Align Technology has been a place where one can constantly contribute, innovate and learn
Dr Mitra Derakhshan has worked with Align Technology since 2000 and is Vice President of Global Clinical. She is a clinical expert in the application of the Invisalign system, including the clear aligner system’s solution for growing patients, the Invisalign First system, as well as the Invisalign system with the mandibular advancement feature for teen patients. Derakhshan works for Align, occasionally practises in Maryland in the US, and gives seminars and lectures globally on orthodontic topics—mainly the Invisalign system. One of the speakers at the first Invisalign European Scientific Symposium, held on 29 June in Valencia in Spain, she answered some questions for Dental Tribune International during the event.
Dr Derakhshan, why did you decide on a career in dentistry and orthodontics?
From the beginning, I knew I wanted a career in orthodontics, not just in dentistry. Part of the reason why was that when I was a child and got braces I loved the experience that I had each time I went to my orthodontist. What was fascinating to me was that orthodontists did a lot of the thinking and planning, and even though they ran a practice with staff, they were still the designers and choreographers of everything that had to do with smiles. Thus, from an early age, I knew I wanted to have a career in medicine or orthodontics. I saw the impact orthodontics can have on people’s self-esteem by transforming their smiles and making them feel good about themselves. Therefore, I would also be able to give something back to people.
You have been working with Align Technology for 19 years. How did it all start?
At the time, I wanted to live in California and had recently moved there. When Align was founded back in 1999, it was based in Santa Clara in California. Because my dental degree was from another state, it was necessary for me to take the California State board examinations before I could practise and start to build a clientele. A friend of mine told me about Align Technology and its recruitment of general dentists and orthodontists to cooperate with the company.
In getting to know Align, I saw an amazing opportunity in how the Invisalign system was going to change the dental industry (by introducing an alternative to traditional braces). I was also attracted by the company’s way of thinking that was different. I started working for Align, initially thinking I would do that for one or two years until I got my California licence. But it is a great company and I found I didn’t want to stop working for them. There are so many opportunities to constantly innovate, even more so now with digital technology. The possibilities are huge, and it feels like we have only just scratched the surface.
Align’s journey has been an evolution. At the beginning, it was all about trying to get people to believe in clear aligners. Then, when people started to accept it as a new technique that offered an alternative to braces treatment, it was about helping general dentists and orthodontists realise clear aligners can be as effective as treatment with fixed appliances. We focused on innovating, educating dentists on how to use clear aligners for straightening teeth and treating different types of malocclusion. Finally, with our more recent innovations, such as Invisalign treatment with the mandibular advancement feature, it became about how to evolve from working on dental issues only to really treating the jaw skeletally as well. With continued innovations for growing and younger patients, including Invisalign First and Invisalign with the mandibular advancement feature, there continues to be the opportunity to treat growing patients, or teenagers, which are the biggest number of annual orthodontic case starts and differ from adult treatments because the patients are still in the growth phase.
As you can see, Align Technology has been for me a place where one can constantly contribute, innovate and learn.
What does your position entail?
My responsibilities are broad. I work on bringing the clinical aspects into product development and software: generating evidence and research and data analysis in working with the R & D teams, developing education programmes with our regions, education, working with our clinical support teams with training, and supporting our marketing, legal, regulatory and operations teams.
Clinical research and practice, seminars, conferences—do you have an insatiable need for new challenges?
They say it is a bounty, but it can also be a curse. I don’t feel like I go to work every day, and to me, that is a privilege. One cannot invest all this time and energy unless one is passionate about what one does.
You also work in a dental practice in Maryland. Do you treat mainly teenagers or adult patients as well?
I work a few days a month in an orthodontic office. Approximately 75% of the orthodontic cases we treat are teenagers and young patients. We treat mainly with the Invisalign system, so I get the opportunity to go there and be involved with the patients and parents. I also have the opportunity to try new products, which helps as well.
It is mainly women orthodontists at your practice. It seems that here, at the Invisalign symposium, women are in the majority too. Are there more women in orthodontics nowadays?
We are starting to see more women graduates. The fact that more and more women (want to) have a career is one of the reasons. Traditionally, orthodontics and dentistry have very much been solo practices; one dentist would own the practice and work there alone, taking care of all the aspects of running a business. Of course, there are also women running solo practices, but balancing work and a family is not easy. Nowadays, more and more practices have associates or are group practices, making it easier to balance work and family life. This might also be part of the reason why the number of women in the profession has increased. Also, it offers a great career in working with children, teenagers and people and working with them on building confidence for them with a new smile.
If you had to start again, is there something you would do differently?
I don’t think I would have necessarily done anything differently.
Any advice for future orthodontists?
Many future orthodontists probably don’t see the Invisalign system as the standard of care now—or the evolution of digital as the future. If you look at universities’ programmes, the curriculum is still quite traditional and it still amazes me to see that the innovations and different possibilities of treatment are not taught more than they are. But the world is changing around us and one needs to change as well to adapt to it—even more so for the patients who can inform themselves and know what they want—and they want it now.