By Anthony M. Puntillo D.D.S., M.S.D.
It’s the middle of September and a patient you just debanded last month is enjoying her first year of college… and her new smile. After 24 months in orthodontic appliances, however, you are now both relying on her retainers to make sure her smile remains perfect. Unfortunately, her roommate has just accidentally stepped on that very same retainer and with campus 6 hours away from home she has no way of returning until Thanksgiving. Her parents assume that the impressions you took last month can be used to make a new retainer. Not wanting their orthodontic investment to be for naught, mom is calling your office requesting a new retainer with plans to ship it to her daughter. You are now in the unenviable position of delivering the bad news: the original model was damaged during the fabrication of the retainer and her daughter will need to return home for a new impression or attempt to schedule an appointment with an unfamiliar orthodontist closer to campus.
If you have been practicing orthodontics for any length of time, I have no doubt that the circumstances of this story sound familiar. The good news is that technology can now offer both you and your patients a better option. The increased movement toward digital models and intraoral scanners has not only improved our ability to store and manage our patients’ records, but it has also led several well-known commercial laboratories to add capabilities for processing these 3D digital files (STL- stereolithographic). Labs that have made the investment in the technology and equipment can now accept files over the internet and then use the digital data to create any number of well-fitting orthodontic appliances. Using STL files in this manner will save you the material, staff costs, and schedule constraints associated with taking a replacement impression. Furthermore, it saves the patient and parent the inconvenience of an additional trip to the office. So the next time a frantic parent calls requesting a replacement retainer ASAP, if you’re using digital models you can let them know you’ve got it handled. Simply forward the final records STL file to your favorite commercial lab and the replacement appliance will be on its way!