A big, broad smile with straight teeth radiates confidence and friendliness. It also has a surprising impact on oral health and overall wellness. Dr. Olivia Hart offers ALF appliance therapy at her biological dental practice in Glen Allen, VA as an alternative to conventional orthodontics. Rather than pulling and pushing teeth into straighter alignment, the ALF technique addresses underlying developmental problems that cause crowded teeth and contribute to a number of health issues.
As a growing infant begins to chew semi-solid and solid foods, transverse bone growth is stimulated. With ideal cranial and facial development, the child develops a broad maxillary (upper) arch. When primary teeth continue to come in, and later permanent adult teeth, there is plenty of room for them to drop into straight, proper alignment. The tongue has ample space for correct swallowing, and the airway is open for efficient breathing.
You have probably seen a small child, though, with a diminutive chin, recessed lower lip, and pinched upper arch. Teeth are crowded, overlapped, and crooked, and front teeth protrude. The lower jaw is forced to fit within the narrowed upper arch. This child is likely to have sleep disordered breathing and TMJ pain, and is more prone to tooth decay, clenching, and grinding.
The ALF device is an expander made of light, flexible wire that enlarges the entire mouth by stimulating bone growth and muscle and sensory development. This small wire appliance is custom-designed to fit around molars, exerting light, lateral force that promotes healthy orthopedic and orthodontic development. ALF therapy encourages tongue placement in a resting posture that supports healthy swallowing, chewing, and breathing while stabilizing the head and neck.
Ideally, ALF treatment begins as soon as Dr. Hart recognizes signs of underdeveloped craniofacial structures. Prior to the age of seven, treatment gently prevents dental issues and directs healthy oral growth. A child’s mouth continues to grow up to approximately age 12, though growth slows to about 20 percent. During this phase, ALF can be used to restart biological bone growth and remodel existing abnormally-developed tissues to awaken the child’s full potential for stable, oral function. At age 15 and up (there is no maximum age for treatment) ALF is considered a repair therapy. It helps those who have orthodontic relapse (teeth shift back after braces come off), have suffered facial trauma, or have TMJ disorders that caused ligament damage.
Therapy is very customized, but generally occurs in three phases. First, treatment is focused on correcting distortions of the skull. Then, Dr. Hart removes and adjusts the appliance for the second phase, addressing the shape and size of the maxilla. The final step balances the bite and brings teeth into aesthetic alignment (if needed), sometimes utilizing Invisalign clear aligners.
Depending on the complexity of the case and age of the patient, treatment can take as little as a few months, or up to 18 to 36 months. However, most patients adjust quickly to wearing the device, eating and speaking normally. Dr. Hart provides hands-on instruction on oral hygiene while in treatment.
The human mouth is meant to accommodate all teeth and the tongue, naturally. Aggressive orthodontic treatment relies on extractions to make teeth fit into an underdeveloped arch, then manipulates remaining teeth into alignment. This arbitrary method can result in gaps that create instability, requiring lifetime retainer use for maintenance. ALF uses the body’s natural forces to create just the right amount of space, since expansion stops when the tongue no longer pushes toward the appliance.