HealthyStart: Nearly 60 years of Innovations, New Technology and Now Plans for the Future

Dr. Earl O. Bergersen and Healthy Start have introduced an oral appliance to promote mandibular growth in newborns. Read more about it in this article about his first-of-its-kind technology.

Dr. Bergersen’s long-time patient, Samnang, started his HealthyStart journey at 5 years old. Samnang struggled in school as a child and accredits his straight As in high school to HealthyStart.

There were no alternatives to traditional braces, no early treatment of children, and little to no understanding of the linkage between sleep issues and dental issues. This was the 1960s, and Earl O. Bergersen, DDS, MSD, ABO, was ahead of his time – developing, innovating, and looking to the future to provide more predictable orthodontic solutions, better overall health, less mechanics, and more stable results.

More than 500 patents later, Dr. Bergersen’s technology leads the way for providing growth appliances that aid in the ideal eruption of teeth and create better oral foundations. Dr. Bergersen’s first-of-its-kind technology addresses habitual issues, eliminates mouth breathing, promotes nasal breathing, reduces the size and inflammation of the tonsils and adenoids, uses the tongue to create expansion and develops proper swallowing. This technology is Ortho-Tain®, and the system is HealthyStart®.

67% of the consonant sounds are initiated in either the palate of the mouth or the lip seal. Both of these areas… are compromised in children with Sleep Disordered Breathing issues.

Dr. Bergersen graduated from Northwestern University in both the dental and orthodontic programs. He was elected president of his class and organizes their anniversary meetings. Dr. Bergersen was also assistant professor for 25 years at the Northwestern Orthodontic Department and was a regional editor of the American Journal of Orthodontics (JCO) for many years. He just celebrated his 90th birthday, and he often says, with a smile on his face, “Not many of us are left from my class, but, fortunately, the legacy and the knowledge that was created at this great institution, I can still utilize each and every day.” Dr. Bergersen was honored at Northwestern University’s Lurie Research Hospital for his dedication, innovation, and perseverance over so many years. Family, friends and colleagues, as well as generations of past patients and mentors in the dental community, joined to honor his legacy and his lifetime of contributions to better the health of patients all across the world.

Dr. Bergersen recounts the moment when the spark began and the scope of dentistry was changed forever. He explains, “A transfer patient arrived at my practice with orthodontic relapse that resulted from previous orthodontic treatment. I began explaining his relapse condition and how it would take 4 to 6 months to recorrect it. He said to me, ‘Don’t worry about it, Doc. I can have these teeth straightened in three days.’” Dr. B accepted the challenge, and, in 3 days’ time, the patient came back into his office with perfectly straight teeth, and, when asked how he did this, the patient took a broken black rubber appliance out of his pocket. This is the day that the concept was born to create a device that could straighten teeth without braces, correct improper functional occlusions, and promote proper development and dental eruption in the midst of growth. This appliance would eliminate the need for mechanics, but instead use eruptive and bodily forces, focusing more on achieving sustainable results and providing removable treatment that would not need 24 hours of wear per day.

Dr. Bergersen treating a young patient (left) and Dr. Bergersen was featured on the front page of the Courier-Journal on April 19, 1984 for his revolutionary technology; a cheaper and faster alternative to braces (right).

Dr. Bergersen associated with some of the greatest minds in orthodontics to discuss various aspects of growth and their impact on orthodontic treatment procedures. He researched at the Bolton Study of Case Western University and the Denver Growth Study at the University of Colorado Medical School. Dr. Bergersen also worked alongside Dr. Idyl Pyle, Dr. Marion Marish, Dr. Harry Sicher of Loyola University, and Dr. B. Holly Broadbent. He also consulted with Coenraad Moorrees of Harvard University, whose research was the basis of the preventive Nite-Guide® technique.

The initial invention was created; a preformed orthodontic positioner capable of maintaining the straightness of the teeth, the bite correction, and the intercuspation of the dentition all at the same time. It soon became apparent that the preformed orthodontic appliances could actually straighten teeth and correct overbites, overjets, open bites, crossbites, etc., which led to the introduction of an eruption guidance oral appliance for even younger patients from 8 – 12 years of age. Determined to continue finding solutions for even younger children, the concept of treating during the transition from primary teeth into permanent teeth to guide erupting teeth into their proper positions, rather than straightening through force, became the focus of these earlier oral appliances. The Nite-Guide® appliances (now more commonly referred to as the “C” appliances) focused on preventing malocclusion by guiding incoming teeth, correcting the functional issues, expanding the arches, addressing improper habits and intercuspation of the dentition all at the same time, while also allowing the fiber bundles to be formed in the ideal position, creating a lifetime of stability.

Dr. Bergersen speaking (above) and Dr. Bergersen’s breakthrough technology was featured on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times on January 2, 1983 as a new alternative to braces (right).

Dr. Bergersen continued to push the envelope and address issues present in children as young as two years of age with the Habit Corrector®, the Class lll and the Max A appliances. These appliances promoted growth, instilled proper habits, eliminated detrimental conditions and provided internal myofunctional habits activated by mouth breathing, thumb-sucking and abnormal swallowing, only requiring nighttime wear.

