is not engaged into the bracket as securely;  tooth movement is not as continuous and constant as it is with self-ligating braces.

However, with a wire clipped into place (such as that with self-ligation), there is continuous force placed on your teeth, which allow your teeth to move more efficiently and quickly.  There are several manufacturers of self-ligation braces:  Damon, SPEED, In-Ovation R and In-Ovation C, just to name a few.

Here’s what a patient said about his experience with self-ligating braces:

“The day I got my braces on I thought, ‘What the heck have I done?!’  I could not imagine 18 months of the discomfort and silly looking braces.  Thanks to SPEED Braces and the kind, happy and supportive staff, I look back now with pure gratitude. It only took 12 months (and I was prepared for 18 months!)  Overall I am glad I did this!”  Mark S (Age 50)

As the aforementioned testimonial states, self-ligating braces (in this patient’s case, the brand of his braces was SPEED Braces) move teeth continuously with constant force.  With self-ligating braces, it is quite common for patients to finish their Orthodontic treatment ahead of schedule.

Do robots that bend dental wires really exist?  Yes, it is true!  There is a company that gives Orthodontists a special machine unlike any other Orthodontic machine.  First, this machine scans a patient’s teeth after the braces are placed.  Then the scan is downloaded onto a special software that simulates the ideal position and bite of the patient’s teeth.  This program tracts and analyzes the movement pattern of each tooth before it enables a small “robot” to basically bend the wires, which are customized to each patient’s desired results.  This truly is a high tech (and as you can imagine) upscale method of straightening your teeth.

Another recent Orthodontic innovation is known as lingual braces.  These braces are placed behind the teeth.  Many patients opt for these braces because they do not want their braces to be seen.  For business purposes, it is typical for aspiring celebrities (and even existing celebrities) to choose these braces.  While you may not be a celebrity being interviewed on TV, you can have a CELEBRITY smile and with the many options available today, what are you waiting for?

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