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Who is an Orthodontist (and what does he do)?

An orthodontist is a dental specialist who uses various techniques, such as braces, aligners, and other dental appliances, to straighten teeth and align the bite of their patients. They play a crucial role in improving both the function and appearance of the teeth and jaws.

Their practice is exclusively devoted to orthodontics, focusing on pediatric growth and development.

How to become an Orthodontist in the US

Becoming an orthodontist in the United States involves several steps, including completing a specific educational path and obtaining the necessary licenses. Here is a typical training path on how to become an orthodontist in the US:

  • Undergraduate Education:

    • Complete a bachelor's degree in a related field such as biology, chemistry, or a pre-dental program.

    • Ensure that the coursework includes prerequisite classes required for admission to dental school.

  • Dental School Admission:

    • Take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) during your undergraduate years.

    • Apply to accredited dental schools. Admission is competitive, so maintaining a high GPA and scoring well on the DAT is crucial.

  • Dental School (4 years):

    • Complete a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) program.

    • The dental school provides a broad education in general dentistry.

  • Gain Clinical Experience:

    • Gain experience in the dental field, preferably in orthodontics, through internships, externships, or volunteer opportunities.

  • Orthodontic Residency (2-3 years):

    • Apply to and complete an accredited orthodontic residency program. This specialized training focuses specifically on orthodontics.

    • Some programs may require a separate application process and interview.

  • Obtain State Licensure:

    • After completing an orthodontic residency, obtain state licensure to practice dentistry. Requirements vary by state but typically involve passing written and practical exams.

  • Board Certification (Optional):

    • Although not mandatory, some orthodontists pursue board certification through the American Board of Orthodontics (ABO) to demonstrate advanced skills and knowledge.

  • Start Practicing:

    • Once licensed, you can start practising as an orthodontist. Many orthodontists may choose to work in private practice or join a group practice.

The total number of years required to become an orthodontist in the United States can vary, but on average, it takes about 10 to 12 years of education and training beyond high school.

Throughout this process, it's essential to stay informed about any changes in licensing requirements and continually update your skills through professional development opportunities.

While there are various dental specialists for different areas, orthodontists alone possess the specialized training required to manage patients needing braces and devices that promote growth. 

The American Dental Association endorses only two groups as speciality bodies for legitimate orthodontists: The American Association of Orthodontists and the American Board of Orthodontists

Membership in either of these organizations is essential for an orthodontist to be considered a certified specialist. 

Without this affiliation, an individual is not officially recognized to practice orthodontics on a comprehensive scale, including the use of braces or aligners. 

Simply offering "orthodontics" services does not guarantee that a practitioner is a qualified orthodontist.

What’s the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist?

While a general dentist is your go-to professional for regular check-ups and common dental procedures, orthodontists are specialists in maxillofacial alignment and bite correction. They delve deeper into the dental discipline with advanced training focused on optimizing the harmony of your teeth and jaw.

In much the same way as doctors choose to specialize in areas such as cardiology and neurology, dentists can also choose to specialize. Orthodontics is a dental speciality which aims to prevent, diagnose and treat facial and dental irregularities, such as malocclusions (bad bites). Many orthodontic practices are limited to dentofacial orthopaedics and general orthodontics but can successfully treat patients of any age.

Main Differences

  • An orthodontist is a specialized dentist who focuses on correcting bites, occlusion, and the straightness of teeth. Essentially, they deal with the proper alignment of teeth and jaws using braces, clear aligners, and other devices.

  • A dentist, on the other hand, provides a broad range of oral health care services that go beyond orthodontics. This includes diagnosing and treating problems related to teeth, gums, and related mouth structures as well as preventive education on oral hygiene.

Common Aspects

Both dentists and orthodontists play crucial roles in maintaining oral health, but they share common ground too:

  • Both professionals obtain a general dental degree before further specialization or practice.

  • They are dedicated to improving your oral health, albeit in different ways. While the orthodontist focuses on alignments and bite issues, the dentist addresses a wide array of oral health concerns.

  • Dentists and orthodontists can both diagnose oral health anomalies, but an orthodontist will refer out for issues outside of their specialization, just as a general dentist will refer patients to an orthodontist for alignment and bite corrections.

If you have any questions about orthodontists and the treatments they provide, don't hesitate to get in touch with our office.

Common Orthodontic Problems Treated by Orthodontists

Orthodontists specialize in correcting various dental and facial irregularities. Here are some of the most common orthodontic problems that patients bring to their attention:

  • Misaligned Teeth: This refers to teeth that are not properly lined up. It can include issues like spacing, where gaps exist between teeth, or crowding, where there isn't enough space for all of the teeth to fit normally within the mouth. Misaligned teeth can make cleaning more difficult, leading to a higher risk of dental decay and gum disease.

  • Overbite: An overbite is when the upper front teeth extend too far over the lower front teeth. This can cause the lower teeth to bite into the roof of the mouth, potentially leading to gum problems and wear on the teeth. It can also affect one's facial profile and aesthetics.

  • Underbite: The opposite of an overbite, an underbite occurs when the lower front teeth are in front of the upper front teeth. This can make it hard to chew properly and might lead to uneven wear on the teeth. It can also impact the overall facial appearance.

  • Crowding: Crowding happens when there is not enough space for all the teeth in the mouth. This can make teeth crooked and overlap each other. Crowded teeth are harder to clean and can be more prone to cavities and gum disease.

