Go behind the scenes of Align Technology’s SmartTrack development

February 14, 2013
Stan Goff
Issue 2

An interview with John Morton, Director of Research and Technology Product Innovation.

An interview with John Morton, Director of Research and Technology Product Innovation.

Align Technology Inc. just launched the highly elastic SmartTrack aligner material and it was featured on the cover of DPR last month.

Here we interview John Morton, Director of Research and Technology Product Innovation, on the R&D behind this product and why the material is so special.

Q: When did the planning to create SmartTrack begin?

A: Although Align Technology, maker of Invisalign®, has been evaluating new plastics from its early years, the research effort to design and engineer each of the characteristics of the SmartTrack™ aligner material began seven years ago. Selection of the right material for a product is very important, be it an automobile, an airplane or an orthodontic appliance. A material with the correct fundamental characteristics must be used or the performance of the product will be less than expected. Fairly standard, off-the-shelf thermoplastics are used in orthodontics today and practitioners have learned to work with them and achieve quite good results.

One must agree that a material engineered specifically for aligner treatment, one which possesses the properties that provide for improved control of orthodontic tooth movement, is a great innovation in the field.

Q: What makes SmartTrack so special?

A: Practitioners have successfully treated more than two million cases using Invisalign aligners. This extensive experience has helped to identify characteristics of the material that, if altered, would result in improved aligner performance and better clinical treatment. SmartTrack material is special in that it incorporates these improvements. It is engineered specifically for orthodontics to be a better Invisalign aligner by improving control of tooth movement.

Engineering the “right” material begins with making a list of characteristics the aligner should have. The list includes requirements such as an aligner should be esthetic for daytime wear, an aligner should produce gentle constant force, an aligner should fit well, and an aligner should have excellent elasticity. SmartTrack meets every one of these requirements and more.

Let’s discuss each further.

Excellent esthetics is an important part of orthodontics today. Patients concerned about their appearance do not want to be less attractive during treatment. Clear aligners definitely are an esthetic means of accomplishing orthodontic treatment. SmartTrack aligner material has excellent clarity.

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The paradigm in orthodontics today is that gentle constant force elicits optimal biological response from the periodontal tissues and supporting structures and is optimal for orthodontic tooth movement. This principle appears throughout the orthodontic literature. In keeping with this paradigm, SmartTrack aligners produce gentle yet more constant force, more constant than previous aligner materials.

An aligner should fit well. Tooth movements are controlled by controlling the contacts between the aligner and the tooth and by applying low constant force at these contacts. From one perspective, brackets are only fixed contacts at which orthodontic wires apply force. SmartTrack material provides for intimate contact between the tooth and the aligner. Flexible SmartTrack material is designed to more precisely conform to the tooth morphology, the attachments used during treatment, and the interproximal spaces thereby making the contact between the aligner and tooth more predictable. Controlled contact translates to better control of tooth movement and better outcomes. SmartTrack is a highly elastic orthodontic material. When an aligner made with SmartTrack material is stretched, its elastic properties allow it to return more closely to the programmed aligner shape.

The improved elasticity of SmartTrack results in the tooth following more closely with the programmed movement. This is known as “tracking.”

Together, the improvements incorporated in SmartTrack aligners have definitely started a new generation of Invisalign aligners.

Q: Tell us how this new aligner material can get more dentists involved in delivering the treatment.

A: In the last few years, Invisalign has gained increased popularity among patients, orthodontists, and general dentists. More patients than ever are asking for Invisalign by name, and more doctors are offering and recommending Invisalign to patients. A key reason for the increased popularity is improvements to the Invisalign technology. In the last four years, Invisalign has introduced a series of innovations, focused on improving control of tooth movement and delivering excellent treatment outcomes. The latest generation of innovation, SmartTrack aligner material, significantly improves treatment outcomes with Invisalign.

Measurements have indicated that SmartTrack aligner material improves control of tooth movements such as rotations and extrusions. SmartTrack aligner material also improves patient comfort, and doctors have recognized that it is easier to insert and remove the aligners.

As Align Technology continues to improve upon clinical applicability and efficacy- as well as doctor and patient experience, we believe Invisalign will continue to gain popularity among doctors and patients.

Q: What are you most proud about in terms of this product?

A: There is no doubt SmartTrack aligner material is a significant advancement in the field of clear aligner treatment and everyone involved in its development should be proud of this accomplishment, including the doctors who helped test the Smart-Track aligners. To take this step in innovation, to make Invisalign treatment even better than it presently is, required delving into the science of plastic materials and the science of orthodontics deeper than Align Technology has before. Practitioners and their patients will benefit from the development of SmartTrack aligner material, which is just the latest example of Align Technology’s commitment to advancing the field of clear aligner treatment.