Making better smiles faster

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 4, 2006

By Adam Hammer, staff writer

For anyone who has had braces, they know that wearing them is a long-term commitment that generally takes about two years.

&8220;Orthodontics is a whole lot of sequential steps and you have to take step one before you can do step two,&8221; Dr. Dean Leonard of Alpha Orthodontics in Albert Lea said. &8220;With computer aided

treatment planning, we can design an archwire to combine several of those steps.&8221;

Medical practices have constantly been moving further and further into the world of technology and orthodontics is no exception.

OraMetrix has come up with SureSmile, a computer aided treatment that greatly reduces the amount of time a patient wears braces. Leonard and his staff now have access to this technology and the training to offer braces that will take less time to fix a smile than traditional practices.

&8220;We don&8217;t actually move teeth faster, we move them more efficiently,&8221; Leonard said. &8220;What the patient is going to see as being different is having their teeth scanned and then they&8217;re going to be able to watch their smile come into place in less time and with fewer visits.&8221;

Alpha Orthodontics is one of four offices in Minnesota to offer SureSmile &8212; a treatment by OraMetrix that uses 3D imaging, computerized treatment planning and shape-memory archwires.

&8220;I&8217;ve been watching it for the past three years with great interest. I wanted to make sure it was actually something that worked,&8221; Leonard said. &8220;I waited until I could see for myself that it was a good thing for my patients and that the company was stable.&8221;

Companies such as OrthoCad offer similar computer aided treatments, but what sets OraMetrix apart is its use of a robot to bend archwires, Ryan VanVorst OraMetrix practice consultant said.

There are about 100 locations in the country using SureSmile.

&8220;The foresight is we obviously hope to continue growing and we&8217;ve in the last year grown quite a bit so it&8217;s starting to take off,&8221; VanVorst said.

What patients will see when they go through the SureSmile treatment is similar to what they would normally experience &8212; a thorough examination, diagnosis and bracket and archwire placement by their doctor. However, their teeth will be scanned electronically which will create a 3D computer-generated image of their teeth that Leonard can manipulate to help come up the most effective treatment and archwires. The archwires are bent to shape by a robot.

&8220;I put the braces on, I&8217;m in control of the way the teeth move,&8221; Leonard said. &8220;I&8217;m telling the wire what to do, but then the wire has so much more programmed into it.&8221;

Instead of using stainless steal wires, the SureSmile treatment uses shape-memory archwires that can only be bent when heated to about 800 degrees, Leonard said. The wire is heated and bent by a robot at an OraMetrix location with pliers that are electronically heated allowing it to shape the archwires.

Patients can still use clear brackets or metal brackets with different colors, that part doesn&8217;t change.

&8220;We use the same braces, we just use different wires,&8221; Leonard said.

All of the technology used together will ultimately make for fewer office visits for wire changes and adjustments resulting in less discomfort and shorter treatment time.

The cost difference from traditional orthodontic braces treatments may cost more up front, but is not overall more expensive, Leonard said.

Over time, the treatment will likely become more common than traditional braces at Leonard&8217;s office, he said.