The future of straightening teeth is plastic?
If you had told me, 25 years ago when I began my career in orthodontics that we would be moving teeth with plastic aligners, I probably would have laughed you right out of my office. It’s mind-boggling to look back at a time when orthodontists only had wire braces to straighten teeth and to see how far things have come. It is no longer possible to believe that aligners are not here to stay.
With the introduction of aligners, “do-it-yourself” aligner kits, and revolutionary technologies such as 3D printers and intraoral scanners, the virtual monopoly of braces as the only, or best treatment option has ended. And with it, the elimination of many time-consuming in-office visits that wires and braces require. Patients are demanding flexible, high-tech treatment options that fit their unique needs and busy lifestyles. It’s time to treat patients how they wish to be treated.
It wasn’t until a chance meeting with an engineer named Mike Gassman on a father’s weekend at Creighton University that, together, we dreamed up a solution to help doctors do just that.
Bracing for change
In between beers at the Crescent Moon, Mike (who is also the President and CEO of In Hand Health) told me about an app he was developing for physical therapists—a telehealth platform that allows patients to complete their exercises at home and input their results, while PTs remotely monitor and communicate with them. I was immediately struck by how this kind of technology could satisfy the needs of my aligner patients.
It’s no secret that aligners have disrupted the orthodontic world. While treating the traditional orthodontic patient is fairly straightforward, figuring out an aligner patient’s progress can be confusing and time-consuming. A great deal of time can be wasted trying to figure out how many days a patient has worn their current aligner, for how many hours per day, and determining what number aligner the patient is wearing. All of this can make the visit clumsy and a little confusing for everyone involved. I didn’t know it then, but as I described this conundrum to Mike, the beginnings of the AlignFlow™ app were born.
As Atlanta-based orthodontist Dr. Dameon Fisher observed in OrthoTown Magazine:
“…in the modern age of 3D orthodontics, it’s all about offering patients options that fit their lifestyles. Adapting, evolving, delivering. Today, orthodontists have many tools available that leverage this new technology. The question is, what are we going to do with them?”
As aligner treatment technology continues to improve, it only makes sense that the aligner experience evolves, too. Treating patients as they wish to be treated requires responding to their needs for convenience, flexibility and choice, and eliminating an unnecessary process that serves no one well.
A straightforward approach to the perfect smile
My father used to say, “Whatever is measured is managed. Whatever is not measured is not managed.”
With that in mind, I’ve worked with Mike over the last year to develop alignflow™ as a powerful tool that makes the aligner journey more manageable, effective and even fun—for both patients and their doctors. Patients log their aligner activities while doctors monitor them remotely in real time. With doctors only a tap away via instant messaging and Virtual Visits, patients can extend the time between in-office visits by having their questions or problems solved almost immediately.
When it does come time for a visit, the doctor knows exactly what the aligner status is, drastically reducing catch-up time in the chair. Under their doctor’s guidance, patients can even optimize their treatments by choosing to wear their aligners for longer periods at a time. It’s a sleek and modern experience that frees up time for doctors and patients and puts the power of choice back into the patients’ hands without sacrificing quality of care.
Put the future of aligner care in your hands
A younger me would be amazed to see how far orthodontics has come in such a small amount of time. I certainly never expected to be able to do with aligners and apps what once could only be done with wires and rubber bands.
Orthodontics, and the way orthodontic treatment is delivered is changing—whether we are ready for it or not. We’re ushering in a new era in which treating patients as they wish to be treated doesn’t just mean using the latest technology in your practice (though it certainly helps). It’s actively putting yourself on the other side of the chair and having more empathy for each patient who passes through your exam room. By offering your patients convenience, flexibility and more control over their treatment, I believe we are well on our way to a more profitable future, a future that will have everyone grinning.