Technology inspires

Dr. Eric Wu says that the newest technologies in orthodontics can ease some burdens of staffing shortages as well as increase efficiencies in procedures.

Whether you’re an early adopter or follow a more conservative approach, it’s an exciting time to be in orthodontics. Fueled by advances in AI and 3D-printing scalability, technology in our industry is evolving rapidly. Just 21 years ago, Align was pioneering sequential aligner treatment using refrigerator-sized SLA machines to make one arch at a time, layer by slow layer. What was cutting edge then would be comparable to a dial-up modem today. We are spoiled by the speed and accuracy of 3D printers that are now available and at a tenth of the cost. The efficiencies gained in the evolution of technology is always inspiring to watch.

I must confess I love new technology. When a company asks if I’ll test something, I cannot resist. I’m currently evaluating a novel aligner plastic, a direct print printer and resin, software to help eliminate refinements, and an IDB solution. Working with companies of various sizes, I’ve realized that it is not the amount of money they pump into R&D that makes the difference but rather their fresh approach. Innovation, passion, and nimble company structure give startups an advantage over historical leaders.

If you haven’t implemented them already, you are probably investigating remote monitoring and IDB. Remote monitoring solutions provide greater flexibility for patients and practices, flagging patients for appointments only when necessary. IDB improvements are making the transition between the physical and digital worlds more seamless, and in doing so, facilitating combination treatment. Combining fixed appliances and aligners can result in further efficiencies for the team stemming from fewer attachments as well as reduced appointments and treatment time. Hesitation in combining treatments usually comes with the nuisance of multiple platforms to get the job done. The uLab IDB solution I am currently testing uses the same platform to treatment plan the fixed and aligner phases of my cases, significantly improving my digital workflow. The unique structure of the IDB tray itself is resulting in improved bonding and fewer emergency debonds.

In the next 12-to-18 months, we will see more efficient aligner materials enter the market. These longer-acting aligner plastics will extend the benefit of each stage, resulting in fewer appointments and refinements. I’m eager to see whether these thinner, more comfortable materials also improve compliance.

In 3 to 5 years, the aligner landscape will experience another major shift. Direct printing of clear aligners will be viable when the resin reaches a feasible price point, aligners are produced more rapidly, and the finished product maintains sufficient force. Offices will be able to produce aligners and retainers almost immediately. Aligner biomechanics will change, with orthodontists controlling the regional thickness of plastic, integrating pressure points to maintain or augment force.

Testing new products can take time, but it’s fun and allows me to glimpse the efficiencies on the horizon. These advances will shoulder a greater share of the burden practices are suffering from staffing shortages. Newer technology increasingly allows an office to thrive with a smaller staff, employing tools that enhance their capacity. Once mastered, these tools will make our lives easier.

If you have the newest technologies in orthodontics, like 3D imaging, why not let your referring dentist friends in on the excitement? Read “Let the dentist know what you can do” by Dr. Robert Kaspers.

Eric Wu, DMD, is a Silicon Valley native practicing orthodontics in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 14 years ( He is known for state-of-the-art treatment and keeping up with the latest innovations in digital orthodontics. He has extensive experience with 3D printing and has manufactured aligners in-office since 2014. He is an active participant and contributor for several online study groups and orthodontic societies including the Pitts Progressive Study Group. When he isn’t practicing, Dr. Wu enjoys teaching in the orthodontic programs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Roseman University in Henderson, NV. Dr. Wu has two beautiful children with his wife Lisa.


Disclosure: Dr. Wu serves as both an innovation advisor and key opinion leader for uLab systems.

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