If you’re an avid follower of Health Tech news, you may know that 3D printing technology has been used to enhance health outcomes in a wide array of medical fields. One arena that has seen a lot of advances in the use of this technology is in the dental field. 3D-printed braces are not something out of a sci-fi novel, but a real thing. One of the benefits of printed braces is a reduction in the time and cost involved in realigning and straightening teeth compared to standard braces.

A recent technological advance in 3D-printed braces is embedding flexible LEDs inside the braces so that they can be programmed by dentists to provide light therapy to each tooth individually as needed. Light therapy enhances bone regeneration and can speed recovery, which reduces the time and cost for corrective orthodontics. This orthodontic system was created by researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a private research university located in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. According to an article on the university’s website, two near-infrared light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and one lithium-ion battery are placed on every tooth in a semitransparent, 3D-printed dental brace.  The challenge was creating a reliable power supply for the device. Lead researcher Muhammad Hussain explained that “traditional batteries in their current form and encapsulation don’t serve our purpose. So we redesigned the state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery technology into a flexible battery, followed by biosafe encapsulation within the braces to make a smart dental brace.” Researchers designed the battery using a dry-etching technique that removes the silicon substrate typically found on the back. This process also thins the battery and makes it flexible. The batteries are non-toxic and do not leak into the mouth; the dental brace can be removed to allow the batteries to be recharged. Hussain pointed out the system is a preliminary prototype; the next step is to conduct clinical trials.

One of the big advantages of KAUST’s dental brace is that it provides LED therapy and teeth straightening in one aligner. Add this to the individualized light therapy for each tooth and the reduced cost compared to standard braces, and realigning and straightening teeth may become more accessible to a larger group of patients. Better dental care at a lower cost through 3D technology could make going to the dentist a lot more pleasant.