Amos Dudley wears his ingenuity in his smile.

A digital design major at NJIT, Amos didn't want to pay for braces. So he made his own.

Working on NJIT’s sophisticated design equipment, he used a gel to manufacture a mold of his crooked teeth. He added some plastic and a laser scanner to cast the mold in three dimensions. Then he printed the mold on a 3-D printer. He next printed 12 sets of clear braces.

Then he put his creation to the test: He alternated wearing the braces, day and night, for the last 16 weeks. Given his access to NJIT’s design labs, it cost him just $60 to make the braces, says Amos. Had he visited an orthodontist for clear braces, he would have paid a price more resembling $6,000 to $8,000. He had braces when he was in junior high school but didn't wear his retainer, so his teeth shifted. He was loathe to pay again for braces.

And $60 was a price worth smiling about. For, as he documents on his blog with before and after photos, Amos’s once-crooked teeth are now straight. Whereas before he was self-conscious about his teeth, now his smile comes easily.

“I had an amazing realization last year,” he writes on his blog. “I wasn’t smiling, and it was because I was unhappy with my teeth. They weren’t awful, but they were crooked enough to make me self-conscious.”

He goes onto note that his braces were borne of a curious dichotomy: one, like a typical undergraduate he was living with modest means; and two, as a design student at NJIT, he had the most sophisticated tools at his creative fingertips. Or, as he puts it in his blog:

“At the time of writing this, I’m an undergrad, which means that a) I’m broke, and b) I have access to expensive digital fabrication tools - definitely an unusual dichotomy. “

Amos said he manufactured the braces to enhance his portfolio -- as well as his smile. And he concedes that his do-it-yourself-on-a-student-budget braces were a result of his being in a “great design program with the best equipment.”

"The resources and culture in the design and fabrication labs at the College of Architecture and Design (COAD),” he said, “helped me take this project from an idea to reality."

Glenn Goldman, the director of School of Art + Design, said seniors like Amos all work on independent projects to hone their design skills.

“Amos is working in the overlapping seam between the Digital and Industrial Design programs in the School of Art + Design,” said Goldman. “In both programs, seniors in their last semester develop their own projects in design studio as the bridge between either the commercial working world or graduate studies. We have a program filled with tenacious and talented designers. Our students are entrepreneurial and a number of recent graduates have developed their own products, created start-ups or are working as independent designers.”

Amos says he has no intention of commercializing his braces and he warns others not to try his experiment.

But the publicity generated from his blog -- he’s been featured in CNN Money and in Slate.com and his story is going viral at dental schools -- has created some exciting opportunities for him. He interviewed recently with Formlabs, a company that makes 3-D printers. The owners of the company read his blog and contacted him. He’s taking a train to Boston to interview with them next week. The company is also shipping him a 3-D printer to use. And national reporters have been calling him daily for interviews. He’s enjoying his newfound celebrity, but knows it will pass. What will last a lifetime, though, is the ease of his new smile.

“I feel I can freely smile again,” he says. “That’s what’s most important.”

By Robert Florida (robert.florida@njit.edu)



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