A new project from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia has made smart braces a reality, and the developers of this new tooth-straightening technology hope their device will be available for widespread use very soon.
The orthodontic system developed by the school uses non-toxic lithium-ion batteries and LED lights to move teeth.
Each tooth is fitted with a single nontoxic lithium-ion battery and two near-infrared LED lights. The entire system is enclosed inside a single see-through, highly personalized, 3D-printed dental brace that fits over the teeth like a mouth guard.
Unlike traditional metal braces, the smart braces system is removable.
The lithium-ion battery powers the LED lights, which are pre-programmed and controlled via smartphone by the dentist to provide a specific plan of light treatment for each tooth.
Throughout the day, the LED lights emit quick pulses of light inside the 3D-printed brace.
These quick pulses of light encourage the movement of the teeth by activating the light-sensitive proteins found in the bone cells of the alveolar bone, the ridge of the jaw that contains the sockets of the teeth.
The developers of the smart brace device say the photostimulation causes the teeth to move more quickly than traditional metal braces and the product will shorten the time that individuals have to wear braces from years to just a few months.
They also believe the device will reduce the cost of orthodontic treatment.
During their first design attempt, the researchers fitted their 3D-printed braces with flexible LEDs, but they quickly found that the lights needed a consistent power source to function.
To provide a reliable source of power, the developers installed batteries into the device to power the LEDs and make the device rechargeable for users.
To meet their needs, the researchers developed a state-of-the-art, flexible lithium-ion battery in a specialized encapsulation to make them safe to use in the mouth.
The process to develop the battery involved taking off the silicon substrate that covers the back of lithium-ion batteries to reduce them to a 1.7-millimeter thickness.
Thinning the battery was necessary to make them flexible enough to fit around the curves of the teeth and jaws.
Once the batteries were thin enough for use, the developers then covered them with a soft polymer to prevent potential leaks and make them safe to use.
To make sure the batteries were compatible with the body, the researchers tested the batteries by culturing human embryonic kidney cells on them. During the test, these embryonic kidney cells multiplied, showing the batteries were indeed biocompatible.
With their design complete, the Saudi researchers hope to move their product to the next step: human clinical trials.
“Moving the teeth using orthodontics is often a part of restoring smiles, so the potential to make the process faster is exciting,” said Dr. Stefania Caracioni, L.V.I.F.
Caracioni is a Topeka, Kansas, dentist who works with patients who want to restore their smiles.
Smile restoration usually involves multiple phases and different kinds of dental treatments. The first step in smile restoration assesses the health of the mouth and also examines the patient’s bite.
“If the teeth do not fit together properly when the jaws close, orthodontic therapy is necessary to move the teeth into the correct position, so the jaws and the bite fit together properly,” Caracioni said.
Once the teeth are in their correct position, other dental restoration work can begin, such as dental implants, crowns and bridges.
“Speeding up the smile restoration process would give patients something to smile about!” Caracioni said.
Dentistry Today. Smart Braces Use Flexible Batteries for Better Treatment. 6 December 2017.