Braces go three-dimensional
One of his patients, Joana Sun, now 19, whose overbite and crowding were repaired in 14 months, appreciated having a plan in place. By contrast, she said, her friends who got traditional braces "just went in blind."

Even when an orthodontist does offer 3-D imaging, not all patients are interested. Dr. Leslie Pitner, an orthodontist in Columbia, S.C, charges a third more for 3M Unitek's Incognito. Both its brackets and wires are customized, and placed discreetly on the inside of teeth.

Most of her patients opt for the traditional ones.

As for the Incognito patients, "I think they are probably doing it, because they are invisible," Pitner said. "It's customized, it's added value."

Pitner never promises that using Incognito braces will speed treatment. "Boy, people hold you to that," she said.

SureSmile, which Graber uses, has been available since 2004. A patient sits upright in a machine for less than a minute, then a complete a 3-D model, showing teeth and their roots, is created. The machine is known as a CBCT scanner, because it uses a technology called cone beam computed tomography. Dr. Marc Lemchen, an orthodontist in Manhattan, uses such a machine and says that it is helpful in seeing teeth that have not yet erupted, and in assessing whether teeth impinge on one another.

The CBCT scanner is expensive, though—$150,000 to $200,000. Both SureSmile and OrthoCAD iQ also sell hand-held scanning devices that offer an alternative, but the former takes 30 minutes and the latter 5 minutes of the patient's time.

Bishop said it was a shame that the technology was not catching on more quickly, since it has proved so useful. On the plus side, he said, "3-D imaging is here to stay."

Where to Find High-tech Braces

Adoption of 3-D imaging for orthodontia is still spotty across the country. Here's how to find a doctor near you.

Nationwide, 1,400 orthodontists use Insignia, the customized system that makes specially made brackets, unlike most competitors. Find a doctor at Roughly 550 orthodontists use OrthoCAD iQ, a simulation software made by Cadent. To find one, call 800-577-8767.

SureSmile's robotically bent custom wires are used by 300 practices nationwide, roughly 120 of which have an upright scanning machine to get a 3-D model that shows teeth and their roots. (The rest use a handheld scanner.) Find orthodontists at

Doctors who use 3M Unitek's Incognito braces, which adhere to the inside of teeth and are thus invisible, can be found on the Incognito site.