Salem Smiles Orthodontics: New Technology Makes “Getting Braces” a Lot Less Messy

If you were like me, “getting braces” was quite a traumatic process. Back “in those days,” I had to have two teeth extracted and then, what was almost worse than that, was having the gooey mess of getting impressions of my teeth. There are some things in life that make an “impression” on your memory and getting impressions did that to me. Over the years, technology has advanced to the point of being able to get 3-D views of a patient’s teeth, thus making the need for the goo to be gone. Dr. Sarah Shoaf at Salem Smiles Orthodontics has implemented a new system of scanning and 3-D printing to streamline the practice’s impression processing. Basically, the 3-D print is now the model/mold of the past!

Salem Smiles Orthodontics is the only office in the area using the scanning and 3-D technology of the iTero light scanner within orthodontics practices. “The iTero light scanner is able to make a digital 3-D image of a patient’s mouth, then print it if a model needs to be made for a retainer. Our patients love it because there is no gagging on “goo” in their mouths. Our assistants love it because they can scan in the same amount of time it takes to make regular alginate impressions, but they don’t have to pour the models up in plaster, wait for them to set, trim the models and store the models after making them. We now give the patients their 3-D printed plastic models when they get their braces off. Normally, to replace a retainer, it entails the labor costs for remaking an impression, as well as the cost of the retainer. If patients bring back their undamaged plastic models, we are able to make a replacement for a lost or broken retainer at a substantial discount,” said Dr. Shoaf. In addition to being more comfortable for the patient, the use of 3-D printing also gives Dr. Shoaf’s assistants less mess to clean up.

“Our assistants can attend to other duties while the 3-D printer makes a set of models in about 50 minutes. [Previously], after the impressions were made, the assistant would pour the model up in plaster, taking 10 minutes, wait 30–40 minutes for the plaster to dry, pull the old impression off, hoping no teeth broke off of the impression, wait 15–20 more minutes before trimming the model and finalizing it to make a retainer, followed by another 20 minutes making the retainer. With the scanner and 3-D printer, after the initial 5–10 minute scan, the other parts of the process are computerized and automated, and the resulting perfect model is ready in about an hour to make the retainer. The scans are kept on the computer and can be downloaded to a Cloud storage facility. If one is ever needed, it can be recalled like any computer file and sent to the 3-D printer to make another model,” Dr. Shoaf commented. This new technology also helps patients with special needs who would otherwise not be able to hold still long enough for traditional impressions.

“The scanning is also used to make Invisalign aligners, which allows us to treat just about any malocclusion without the pain of physical wires and brackets in the mouth. Invisalign is also helpful for the patient who is severely physically or mentally challenged, as traditional braces would normally be an aspiration hazard; Invisalign allows treatment without worrying about swallowing, breaking or aspiration,” said Dr. Shoaf.


Salem Smiles Orthodontics is located at 1063 W. Northwest Blvd., Winston-Salem, NC. For more information, call 336-725-5757 or visit