You Can Thank NASA For Helping Create Invisible Braces

Who would have guessed how much space exploration would change the way we live here on Earth? While not initially the intention, some of the world's greatest inventions were created with astronauts in mind. From insulin pumps and scratch-resistant eyeglasses to freeze dried food and firefighting equipment, stuff that was originally made for astronauts has had a way of coming down to Earth (via USA Today).

Blame it on the lack of gravity or the swirling cosmic sea of stars overhead. There's something about exploring other planets that makes master thinkers expand their minds and horizons. Whether you know it or not, if you're a fan of the technology that powers the camera on your smart phone, or the convenience of owning a portable laptop, or if you love to make use of your at-home treadmill and then fall flat into your memory foam mattress after a long stationary workout, you're really just a great big NASA fan, using equipment at home that was originally developed for astronauts. According to NASA, the same rings true if you wear invisible braces.

Invisible braces are the byproduct of outer space heat-seeking missile technology

In a 2004 article archived by NASA, the space giant revealed the true roots of invisible braces, and they're not as transparent as you might expect. As it turns out, the technology and material used to produce those clear aligners that straighten teeth without the clunky metal wiring associated with traditional braces was originally designed to track heat-seeking space missiles. The material, which is known as transparent polycrystalline alumina, or TPA for short, is loaded with cool components that are literally out of this world.

TPA is both malleable and tough. According to NASA, it's stronger than the strongest metal on Earth, which happens to be carbon steel (via Sciencing). It also possesses light-absorbing qualities which make it appear transparent when it's sintered — heated and coalesced without liquifying — to a pore-free state (per Materials Research Institute). So the next time someone flashes their pearly whites from behind a transparent dental frame, just know they have the astronauts to thank.

NASA occupies an unusual space in dentistry

When you think about dental health and hygiene, the first image that comes to mind is probably not a space rocket, but maybe it should be. According to NASA, sophisticated space tech has long played a pivotal role in dentistry. As far back as 2004, dentists were making use of NASA's water purification system, which has been used to keep the water safe for dental procedures. And that crafty filling used for cavities? It was largely inspired by spacecraft tile tech.

As NASA advances in its exploration programs and builds new tech to take on the universe, the whole world can expect even straighter smiles and cleaner teeth. University of Nevada News Center reports that in 2021, UNLV Engineering and Dental Researchers teamed up with NASA and Colgate in a one-of-a-kind mission to fight plaque. This new project will examine how effective our favorite toothpaste brands are in outer space. Brace yourself.