Continuing with the focus on innovation and growth nearly 60 years later, Dr. Bergersen and HealthyStart are introducing an oral appliance for newborns to promote proper habits and to guide the dentition as early as possible. This new oral appliance looks like a pacifier to the average individual but is ingenious in its design, creating a ramp to lift and train the tongue to the proper position, eliminating mouth breathing, creating nasal breathing, and promoting mandibular growth. The PerfectStart® Pacifier with a Purpose begins the conversation with families regarding the benefits of proper sleep and breathing, the importance of airway development and the value of preventive care.

Dr. Bergersen and HealthyStart are introducing an oral appliance for newborns… This new oral appliance looks like a pacifier but is ingenious in its design, creating a ramp to lift and train the tongue to the proper position, eliminating mouth breathing, creating nasal breathing, and promoting mandibular growth.

The PerfectStart® Pacifier with a Purpose

When Dr. Bergersen was asked what was coming next, he laughed and said, “I already have plans on improving the overall health of the fetus, and it comes in the shape of a Habit Corrector® for the expecting mother. So often, pregnancy brings with it a lack of sleep and exhaustion, hence the importance of mothers assessing their own sleep. HealthyStart® has a solution for expecting mothers via the Adult Habit Corrector®, which assists with better sleeping and breathing, allowing for more oxygen and ideally a healthier baby. It all comes full circle.” In regard to the continuation of his legacy, Dr. Bergersen says, “Fortunately, I have many very capable minds working with me, including the HealthyStart® Development, Research and Advanced Technology Departments.”

Dr. Bergersen explains the crucial role of patient education in this conversation, emphasizing that “providing resources to help families is imperative to shedding light on this very important topic. The fact that 9 out of 10 children exhibit one or more of the outward signs and symptoms of Sleep Disordered Breathing is unacceptable. It is a statistic I cannot accept. I have never met a parent who does not want the best for their child. We see many parents who are Dr. Google, which is fine, but it is crucial for accurate education to be available. Many illnesses are identified first in the oral cavity, and, interestingly enough, Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB) is connected to the oral cavity in various ways as the origin of these issues. I provide parents with comprehensive sleep questionnaires that not only offer 30 of the most significant sleep and breathing issues, but also allow them to assign a numeric severity score to those issues, aiding them in understanding the severity of these problems.”

The fact that 9 out of 10 children exhibit one or more of the outward signs and symptoms of Sleep Disordered Breathing is unacceptable.

When asked about the inclusion of speech as an area of assessment in his questionnaire, Dr. Bergersen explained that speech is another area that is linked to various oral issues and habits. He says, “67% of the consonant sounds are initiated in either the palate of the mouth or the lip seal. Both of these areas are needed for oral competency and are compromised in children with Sleep Disordered Breathing issues. It is not the dentist’s job to become a speech pathologist, but it is a condition that can improve concurrently with HealthyStart® therapy.”

Dr. Bergersen has also created a comprehensive digital assessment to evaluate a patient’s growth and development. Determining the areas of deficiency is critical due to the urgency of addressing those deficiencies during a child’s growing years. These proprietary digital assessments will address growth, dental arch and profile deficiencies, as well as face height and malocclusion of the early dentition. They will assist with diagnosis and establish a new protocol and clinical evaluation standard.

While Dr. Bergersen’s primary focus has been centered around the technological development and clinical implementation of these better diagnostic and therapeutic systems, he also identifies increasing access to care as a major component to improving the lives of more patients. Dr. Bergersen has traveled the world providing treatment and appliances to children in need, and he has found astonishing adoption rates amongst countries with socialized healthcare programs, such as Estonia, Italy, Russia, and Finland, to name a few. What these countries have in common is a prioritization of clinical efficacy and resource management with an overall goal to improve patient outcomes; and this proven Ortho-Tain® technology allows for just that. In societies comprised more of patients and practices using private insurance, Dr. Bergersen has developed the “Bergersen Assessment”, which is a pediatric guide and scale to determine cranial anomalies for the evaluation of severity of conditions and corresponding medical insurance reimbursement for a patient. He is hopeful that his Assessment will shed additional light on the needs of pediatric patients as related to sleep and airway health, which for too long have been overshadowed by the adult protocols in this field.

Dr. Bergersen giving an interview

When asked about the future of sleep, breathing and airway issues in dentistry, Dr. Bergersen says, “The future has never looked brighter. Sleep and breathing will be, in my opinion, one of the most important and impactful additions to dentistry. Over my lifetime, I have seen the impact of high speed procedures, implants, and now sleep and breathing. I find dentistry and orthodontics as exciting now as I did when I first graduated. I am blessed to have found a passion associated with such an amazing group of specialists, treating a lifetime of patients, creating innovative technology and seeing the impact these innovations have had on dentistry and now on other disciplines, as we’ve seen more interest from and collaboration with pediatricians, otorhinolaryngologists, and speech and myofunctional therapists to better support these patients with a more comprehensive solution. I wish for each and every person involved in this exciting career path to cherish every minute. It goes quickly, and you never want to miss a minute or find yourself not thinking to the future. I look to all of you to bring better health and a lifetime of bright smiles to your patients and their parents. Sleep and breathe well, my friends.”

Read an article by Dr. Earl O. Bergersen about addressing children’s sleep disordered breathing here:

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