New technology making braces more comfortable

January 15, 2013 9:36:14 PM PST
Getting braces on your teeth can be an unsettling experience for some patients, but now a cutting-edge technology is making part of the process a lot more comfortable.

"Not worry about what people think, you know," Ellen Hsu said.

Hsu is all smiles when she plays with her newborn son. And that smile is actually improving thanks to an evolving technology.

Hsu has been fitted for the popular Invisalign braces. The braces themselves aren't new, but the method her dentist is using to adjust them is a departure from the traditional molds used by most orthodontists.

"It's called the iTero scanner; now we can have digital study models without have to take the goopy impressions," said orthodontist Bella Shen Garnett, D.M.D., M.M.Sc., P.C.

First Garnett reaches for the wand style scanner that will photograph Ellen's teeth. It's connected to a computer system that will ultimately beam from the images from her practice in San Francisco to a company lab. Over the next several minutes, Garnett guides the camera around Hsu's upper and lower jawline. The device is completely optical, producing no radiation. Step by step, the camera builds a three-dimensional map of Hsu's teeth. The computer alerts the dentist if a section that does not have a complete image, so it can be re-photographed.

"It's very, very precise and very accurate, the trays fit better than when we used molds," Garnett said.

She says the process is typically quicker than traditional impressions, which must set in the mouth.

"With the goopy impressions we would have to leave the material, which did not taste good, in the mouth for 3-5 minutes, and if the result was not good, they'd have to take another and some patients would sit for 2-3 impressions," Garnett said.

Cost can vary by practice. Garnett does not charge extra for the digital impressions.

As for Hsu, she's anxious to see the results, once her straightening is finished.

"Oh gosh, just being more confident, and not have to worry about what my teeth might look like and what people think," she said.

Turnaround time also tends to be faster because the digital images are sent instantaneously, rather than having to ship a mold. The information stored with the images then helps technicians speed up much of fabrication process.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

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