Do you ever have those great ideas that you think could change lives, but aren’t sure where to start? Or maybe you’re nervous it won’t get traction…
That’s exactly what Invisalign company founder Zia Chishti did. He envisioned the technology used today while he, personally, was suffering from pain associated with orthodontic work. He thought, “There has to be a better way to accomplish the same outcome.”
Chishti drew inspiration from the retainer he was wearing and hypothesized that it, with the right design, could leverage a similar design to focus on tiny movements before the “maintenance” period of the classic retainer was ever reached. From there he began his work.
With Chishti’s background in engineering, he created a medical device technology company. Working with Kelsey Wirth, the two of them developed a product as they brought in more partners over time. In 1997, the then-four partners cofounded Align Technology. And this is where the Invisalign history begins. The goal was to create a product that could mimic braces without the cost (and many of the hassles) of traditional orthodontia. In addition, they wanted to make it almost invisible in the mouth—which, with the state of braces at the time, was a pretty radical idea.
Using sophisticated computer technology coupled with 3D printing, these entrepreneurs were able to create alignment trays that were changed slightly over the course of a treatment. With their first models build, they decided to get approval for sales in the United States through the federal government. Invisalign was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998 and sales on the new product began the following year.
Just like with any new technology, it took time for the appeal of the new product to catch on. Orthodontists were hesitant to try something new since the results had not been proven to be more effective than traditional braces. After an aggressive ad campaign that far outdid what is typically seen in the dental profession, the technology began to take off. By 2001, 75% of orthodontists had been trained in the Invisalign system. At the same time, the company made the product available to dentists, which only grew its reach.
In 2004 alone, 175,000 patients were treated with Invisalign. This was a huge accomplishment for a company that was still trying to convince practitioners that their product was just as good, if not better, than traditional braces. And thanks to this interest, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine began requiring all practitioners to be certified in Invisalign prior to graduation. In addition, the Academy of General Dentistry approved Align Technology’s continuing education class on Invisalign. This educated professionals who hadn’t yet used the technology and further broadened the reach of Invisalign.
In the last 20 years, the Invisalign device has gone through numerous redesigns to ensure that the materials used and the technology itself remain cutting edge. While other competitors have entered the market, Invisalign remains the most used by dentists and orthodontists. Some experts expect Invisalign to continue to reinvent itself as a technological leader well into the future. Many assume that, while the current technology is only meant for moderate or mild tooth alignment issues, Align Technology will continue to push the envelope and develop a product for even severe cases. There could be a day in the future that traditional metal braces become completely obsolete.
Next time you have that great idea, think about Zia Chishti who was able to take the pain he felt from him braces and turn it into a multimillion dollar company.
And in the meantime, if you do have alignment issues or think Invisalign might be for you, call Dr. Marchbanks and take advantage of this miraculous technology!
Also published on Medium.