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    Something to smile about: How orthodontists can partner with patients on the treatment journey


    Adult male patient sitting inside talking on phone smiling wearing 3M™ Clarity™ Ultra Self-Ligating Brackets.

    • From telehealth and virtual visits to intraoral scanners and treatment tracking apps, orthodontists and patients have more tools at their disposal than ever before – and that’s a good thing, because the path to a healthy smile is unique. Yet, all these choices can leave soon-to-be patients scratching their heads.

      We spoke to Dr. Donna Stenberg, Board Certified orthodontist and member of 3M Oral Care Solutions Division global clinical team, about how she consults patients as they move through their treatment journey.

    To start, orthodontics is an art.

    “Orthodontists are 3D tinkerers. We like figuring out problems and solving them. We look at the mechanics needed to achieve tooth movement like a three-dimensional puzzle – balancing all the options and potential outcomes for the correct fit – it really is an art.”

    Dr. Donna Stenberg

    • Dr. Stenberg explains the art of orthodontics to her patients this way: It’s a combination of how our teeth respond to pressure and the tools used to create that pressure. Teeth respond to pressure in a biologic way, whether braces or aligners are used. How that pressure is applied will be dictated by aligners or braces. Generally, braces apply pressure on the front part of the tooth (where braces attach) while aligners apply pressure by wrapping the full tooth crown. Dr. Stenberg points out: “Teeth don’t move in a vacuum. They move in relationship to each other. So, if you push a tooth to the left, the other tooth may go right.”

      Dr. Stenberg credits the 3M Oral Care Portal’s Tx Designer for helping doctors and patients plan treatment: “It’s a great tool, allowing the patient to visualize potential outcomes. They’re amazed to see misaligned teeth move to aligned teeth.”

    Giving your patient an overview of the treatment types can be helpful

    collage of smiles with braces, aligners and combination of braces and aligners

    • Braces - Metal or ceramic braces bond to the teeth and the orthodontist uses wires to apply pressure that makes teeth move.

      Clear aligners - Through consistent pressure, each custom tray moves teeth towards the desired destination. 3M™ Clarity™ Aligners Flex + Force gives orthodontists the option to choose between two different aligner materials within a single treatment design.

      Hybrid or combination treatment - Sometimes, orthodontists may want to use a combination of aligners and braces. These combination treatments can occur concurrently or consecutively. A patient may have one appliance, like aligners, on the upper arch and another appliance, like braces, on the lower arch – all at the same time. A patient may also start treatment with one appliance on both the upper and lower arches, then transition to a different appliance later. Orthodontists can leverage the 3M™ Tx Selector App to preview these options and help patients visualize what treatment could look like.

    A checklist of patient questions

    • check box icon on blue background

      1. What are your goals and how soon do you hope to achieve them?

      • Discuss the difficulty of the case, the patient’s ideal outcome and how the patient smile will look at the end of treatment. Are they anticipating an event (i.e. a wedding) that could impact the treatment timeline?
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      2. Will you still be able to maintain good oral hygiene?

      • Some patients prefer aligners because they can remove them for easier brushing and flossing.

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      3. What is your lifestyle?

      • Food limitations and a variety of other factors play a role in deciding the best approach to treatment. If the patient enjoys sipping coffee throughout the day, for example, she might want an appliance like braces – which she won’t have to remove to accommodate her routine.

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      4. How do you define comfort?

      • Braces may rub the surrounding tissues in the patient’s mouth. It’s a bit like wearing in new shoes. Likewise, patient teeth may feel pressure from aligners, but patients need to refrain from removing aligners except for eating and brushing. It’s all a matter of personal preference.
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      5. How important are esthetics?

      • From colorfully cool to nearly invisible, patients have options when it comes to the preferred treatment look.

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      6. How often do you misplace your keys?

      • This may seem like a silly question, but the point is: How likely are patients to remember aligners if they take them out and place them somewhere? Some patients prefer braces because they can “set it and forget it.”

    Communication is key

    • Thanks to digital tools like the 3M™ Tx Tracking App, orthodontists and patients can connect virtually. When it comes to aligners, Dr. Stenberg sometimes has virtual visits with patients to ensure their treatment is progressing properly.

      On the path to a perfect smile, there is no one-size-fits all. Providing patients with options and communicating and staying connected to patients can help orthodontists offer a great experience and outcome.

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