Envisioning the future of orthodontics

The world is changing faster than ever. With the latest trends and technology in orthodontics, it is paramount for dental practitioners to stay ahead of the curve. In this regard, Dr Seojung Park from South Korea shares her journey in digital orthodontics and how it drastically improved her practice.

Dr Seojung Park, the executive director of the Orthodontic Branch at Korea Association of Digital Dentistry (KADD), graduated from the Dental College of Chonnam National University, South Korea, in 1989. She initially specialised in paediatric dentistry and performed a wide range of treatments from tongue tie surgery to orthodontics for five years, which sharpened her clinical skills and developed her holistic view on patients.

While she was completing her PhD thesis on orthodontic wires, she became fascinated with orthodontics, inspiring her to pursue expertise of the field. On top of that, the subject excited her as orthodontic treatment engages more closely with the patient’s life and requires a bilateral relationship with them.

She explained: “An orthodontic treatment cannot be done without the patient’s cooperation. When we work as a team, a successful treatment brings tremendous fulfilment and joy to both the patient and the doctor. I tend to think of it as a marathon and I truly enjoy finishing the race together with my patient.”

Dr Park completed a two-year course in Korea Orthodontic Research Institute and became a regular member of Korean Association of Orthodontics (KAO). In 2010, she worked as a visiting fellow in the Orthodontic Department of Baylor Dental College of Texas A&M, United States, as well as a researcher and a trainee at Orametrix, the parent company of SureSmile in Richardson, Texas, for three years.

This remarkable experience served as a turning point of her career in digital orthodontics.

Embracing digital orthodontics

Adopting digital technology has widely known advantages such as efficiency and more precise treatments. However, when Dr Park started to adapt the digital practice, she noticed how it drastically improved the way she communicated with her patients too.

 “First of all, I get more face-to-face time with my patients, but before it was more like next to the face!” she joked. “Kidding aside, the biggest change is that I can literally have patient’s case at the palm of my hand by using a digital model.”

As influenced by the late Dr William Proffit, the author of “Contemporary Orthodontics”, Dr Park emphasised that it is crucial to listen thoughtfully to the patient and/or their parents’ concern before even starting the diagnosis and treatment plan.

“This allows me to approach each patient with an unbiased mindset, free of any prejudice or misconception. There is no perfect solution in orthodontic treatment. Every case is different and each patient requires a treatment that is specifically designed for them,” she shared.

To communicate her treatment plan with the patients, she reinforces the discussion with digital tools.

“As strangely as it might sound, the most challenging case for me is not necessarily a difficult case. Even with the perfect treatment of malocclusion, patients often are not satisfied with the result. In most cases, the issues are minute but from a patient’s perspective it is not so trivial,” she said.

For instance, she had a patient with a slightly asymmetric torque, black triangles, minimally different vertical positions of anteriors and tiny premature contacts after debonding. With the help of digital technology such as IOS, SureSmile, and 3D printing, she resolved the issue efficiently and effectively.

She highlighted: “There is a saying in Korean that goes: ‘Showing it once is better than hearing it thrice’. Allowing the patients to visualise the treatment by using digital orthodontics tools is the key to ensuring that their expectations are met.”

Digital workflow

On top of meeting the patient’s expectation, Dr Park’s adoption of digital workflow in her practice has significantly streamlined their clinic operations. Now, the clinic staffs can preview her orders and prepare for the case before the patient’s visit. She can also access the record of her patients virtually at any time, as the digital model is stored in the Cloud.

“We try to standardise and systemise our workflow to minimise interruptions and achieve seamless operations. Going digital also means tidier workspace as there is no need for impression materials and plaster stone,” she added.  

In terms of treatment, digitalisation of orthodontics also proved to be highly beneficial to the patient.

Recently, Dr Park has been recommending a ‘Hybrid Treatment’ — a combination of a fixed treatment using brackets and finishing up with a clear aligner. The benefits include:

  1. Leading instead of pushing treatment
  2. Quicker soft tissue adaption
  3. Better oral hygiene
  4. Finer tuning
  5. Shorter bonding period
  6. Faster occlusal seating
  7. Wrapping up treatment with patients’ agreement and satisfaction

She noted: “I have encountered a lot of orthodontists from various places and I got an impression from them that they see digital orthodontics as a new system just like when SWA (straight wire appliance), TAD (temporary anchorage device), and self-ligating system were first introduced.”

However, Dr Park strongly believes that digital orthodontics can assist doctors to have an in-depth view of their patients, and to execute their treatments precisely.

“Digital and conventional orthodontics can always coexist. Digital concept will support various applications, innovations and integrations in orthodontic profession,” she stated.

Continue reading here. Published in Dental Asia September/October 2021 issue.