What does ALF do?
ALF (Advanced Lightwire Functionals) is a non-traditional orthodontic treatment method. Using principles of cranial osteopathy, ALF advances the mandible and promotes changes in muscle function to achieve stable results in improving a patient’s posture. Rather than traditional braces, patients receiving ALF treatment are fitted with a removable appliance. The appliance is custom-made and uses wires to reposition jaws, dental arches, and teeth.
What are the advantages of ALF?
ALF appliances provide these advantages over traditional braces:
- Convenience—ALF patients enjoy easier flossing and the ability to brush their teeth more thoroughly than do those with traditional braces.
- Cosmetics—ALF appliances are nearly invisible.
- Gentle pressure—ALF patients experience significantly less discomfort than do those with traditional braces.
- Time savings—With ALF, dental visits are usually needed only every 6 to 8 weeks.
- Wellness enhancement—ALF promotes proper facial development, airway enlargement, and improved posture.
What is cranial osteopathy?
Cranial osteopathy is a gentle, hands-on practice in which a patient’s cranial bones and fascial coverings are gently manipulated to treat specific dysfunctions, achieve realignment, and improve the patient’s overall health. It is a principle of osteopathic medicine that within the body, proper structure will lead to healthy overall function, and vice-versa.
While the ALF treatment method does not include the actual practice of cranial osteopathy, ALF appliances work in a similar manner by bringing about the gentle manipulation of cranial structures, on a gradual basis, to achieve similar realignment results.
Why would my dentist recommend ALF treatment instead of just traditional orthodontics?
For patients seeking only to straighten their teeth or improve their bite, traditional braces are frequently effective and sufficient. However, some patients seeking orthodontic treatment experience additional health issues for which ALF treatment can also be effective. When the designer of the ALF appliance, Dr. Darick Nordstrom, introduced the appliance in the early 1980s, he quickly realized that his patients were experiencing relief from other health issues that had initially appeared to be unrelated. These included:
- Allergies resulting from restricted nasal airways
- Clenching and grinding of teeth
- Developmental delays such as childhood learning problems due to decreased blood flow to the brain
- Digestive problems
- Ear problems (ringing or humming sounds in the ears, decreased hearing ability)
- Headaches (including migraines)
- Neck and back pain resulting from misaligned vertebrae and nerve impingement
- TMJ (jaw joint) dysfunction with pain and restrictions of movement
- Vision problems (blurred vision, strained eyesight)
Because ALF treatment can help patients achieve significant improvement in other areas of their health as well as straight teeth, we evaluate the overall health of each of our orthodontic patients and make treatment recommendations accordingly. It is our practice’s philosophy to take a whole-patient treatment approach.
What kinds of underlying issues necessitate ALF treatment?
In individuals of good health, the bones of the head are not normally locked or fused together; a rhythmical, minute movement normally occurs between the bones. The osteopathic term for this movement is craniosacral motion. However, there are several underlying issues that can lock the bones and impair this movement:
- Accidents or injuries to the head, such as whiplash
- Birth trauma, especially if forceps are/were used
- Dental treatment (extraction of wisdom teeth or tooth replacement) or previous orthodontic treatment that has left the jaws poorly positioned
- Severe tooth abrasion due to grinding or clenching
- Tooth loss without adequate replacement
Impairment of normal craniosacral motion causes a distortion (cranial strain), and may result in compromised function, excess wear and tear in the area, and pain. The effects of this impairment may be compared to those of a sprained ankle. To cope with the pain, the body comes up with mechanisms to compensate and protect the injured part: for example, guarding the injury through overuse of other muscle groups. This can create new problems over time.
What age patients can benefit from ALF treatment?
Typically, treatment for children begins between ages 6 and 8, while the four permanent front teeth are growing in. But some children may begin treatment as young as age 5. It is important to remember that by age 4, 60% of an individual’s facial growth is complete; and by age 6, 80% of the facial growth is complete. Because it promotes proper growth and development, ALF treatment can be extremely effective when it is begun during a growth stage.
However, older patients can also benefit from ALF treatment! Because it affects overall health, patients at nearly every age can enjoy noticeable and effective results. We may prescribe this treatment for older patients who have:
- Allergies resulting from restricted nasal airways
- Eyesight issues (blurred vision, eye strain)
- Hearing issues (decreased hearing ability, ringing or humming sounds in the ears)
- Orthodontic issues necessitating tooth realignment (including patients whose teeth were extracted during previous orthodontia, and/or who wore headgear)
- Pain, including neck and shoulder pain and headaches/migraines
- Sleep issues resulting from snoring and/or sleep apnea
- TMJ disorders
What is a typical ALF treatment timeframe? What kind of results can occur?
In general, treatment time ranges anywhere from 2-3 years and achieves:
- Correct bite/occlusion height (an over-closed bite creates muscle spasms and forces the jaw joints out of position)
- Development of the upper and lower dental arches through expansion where needed
- Elimination of cranial strains
- Proper repositioning of the jaws in relation to each other
- Retention of the new position to allow the bone and teeth to solidify and fully adapt to the new position
The total treatment timeframe will vary among patients, according to individual needs.
What may I expect during ALF treatment?
Patients may expect to wear their appliances full time. ALF appliances are nearly invisible from the outside, and for most patients, the adjustment period with the new appliance usually lasts two to three days. During this initial period, patients may find their speech affected while their tongues reposition. Reading aloud to oneself is recommended to help with the adjustment.
It is important to give careful attention to your oral hygiene, since food can get caught between the wire and your teeth. Patients must brush their teeth after each meal and minimize snacks, especially sugary snacks. You will find that flossing between most of your teeth is still possible. We recommend that you use an oral irrigator to make your home care easier.