Pandemic sparks key innovations in digital orthodontics

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The COVID-19 pandemic galvanised US researchers to explore key innovations in digital orthodontics and general dentistry.

Now, dental professionals from various countries are traveling to Saint Louis University’s Center for Advanced Dental Education (CADE) to learn more about two technological advancements not available anywhere else in the world.

The pandemic intensified the need for digital orthodontics as many clinics were shut due to lockdowns and movement restrictions. COVID-19 swept away many of these barriers, leading to the rapid adoption of digital solutions and transforming ways of working and service delivery.

Through a partnership with Graphy, a South Korean 3D printing material company, SLU researchers have spent the past three years testing direct 3D-printed aligners.

The researchers found that controlling material dimensions, structure, and properties of aligners directly—compared to thermoforming plastic sheets like Invisalign—has the potential to make the process of tooth movement faster, less wasteful, and more precise.

Their findings were recently published in Progress in Orthodontics.

Dr Ki Beom Kim said this is a significant development with the potential to take 10 per cent, or more than $5 billion, of Invisalign’s market share.

“Invisalign is a $25 billion company. There’s commercial interest from many companies trying to develop this type of material, but we are the first school to do so.”

Retention in orthodontics has long been a challenging aspect. While many orthodontists recognise the advantages of using fixed retainers, there are typically two factors that hinder their widespread adoption. The first concern is the time-consuming nature of the process, and the second revolves around potential tooth movement due to wire untwisting, as highlighted in case reports of improperly bent wires.

Addressing this issue, YOAT, a medical technology manufacturer based in Seattle, has successfully revolutionised the field of orthodontics. By collaborating with YOAT, Saint Louis University is currently testing an on-site retainer-bending machine that promises to create precise retainers while drastically reducing the time required for alterations. Early results from the study have already shown that patients experience improved stability compared to traditional retainers.

In the past, orthodontists had to manually bend retainer wires. SLU’s partnership with YOAT extends to developing a finishing wire bending machine, scheduled for testing this fall. The introduction of this new machine is expected to further elevate treatment quality by offering customised finishing wire options, pushing the boundaries of orthodontic care.

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