The 22nd of Feb 2019 Dusseldorf, Germany.
That is the date I wrote this blog. Almost 4 years after I started my project 4D dynamic clear aligners. I finally had to start writing a bit about it as I come to the final round in product development. A new dimension in the field of orthodontics that proved very special to me over the years of hard work.
A roller coaster full of ambiguous paths. Many times it proved daunting to me and I decided to stop and give up as I thought this could be a total waste of time.
As the 4d clear aligners are ready to come into the market, I am very excited about the vast opportunities this technology opens for so many patients worldwide seeking affordable care and an eco-friendly solution.
Clear aligners or invisible orthodontic trays are a very unique and promising method for straightening teeth as an alternative to braces. The credit goes to Align tech and specifically to Zia Chisti one of the co-founders of Align tech at its embryonic stages.
Clear aligners are manufactured through high-end 3d technology from 3d scanning dental models to 3d designing of teeth movements then 3D printing the sequential steps through a 3D printer and finally thermoforming plastic materials chemically made out of TPU or PETG to conclude a clear aligner form.
Inspite the market has grown exponentially in the last few years. However, as a common pattern seen in the market with most industries, we did the same foolish mistake. We focused on the gains and forgot our planet. We adopted a business model that is totally destructive to our planet. The economics Vs planet problem was somehow well highlighted in a book I enjoyed reading for the author Kate Worth. She coined the wording “Doughnut economics” where she describes how misleading our initial understanding of the economy and accordingly business growth, agility and finally GDP. We have indulged ourselves, our work and surroundings in a vicious circle that works well to generate better income and orient growth based upon GDPs.
Money goes into dealers and doctors pockets while plastic dumped in the Planet’s waste containers. We used currently an average of 33,000 tons per year of plastic waste only in the field of clear aligners!!
This is according to my own rough calculation for 2017 according to estimations of market size, the number of cases treated and an average treatment of 10 months. This is without counting the plastic waste from packaging. This all ends up in the ocean to resemble almost 0.004% of the total plastic waste thrown in the ocean worldwide per year according to 2017 statistics.
In the next 2–3 years clear aligners will penetrate the teeth straightening market by over 10% and maybe 30% or more by 2030.
What about plastic waste? unfortunately, no one is considering nor criticizing the fact that in the clear aligner field we use 3D models and plastic aligners that are not biodegradable nor recyclable. For every client, almost 40 pieces of 3D models are manufactured and 40 clear aligners are delivered, all which end up as waste burnt or in the ocean one day.
And with the biggest plastic consumer in the market i.e. Align tech not taking a serious move to save the planet while focusing all efforts on the rising competition in the market, we are heading to a disastrous irreversible problem.
I hope that 4d dynamic aligners could help even the slightest to save plastic waste and raise market concern about the ethical responsibility towards our environment.
I hope we could decrease the number of plastic aligners patients use by over 70%-80% and even recycle the 3D dental models used throughout the manufacturing procedure. If this proves efficient to be applied vastly in the market I would urge everyone from orthodontic practices to labs even Align tech to consider shifting their technology to help our planet and environment.
4D dynamic aligners are produced through using special shape memory polymers that could be formed on the targeted shape of teeth let’s assume the 4th step in the process of teeth aligning S4, the clear aligner is re-engineered in-lab under specific temperatures to shape S1, I call it “Back from the future” concept. The patient has an activation device to activate the clear aligners (Aligner booster) every 2 weeks and thus recover the shape of the clear aligner gradually to go back to S4 “ Back to the future”.
The result is instead of using 4 aligners per arch to align teeth over 2 months, by this technique we use only 1 aligner.
The technique proved in-lab as well as in the first waves of clinical trials to be supremely successful and functional.
On the other side recycling the 3D models is also considered a huge benefit, not only would any lab decrease the material waste but also save a lot of money. Recycling somehow represents a bit of investment at the start yet it is worth it on the long run.
A call to action, align teeth but don’t forget aligning your business to our planet, make your patients and planet smile :)
This is the future of us and our grandchildren.