Anyone who has ever had orthodontic work done will be familiar with monthly visits to the orthodontist and spending up to two years with braces in the mouth.
These trade-offs for straight teeth will now be reduced with the introduction of a new kind of orthodontic appliance by local firm Innobrace Orthodontics known as a non-ligating bracket system, the first of its kind in the world.
The new type of braces shorten total treatment time by at least 10-20 per cent with patients only needing to make visits to the dentist every three to four months, said its creator and Innobrace founder Dr Tan Kok Liang.
In orthodontic treatment, individual brackets are glued to a patient's teeth, to which a wire that runs across the teeth is then threaded through.
Where Dr Tan's new system is different is in how the wire is affixed to the teeth.
Traditionally, the wire is tied to the brackets with elastic or metal bands known as ligatures.
A newer method known as self-ligation involves installing a permanent clip on the brackets that can be opened and closed as needed when the wire is affixed.
Dr Tan's non-ligating system, as its name suggests, requires no additional measures to secure the wire.
All the dentist has to do is to slot the wire between the walls of brackets which is enough to hold the wire in place by virtue of it being made of a strong, yet flexible, titanium alloy.
"The interval between visits to the doctor is lengthened because the forces stored in the bracket walls dissipate across a longer period of time and still move the teeth well," said Dr Tan.
The bracket system's ease of use also reduces the time patients spend in the dentist's chair considerably - by about 50 per cent.
But the idea would have never gotten off the ground without some much needed expertise from the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), which is part of Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).
"Conceptually I started working on this more than 10 years ago, because I wanted something that could reduce chair time for doctors," said Dr Tan, who is also a practising orthodontist.
"I tried a few other materials, such as stainless steel and nickel-titanium, but they were not flexible enough."
Finally, in 2006, he came to know about a new titanium alloy that had been developed by Danno Atsushi and his team at SIMTech.
A formal collaboration was set up about five years ago through A*Star's Growing Enterprises through Technology Upgrade scheme, with SIMTech research engineer Yap Wai Teng subsequently seconded to Innobrace.
The firm is looking to launch its new product early next year.
This article was first published on July 28, 2014. Get The Business Times for more stories.