You may have heard that long, long ago, as in the 60s and 70s, braces treatments could easily last five years. Yet wearing braces today is often just an 18-month program. Why is it now so different? What changed is that NASA technology became more widely available, and the field of orthodontics adapted it for a clever solution – here’s the story.
NASA needed a way to help “unpackage” flexible solar panels that arrived in space curled up inside the payload of a rocket or the Space Shuttle. What they discovered was a nickel-titanium metal-alloy wire whose shape could be changed with heat. A bent wire, when it felt the heat of the sun, would want to straighten out; if this wire was built into the frame of the solar panel, the whole unit would unfurl itself when facing the sun.
This same type of wire now replaces the old stainless steel type for the arch-wire in your braces. The warmth of your mouth provides a gentle, constant nudge that makes the wire slowly move in the direction/shape planned by your orthodontist. Treatment with this approach is a huge improvement over the tightly wired bands that, in the old days, had to be manually and dramatically adjusted every two weeks.
Note: if your instinct after leaving an orthodontic appointment is to treat yourself to a frozen yogurt or smoothie, you’re on the right track! The cold temperature will slow down a little of the wire’s movement, providing temporary relief. Enjoy! (Just brush your teeth afterwards, okay?)