Oct. 9, 2008 -- It's an adolescent rite of passage so many teens dread: a mouth imprisoned by braces.
But new, high-tech software that can cut the time teens spend wearing braces may have them smiling.
Katie Cross' orthodontic ordeal was a breeze and took half the time of normal braces.
Katie's braces weren't fitted by her orthodontist, but created by a robot. The state-of-the-art software, called SureSmile, creates a 3-D model of the mouth, allowing the dentist an unobstructed view of all of a patient's teeth.
"On the computer screen in 3-D, we can move her teeth and assemble them to the desired positions and to the desired bite," said Michael B. Stewart, a dentist at Atlanta Orthodontic Specialists.
The SureSmile program calculates the exact shape needed and then a robot bends the wire. The more precise the wires, the faster the braces can come off.
"We have more control over how these teeth are moved than we ever had before," Stewart said.
There are some drawbacks, however. SureSmile costs about 10 percent more than regular braces. It's a big investment for orthodontists upfront, and there's a learning curve for them to master the program.
But instead of 18 to 20 office visits over two years, SureSmile patients require just seven to 10 visits on average.
"I didn't know what to expect, but I have to tell you, it was just very pain-free, not time consuming at all," Katie's mom, Pam Cross, said. "She was able to not have to miss school, any of her activities."
The SureSmile braces are covered by insurance like traditional braces. About 30,000 patients have been treated with them since they came on the market about four years ago. Many orthodontists believe those numbers will increase as more dentists discover the new technology.
"We're able to do a better job now," Stewart said. "It's not just about efficiency and speed, we're actually creating better smiles using this technology. I'm doing the best work of my career in half the time."