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What are smart bracket braces?

Advances in orthodontics mean that braces these days are less painful and don't have to be worn as long.
Advances in orthodontics mean that braces these days are less painful and don't have to be worn as long.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Mitt Romney said we're living in "a smartphone world," but you don't have to be a high-profile politician to know that it's not just our communication devices that feature cutting-edge technology [source: Petri]. Cars, whiteboards, credit cards -- it seems that just about everything we touch these days is "smart." So it should come as no surprise that the centuries-old practice of orthodontics is also getting smart.

According to the American Association of Orthodontists, nearly 5.5 million Americans currently wear braces. While roughly 80 percent of braces-wearers are children and teens, more and more adults are consulting orthodontists with the hope of improving their smiles. From 1996 to 2008, the number of adults in braces jumped by 24 percent, to more than 1 million [source: Palm Beach Post].

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Conventional braces contain a small bracket that is bonded to each tooth and attached by wire and elastic bands, which collectively use pressure to slowly move teeth in a specific direction. The first braces, designed by the ancient Greeks, used base metals and cord made from animal intestines. More recent are the "metal mouth" steel contraptions that that came into use in the 1960s. Today, dental braces have come a long way from the uncomfortable and unsightly devices of days gone by, with popular options including lingual braces (fitted behind the teeth) and Invisalign's clear, removable aligners [sources: AAO, Invisalign].

Now smart bracket braces are moving the world of smile correction another step forward. Read on to find out what the fuss is all about.

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Traditional braces are comprised of three separate components: the brace itself, which is placed on the tooth; the archwire running through each brace and applying pressure to the teeth; and an elastic tie, which connects the archwire to the brace. The term "smart braces" often refers to self-ligating or speed braces, which are braces that are held in place without the use of bands or ties.

3M's SmartClip braces, for example, rely on an innovative clip system to hold the wires in place. They're available in both metal and a translucent ceramic material designed to blend in with the teeth for a less noticeable presentation. Similarly, SPEED Braces use a spring clip that provides continuous force without requiring elastic ties. Damon Clear braces, on the other hand, use a so-called slide system to hold the braces in place.

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Manufacturers say that self-ligating braces move teeth into position more efficiently and comfortably, shorten overall treatment time and may mean fewer and quicker visits to the orthodontist for adjustments. [sources: 3M, SPEED, Damon]. Like traditional braces, the various self-ligating models are glued to the teeth and are not removed until the process is completed.

The term "smart braces" has also been used to describe braces technology designed by scientists at the University of Freiburg in Germany, which features an embedded system on each individual brace to measure and calculate the forces applied in all directions on each tooth. Under the University's current design, the chip is powered by special reader that orthodontists can use to analyze the data gathered in the chip. By giving the orthodontist an accurate reading of the pressure being applied to each particular tooth, the hope is that smart braces can reduce both discomfort to the wearer and the length of time for the straightening process. The technology is similar to what's currently used in smart retainers, which feature a micro-sensor to track the retainer's performance [sources: Moyer, Scientific Compliance].

Want to know more about ways to improve your smile? Check out the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • 3M. "Self-Ligating Braces." (Sept. 11, 2011) http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/braces/unitek/types/self-ligating-braces/
  • American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). "Learn – A Beautiful Smile for Everyone." (Sept. 11, 2011) http://braces.org/learn/index.cfm
  • American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). "Myths and Facts." (Sept. 11, 2011) http://braces.org/mythsandfacts/index.cfm
  • Arch Wired. "A Brief History of Braces." (Sept. 11, 2011) http://www.archwired.com/HistoryofOrtho.htm
  • Damon System. "About Damon Clear." (Sept. 11, 2011) http://www.damonbraces.com/products/damon-clear/about.php
  • Invisalign. "How Invisalign Works." (Sept. 11, 2011) http://www.invisalign.com/How-Invisalign-Works/Pages/default.aspx
  • Isger, Sonja. "Adult Braces: Welcome to Tinsel Town." (Sept. 11, 2011) http://www.palmbeachpost.com/health/adult-braces-welcome-to-tinsel-town-181376.html
  • Moyer, Byron. "Smart Braces." Electronic Engineering Journal. April 28, 2011 (Sept. 11, 2011) http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20110428-braces/
  • Petri, Alexandra. "Pay phones vs. smartphones, Mitt Romney vs. Obama." Sept. 6, 2011. (Sept. 12, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/post/pay-phones-vs-smartphones-mitt-romney-vs-obama/2011/09/06/gIQAyHpZ7J_blog.html
  • Scientific Compliance. "About SMART Retainer." (Sept. 11, 2011) http://www.scicomply.com/orthodontist/aboutsmartretainer.html
  • SPEED Braces. "Self-Ligation Fact and Fiction." (Sept. 11, 2011) http://www.speedsystem.com/HTML/patient/English/self_ligation_fact_and_fiction/Fact_Fiction.html

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