Digitizing Dental Braces

Written by Amos Benninga, VP of Engineering

It has been two months since I joined LightForce Orthodontics, the only company providing fully custom dental braces. Today, I wanted to share my reasons for joining LightForce and to talk about custom braces and the exciting future of digitizing dental braces and dental treatment in general.

Historical Stock Braces

For many years, providing treatment with dental braces has remained relatively unchanged. The only option available for Orthodontists has been to buy stock braces and use their own clinical ingenuity, time and hard work to ensure that their patients got that perfect smile despite the limitations presented by using a “one-size fits all” bracket for teeth and a smile that are as unique as someone’s signature or fingerprint.

Orthodontists have to work around mismatches between teeth shapes (morphologies) and bracket shapes. They have to work around mismatches between tooth size (such as small premolars) and bracket size and of course the limitations of standard programming versus the infinite variations of desired finished positions, leading to many hours of de-bonding, re-positioning, and wire bending to achieve the ideal finish.

Transitioning to Custom Braces

The idea of custom braces has been around for a long time. Custom braces, just like a custom tailored suit, would fit the individual patient, and will provide high quality treatment. Until now, fully customized brackets with bonding bases designed solely based on the patients tooth morphology have not been manufactured.

For the last 4 years, LightForce has been developing an innovative, patented, 3D-driven solution for producing very high accuracy/precision, fully custom, dental braces. As expected, our custom braces have performed very well with patients and we were excited to launch the product at AAO 2019 in LA.

Digitizing Dental Treatment

Custom braces, and particularly 3D printed custom braces bring us to the future of digitizing dental treatments.

We’ve already seen dental digital treatment planning in action with the introduction of intraoral scanners, processing software and 3D printed clear aligners. Using these digital workflows, Orthodontists can define the desired outcome, model it accurately and get a product that achieves good results.

Traditional analog tools assisting Orthodontists to accurately place brackets and bend wires lack precision or have practical workflow limitations. Digitizing dental treatment means an Orthodontist can say “I’d like to tip this tooth by 4 degrees this way”… and it actually happens.

Change is Coming at the Speed of Software

Historically speaking, creating new bracket designs has been a slow and very expensive undertaking. This is inherently true of hardware-based products that rely on expensive fixtures and molds. Manufacturing limitations prevented the creation of fully custom brackets, but in addition, they also prevented creative solutions coming from orthodontists.

Over the last 7 years I’ve spent a lot of time working on the border between hardware and software. After building 3D software for mechanical engineers I joined Stratasys as VP of software. In my role as VP of software I was fortunate to participate in multiple projects bringing complicated software into areas that were historically hardware driven. Using software we were able to 3D print parts such as multi-material objects that mimic body parts for surgical training, and other advanced applications for aerospace and auto industries. These parts had never been 3D printed before and many would never have been feasible with traditional manufacturing techniques.

Digitalization of dental treatment means we can bring changes to braces with the speed of software changes. On a weekly basis we release changes to braces and treatment plans driven by inputs from orthodontists using our product.

Custom orientation for hooks on brackets is a simple, customer-driven feature that illustrates the value of digital manufacturing. With stock braces, the hook on a bracket may be poking the patient due to the angle of the bracket and its placement on the tooth. However, with our digitally designed brackets, we can adapt the hook angle to remain near the tooth while avoiding irritation to patients

What’s the Future like with LightForce?

Anyone in the orthodontic community should be quite excited about the future. Several years of research and development have unlocked the previous technology barriers and positioned LightForce to deliver amazing solutions for Orthodontists.

The only limit now is based on our internal execution and the work we’ll be doing with Orthodontists, who drive our product roadmap. Combining LightForce’s DNA of being a company for Orthodontists by Orthodontists with our advanced knowledge in hardware, materials and software puts us in a unique position to deliver amazing products to the Orthodontics profession.

I’m excited, happy and feel very lucky to join this journey.

About Me

I’ve been in the software industry for over 17 years with over 10 years in senior technical and leadership positions. I love building great teams and I’m motivated by delivering products that bring joy to customers.