CHICAGO -- No longer do braces mean spending two years 'behind bars,' as young people often put it.
A new medical development called 'invisible orthodontics' leaves vanity intact while teeth fall into line.
'I always wanted my teeth straightened, but they weren't bad enough that I wanted to wear braces for a year or two,' said Tina Bouchez, 22, a grocery checker and beauty school student.
When she started having complications from two teeth pulled years earlier, she had no choice but to get braces. But her braces are invisible because they are connected behind her teeth -- on the 'lingual' side, in dental jargon.
'It didn't bother me with them being on the inside,' she said. 'Once I got them on, you can actually watch the teeth move' into place.
The process was developed by Dr. Craven C. Kurz, who practices exclusively adult orthodontics in Beverly Hills, Calif., and has about 200 lingual patients. In June, he obtained a patent for the lingual process.
Last September, Kurz started a series of seminars for other orthodontists interested in learning the 'invisible' technique. Miss Bouchez's orthodontist, Dr. John M. Damas, of Orland Park, Ill., was one of about 40 specialists who attended one of the first in California last September.
Nowthe seminars are drawing about 10 times that many dentists. About 440 attended one recently in Chicago with similar sessions scheduled in Dallas, Boston, San Francisco, Puerto Rico and Geneva, Swizerland.
The general principle involved in 'invisible orthodontics' is the same as other methods of orthodontics, Damas said. The process still involves cementing metal brackets to the teeth and tightening the wires monthly to force the teeth into new alignment. The striking difference, he said, is the type of patient who goes for the treatment, even though it may cost up to 50 percent more than conventional orthodontics.
'Patients who otherwise wouldn't have had their teeth straightened now are because you can't seem them (the braces),' he said. 'The technique allows me to help many more individuals whose appearance is important to their lifestyle. I find that exciting.'
Although the length of treatment is about the same, invisible orthodontics patients 'after two years, will have spent twice as much time in the chair because every individual appointment is twice as long - it's harder for the dentist' to work behind the teeth, Damas said.
But for all the cosmetic improvements of the new technique, a few things remain the same.
'I still slur my words a little because it's hard to talk,' Miss Bouchez said. 'And once a month when he tightens them, it hurts. The next day I can't eat -- not even mashed bananas. But it's good for the diet, I guess.'