Researchers here have developed braces which would make any teenager beam. Not only do they cause less discomfort, but they also straighten teeth more quickly.
Developed by SimTech (Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology) in collaboration with dental products company Innobrace Orthodontics, the braces consist of bracket slots made of titanium alloy, which keeps them flexible, unlike those used in typical braces. When force is applied by the wire, the bracket slots flex.
In conventional braces, bracket slots are held together by rubber bands or clips. Pressure from the wire, which is placed over the slots, then helps to move the teeth into the desired position.
"We assembled the microstructure to make the material more flexible. This enables stresses over the teeth to be well distributed, causing less discomfort," said team leader Chua Beng Wah, who is from the metal and ceramic team at SimTech.
The first phase of the project started in 2010 and the braces are currently undergoing clinical testing.
The technology, which is the first of its kind, is also helpful to dentists who can now spend less time on each patient to tighten the braces.
A follow-up dental appointment can take about 15 minutes, compared with the usual half-hour, said its creators.
Mr Allan Lai, founder and managing director of Innobrace Orthodontics, said the braces are expected to be rolled out by the end of this year.
The team has been improving its design, with feedback from patients and dentists. "Our latest design, completed just this month, is smaller and slightly thinner than the first version," he said.
While the cost of the braces has not been fixed yet, Mr Lai said that it will be comparable to other models available commercially - which cost about $200 to $300.
The new braces worked well for Secondary 2 student Clemente Hannah Fraga. The 14-year-old wore braces for just 10 months - at least six months shorter than it would have taken if she had opted for conventional braces - to straighten her teeth.
"I thought I would have to wear braces for at least 11/2 years. I'm very happy that I can take them out today!" she told The Straits Times.