Like many other healthcare sectors, family orthodontics has grown and continues to evolve at an incredible pace. Today’s dental braces are efficient, discreet, and customizable, a far cry from “metal-mouth” braces of the past. Innovations in diagnostics, procedures, and materials have also reduced treatment time for orthodontic patients.
Here are some of the top trends that have changed the face of modern orthodontics:
1. Self-ligating braces
In the past, orthodontic treatment primarily consisted of steel wire ties or elastic ligatures combined with twin brackets. These ligatures or ties would slowly move each tooth into place by applying pressure to the bracket, guided by the archwire.
In addition to being very slow, the use of heavy friction and ligation forces for tooth movement also meant a significant amount of discomfort for patients. With newer orthodontic solutions such as passive self-ligating braces, the bracket features a slide mechanism that can be opened to place the archwire inside and then closed off.
Wires glide freely within the slot, reducing the amount of pressure and friction on teeth while moving them into place more effectively. Self-ligating braces can also reduce the need for tooth extractions, and in some cases eliminate the need for rapid palatal expanders to treat crowding.
2. Invisible braces
Traditional metal braces have always been considered an eyesore, and this is one of the main reasons why adult orthodontics took so long to become “acceptable”. After all, it’s bad enough when you have a mouth full of metal as a child or teen, but even worse when you consider the idea of braces as an adult!
With the introduction of clear or tooth-colored ceramic brackets that are practically invisible against natural teeth, more adults have started considering orthodontic treatment to achieve a straighter smile and improve their oral health. One of the most popular options is the Damon Clear system, which uses passive self-ligating clear brackets that are stain-resistant and do not discolor easily.
Not only are these braces highly discreet, but they also provide better comfort for patients and deliver quick, effective results. Clear braces are popular among all age groups, but particularly useful for working professionals and patients concerned about the aesthetic impact of orthodontic treatment.
3. Clear aligners
Clear tray-style aligners are also gaining traction, especially among appearance-conscious teens and adults, but these can only be used for minor tooth movement and straightening. They also take a longer time to show results, which is why many patients still need to get treatment with fixed orthodontic appliances.
Generally, clear aligners such as Invisalign are a good solution for orthodontic treatment in people who have malalignment in front teeth but good posterior occlusion. They can help with controlling posterior teeth while improving the position of anterior teeth, but cannot move posterior teeth as effectively as metal or clear braces can.
In many cases, aligner treatment may need to be followed by a short-term application of fixed orthodontics, just to make sure that all malocclusions and alignment issues are fully treated. Where visible orthodontic appliances are not a viable option (e.g., for media or sales professionals, clear retainers can be easily and discreetly worn or removed).
4. Orthodontic mini-screws (TADs)
Temporary anchorage devices, or TADs, are mini-screws made with surgical-grade titanium. They have been used in oral surgery for many years now, but are also now being used by orthodontists to control anchorage as well as tooth movement during orthodontic treatment.
TADs are perfect for minimizing unwanted movement in anchor teeth, usually molars, since they provide a fixed and secure anchor point in the bone. Titanium mini-screws also provide better leverage for the orthodontist to guide the movement of teeth in other parts of the mouth, which helps to make treatment faster, easier, and more efficient.
The placement of these anchorage devices in a patient’s mouth is practically painless, with the application of topical anesthetic to the gingiva around the anchor tooth. They can also be easily removed as soon as orthodontic treatment is complete.
5. Digital imaging
Like other dental professionals, orthodontists are increasingly relying upon CBCT or Cone Beam CT scanning for accurate diagnosis, evaluation and treatment planning. Unlike the hazy 2-D shadows provided by conventional X-ray imaging, CBCT provides clear and detailed 3D images of a patient’s skull, jaw, and surrounding bone structure.
Combined with digital models, CBCT imaging helps orthodontists locate impacted tooth positions as well as problems with the TMJ (temporomandibular joint) and airways. It also makes TAD and plate positioning easier by helping them evaluate the ideal placement for these devices.
CBCT images can also be manipulated and viewed from various angles, which makes this scanning technology truly indispensable for orthodontic treatment. While there is some concern over the risk of radiation exposure, a full series of dental X-rays exposes patients to more radiation than in-office CT scans. Overall, the benefits definitely outweigh the risk!
6. Smile designing
While the use of clear and tooth-colored brackets and computer-guided CNC manufacturing has already helped braces become more customized, other technology has taken orthodontics to the next level. Today, dental professionals can also use 3D planning software to help people design their smile.
By taking impressions of teeth and converting them into 3D models, orthodontists can show patients what their smile will look like after treatment is complete. Brackets and corresponding archwires are custom-manufactured for efficient tooth movement, and using precision placement guides allows for higher accuracy with indirect bonding.
Working with these models allows orthodontists to customize treatment based on each person’s facial or dental structure, and suggest specific changes for functional or aesthetic reasons. Visual representation of treatment goals is particularly effective in adult orthodontics since it allows patients to be more involved in the process.
Today, “DIY orthodontic” companies are also becoming a trend, where doctors are never directly involved in dental care. These might be helpful for some people but are usually hit-and-miss. For a healthy bite and smile, it’s always better to get a thorough examination and evaluation by an experienced orthodontic specialist!
Jacob Koch, DDS
Dr. Jacob Koch practices Orthodontia at his clinic, Koch Orthodontics, in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He has his Doctorate in Dental Surgery and a Specialization in Orthodontics. He is a member of the American Association of Orthodontist, American Dental Association, Georgian Dental Association, Georgia Association of Orthodontics & the Progressive Orthodontics Study Group. Committed to keeping himself current with the latest in orthodontic treatment and technology to provide the best possible care to his patients, he actively participates in progressive study groups and clubs and shares his learnings to about orthodontic innovations and latest treatment modalities. His family is very involved in the community and he loves spending time with his 3 kids.