“What Do Orthodontics And Science Have in Common? Everything!” Many people have had their teeth straightened with braces, however few realize that orthodontics involves a great deal of fundamental science and fast-moving technology. Orthodontics is a type of mechanical engineering inside the mouth – involving metal braces, plates, and wires. Today’s orthodontists have to understand and apply a good deal of specialist science – everything from genetics to metallurgy.
Orthodontics involves more than achieving a beautiful smile; our jaws and teeth are used for talking and chewing, so orthodontics is also concerned with how facial anatomy affects these functions. Here are several examples of scientific fields that are relevant and apply to orthodontics: genetics, growth and development, physiology, microbiology, biomechanics, metallurgy and materials science, physics, and radiology.
The amount of force need to move a tooth depends on the size and type of movement (turning or sliding). The moving force also needs an anchor, so a group of teeth and appliances are selected and used for anchorage. The orthodontist’s task is to find the best combination of force and anchorage to achieve the correct movements. The forces used in orthodontics come from archwires. At first the archwires need to be quite elastic to start individual teeth moving. Later on, the wires are more rigid to ensure stability. Orthodontists can choose wires made from a variety of metallic materials:
· Stainless Steel: this is easy to shape and has high rigidity so it provides stability
· Nitinol alloys: these nickel-titanium alloys have very high elasticity. They produce weak but constant force suitable for the alignment phases. However, they cannot be soldered.
· Shape-memory alloys: these metals have variable elasticity depending on the temperature. The can be bent for insertion into the mouth; once there they ‘try’ to recover their initial shape, exerting force on the teeth.
As you can see, orthodontists need to be knowledgeable scientists to keep up with the innovations of their discipline. If a child has a lot of questions for the orthodontist, he or she may be an inspired, aspiring materials scientist.