From the day 14-year-old Alyssa Uecker got her braces, she's had one very important question: "When were they coming off?"
These braces are designed to straighten Alyssa's teeth in about two years. In a clinical trial, she's testing a new device that could move up the deadline.
In the study, she bites down on a new device for 20 minutes every day.
It delivers low-frequency vibration to her teeth. Researchers believe it stimulates bone remodeling and speeds up the straightening process.
"Vibrations, when they are applied to the bone, there is a solid body of evidence in clinical trials and from experiments in humans and animals that the bone metabolism accelerates," said orthodontist Dubravko Pavlin. "It is faster. The bone remodels at a faster rate."
How much faster?
"If we are talking about the average orthodontic treatment being maybe 24 months, 24 to 26 months, that would mean that we can shorten that treatment to maybe between 12 and 16 months," said Pavlin.
After six months, Alyssa's teeth are making progress.
"It's pretty exciting thinking that you might be able to get your braces off sooner just because of one little vibration movement every night," said Alyssa.
Now she looks forward to smiling and eating without all the metal in her mouth -- a young woman hoping for a shorter path to a prettier smile.
Tests have shown the battery-operated AcceleDent device is safe for children and adults, but it's still pending FDS approval.
Researchers are testing the device to see exactly how much difference it can make for orthodontic patients.
BRACES BACKGROUND: According to the American Association of Orthodontists, since the time of the ancient Greeks, people have been using base metals to improve the look of teeth. The reasons for braces are not always cosmetic, but rather necessary for an effective bite, effective chewing and improved speech. Orthodontists say straight teeth are easier to clean and often last longer than crooked teeth. Straight teeth also contribute to healthy gums and alleviate or prevent health problems.
HOW BRACES WORK: Braces serve as an orthodontic treatment that exerts gentle pressure on teeth over time to straighten the teeth. Braces have three basic parts: brackets, which are attached to each tooth; bonding/bands, which attach the bracket to the tooth; and the arch wire, a thin metal wire that runs from bracket to bracket. Today braces can be attached to the front or the back of teeth, and some options are transparent. Braces aren't just for kinds anymore -- one in five orthodontic patients is now older than 18, according to the American Association of Orthodontists.
ACCELEDENT: AcceleDent is an orthodontic treatment that can shorten the time braces are on a patient. The concept behind the treatment is low-frequency vibrations, which, when applied to the bone, boost bone metabolism. By boosting bone metabolism, bone remodels at a faster rate. Inspired by the use of a similar treatment in the treatment of osteoporosis, the University of Texas is the first to apply the concept to orthodontics. AcceleDent involves a 20-minute inaudible vibration session every day. During a session, the patient bites onto a plate that gives off vibrations. Clinical trials with the system are being conducted at the University of Texas, San Antonio. Dubravko Pavlin, D.M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Orthodontics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, says he believes this procedure could shorten treatment time with braces from 24 to 26 months to 12 to 16 months.
"So far, we do not have any solid data that we can base answers on yet," said Pavlin. "We can tell you that the patients tolerate the appliance very well. It has been worn regularly, and we haven't seen any major problems."