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Interview: The company behind Invisalign sheds light on tech’s latest in orthodontics

AMEinfo speaks with Markus Sebastian, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Align Technology EMEA, who shares insights into the health tech orthodontics industry.

The company launched a regional office in the UAE in 2017 Align Technology has treated 1 million patients in EMEA to date Regarding 3D printing in the orthodontic industry, Sebastian sees "mass customization as the trend that will develop further in the future"

Many know Align Technology as the company behind the famous Invisalign clear aligner that uses a patient’s 3D dental scan to 3D print an aligner custom-made for its user. A manufacturer of 3D digital scanners and clear aligners used in orthodontics, Align has left its mark on the healthcare industry since its founding in 1997 in California, USA. 

Hoping to tap into their wealth of knowledge on health tech, AMEinfo spoke with Markus Sebastian, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Align Technology EMEA.

Can you briefly run us through the core of your services in the Middle East, and how you started operations here? 

Absolutely. Globally, Align Technology has been helping dental professionals create great treatment outcomes for patients for over 20 years. We have been present in the Middle East for several years now – initially, via a local distributor. In 2017, we took another step and launched direct operations in the UAE, which has allowed us to build a strong local team that can support doctors locally as well as operate on a larger scale. 

Markus Sebastian, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Align Technology EMEA

We also run local marketing programs to build awareness around the importance of good oral health and clear aligner therapy, as well as to encourage consumers who are dreaming about a straight, beautiful smile to visit a doctor in their area. This includes digital, social media and influencer marketing programs. 

In 2020 and beyond, we plan further investment and development of the local operations to meet the growing demand from consumers and doctors. We are also happy to support the long-term development programs of both markets, especially when it comes to the efforts to drive digitization in the Gulf region and common access to healthcare. 

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How does your signature product Invisalign work exactly? What’s the process starting from patient consultation to final application?

The Invisalign system is the most advanced clear aligner system in the world, with 7.5 million patients worldwide who have been treated with the system. It is a combination of proprietary virtual modeling software, rapid manufacturing processes and mass customization, and custom-made aligners with patented aligner material.

Invisalign aligners move teeth using a series of removable, custom-made clear aligners that a patient needs to change on a regular basis. The treatment is always prescribed to patients through Invisalign-trained orthodontists or dentists and supervised by a trained doctor. 

Invisalign aligners are clear, removable and more comfortable than traditional appliances, allowing patients to lead their lives without major interruption. They can eat their favorite meals, practice many types of sports and get the beautiful smile they always wanted.

The Invisalign system can treat almost 80-% orthodontic case starts– from minor, aesthetic teeth corrections as well as complex cases. In all cases, it is the doctor who makes the assessment and recommends the treatment. 

In what other ways do you utilize 3D printing technology? What further potential do you see for it in the orthodontic industry?

Align Technology has pioneered the use of 3D printing in the dental industry at an unprecedented level. We have been using 3D printing in mass production since the beginning of the company back in 1997. 

While there are many other companies in the dental world using 3D printing for applications such as dental restoration, aligners, splints, and retainers, we are the largest manufacturer of 3D printing in production. 

I see mass customization as the trend that will develop further in the future. The Invisalign system is a good example of mass customization where we produce over 400,000 parts each day, and each part is unique. Injection molding or similar processes will continue to be appropriate where millions of the same part are produced. 

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How will AI and IoT (Internet of things) contribute to the development of the orthodontic industry and the health industry overall in the Middle East? 

At Align, we leverage digital technology – AI and digital data – to improve the predictability of the treatment planning process. 

In healthcare industry – both globally and in the Middle East, which is a very receptive and dynamically developing region – digital technology enables huge amounts of data to be gathered, analysed and used to improve treatment modalities, reaction to drugs, design of implants, social and economic environment, etc. 

Balancing on one side the real benefits of digitization in terms of prevention, diagnostics, treatment and monitoring, and on the other side the know-how, expertise, intelligence and above all human empathy is vital for successful healthcare provision.

At the same time, let`s not forget that digitization and artificial intelligence cannot replace the role of the specialist. While Align provides the product and the digital platform, the doctor monitors and guides the patient through every stage of the process. Doctor`s role is core to the success of any orthodontic treatment. 

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With new tech-based health solutions often comes a hefty price tag. How can companies like Align Technology balance innovation with affordability?

Digital innovation and premium quality of our products (the Invisalign system and iTero intraoral scanners) have always been of high importance to us and not something we would compromise. To date, we have invested more than $1 billion into R&D and marketing. We continue to innovate, bringing improvements and new solutions to the market- for example, Invisalign treatment with Mandibular Advancement for teenage patients that helps move their jaw forward while simultaneously straightening their teeth, as well as Invisalign First treatment for kids with early mixed dentition.  

The investment to data and the technology we have introduced makes Align the leader in the clear aligner industry, while the commitment to quality and innovation makes Invisalign the brand of choice for millions of patients and their doctors- pushing the demand forward. To date, we have treated over 7.5 million patients, including 1 million in EMEA –and we see the potential for as many as 100 million consumers to have their teeth straightened. 

How competitive would you say the health field in the Middle East is? There has been an accelerated push for innovation in recent years, as countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia fuel a widescale push for digital transformation across all industries. 

While Align introduced clear aligner therapy back in 1999 and offers the most advanced clear aligner system in the world – there are other companies present that offer clear orthodontics, including in the Middle East. 

For Align, it is important to reinforce the role of the doctor in the treatment process – unlike direct-to-consumer companies, we do not offer Invisalign treatment directly to consumers; only a trained Invisalign dentist or orthodontist can do that. 

Both UAE and Saudi Arabia tap into the overall global trends in clear aligner orthodontics becoming more popular; the speed of adoption of digital orthodontia is accelerating, with more doctors introducing clear aligners and intraoral scanners in their practice, and more consumers than ever visiting doctors to get their teeth straightened. 

Governments, in particular the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), have been regional leaders in promoting the importance of oral health and can be lauded for these efforts. I am happy to see that both countries have developed long-term development programs and have been so supportive of technological progress and innovation.  

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