These orthodontic issues can persist into adulthood if not treated. They can influence not just oral health but also have profound effects on self-esteem and confidence. 

Left unaddressed, they can contribute to speech difficulties, chewing challenges, and increased susceptibility to dental problems.

Fortunately, orthodontists are trained to diagnose, prevent, and treat such dental discrepancies, helping to maintain not only the aesthetics of your smile but also its health and functionality. 

Remember that a straight smile isn't just about looking good - it's about keeping your mouth healthy too.

Do orthodontists do anything other than braces?

While braces are a hallmark of orthodontic care, they represent just a fraction of the comprehensive services an orthodontist provides. These specialists are skilled in a multitude of techniques designed to address the complexity of dental and facial irregularities.

Wide-Ranging Orthodontic Treatments

Beyond traditional metal braces, orthodontists are proficient in providing:

  • Clear aligners: Such as Invisalign, which offers a less noticeable method of straightening teeth.

  • Retainers: Necessary post-braces to maintain the teeth's position.

  • Palatal expanders: For individuals who require adjustments to the width of their upper jaw.

  • Temporary Anchorage Devices (TADs): Small screws that serve as an anchor point for moving specific teeth.

  • Lingual braces: Placed behind the teeth, they are hidden from view.

Orthodontists are dedicated not only to aligning teeth but also to correcting bite issues, which can significantly impact oral health and overall well-being. Procedures such as:

  • Jaw repositioning surgery: For severe alignment issues or skeletal discrepancies.

  • Cleft lip and palate treatment: Often requiring collaboration with other specialists for comprehensive care.

  • Management of dental trauma: Addressing injuries that affect the alignment of teeth and jaw structure.

In short, orthodontists possess the expertise to provide a full spectrum of corrective treatments that go hand-in-hand with the health and aesthetics of your smile.

A Brief History of Orthodontics

Have you ever wondered about the origins of orthodontics?

This field of dental speciality didn't just appear overnight. Its evolution is a fascinating story of scientific discovery and innovation that has given millions of people around the world a reason to smile confidently.

How Long Has Orthodontics Been Here?

The practice of straightening teeth dates back millennia, with anthropologists discovering mummified ancients with crude metal bands wrapped around individual teeth. Historians suggest that as early as 1000 B.C., people had already been exploring methods to correct misaligned teeth. However, orthodontics as a recognized science began in the 18th century.

Biggest Developments and Milestones

The 18th century marked the beginning of contemporary orthodontics. In 1728, French dentist Pierre Fauchard, known as the "Father of Modern Dentistry," published a book describing an orthodontic appliance he called a "Bandeau." 

However, it was not until the 19th century when significant strides in orthodontics were made. Here are some pivotal milestones:

  • In 1819, Christophe-Francois Delabarre introduced the wire crib, laying the groundwork for modern braces.

  • Edward Angle, whom many consider the Father of Modern Orthodontics, identified the true nature of malocclusion (improper bite) and standardized the orthodontic treatment with braces in the late 1800s.

  • The 20th century saw further advancements with the development of stainless steel wires in the 1920s, which replaced gold and silver and made braces more accessible.

  • The invention of dental adhesives in the 1970s allowed brackets to be directly bonded to the teeth, improving the ease and effectiveness of orthodontic treatment.

Today's orthodontic treatments are a far cry from the band and loop contraptions of the past. Thanks to ongoing research and clinical innovations, modern orthodontics offers a variety of sophisticated options to correct malocclusions, resulting in quicker, more efficient treatments with minimal discomfort. 

This journey of orthodontics is not only a testament to human ingenuity but also to our

enduring quest for health and beauty.

The Integral Role of an Orthodontist

The career of an orthodontist encompasses much more than just providing braces to straighten teeth. As specialist dentists, orthodontists play a critical role in the overall oral health care regime, often working in tandem with your regular dentist to ensure the best outcomes for your smile and bite.

Collaborative Relationships with Other Dental Professionals

Orthodontists often collaborate with other types of dentists and dental specialists to provide comprehensive care. They may work closely with:

  • General Dentists for routine care and referral to orthodontic treatment when necessary

  • Periodontists to manage gum health before, during, and after orthodontic treatment

  • Oral Surgeons for corrective jaw surgery alongside orthodontic appliances

  • Prosthodontists coordinate the placement of crowns, bridges, and implants

  • Endodontists for issues involving tooth roots and pulp

Procedures and Specializations

Orthodontists are skilled in a wide array of procedures designed to rectify issues of teeth and jaw alignment. Examples include:

  • Installation of traditional metal braces and newer options like clear aligners

  • Application of palatal expanders to widen the upper jaw

  • Fitting for retainers used post-treatment to maintain teeth positions

  • Invisalign certification for those specializing in clear aligner therapy

  • Complex orthodontic treatment planning in cases involving surgery

The Mail Goal of Orthodontists

The main goal of an orthodontist is to diagnose, prevent, and treat malocclusions, or improper bites. Achieving proper alignment not only contributes to a more aesthetically pleasing smile but can also enhance chewing function, speech, and long-term oral health.

Therefore, the role of an orthodontist extends beyond mere cosmetic improvements, it is about improving the quality of their patients' lives through specialized dental care.


In wrapping up our journey through the world of orthodontics, we've unearthed a treasure trove of facts about the meticulous professionals dedicated to perfecting our pearly whites-orthodontists. These certified specialists embark on an extensive educational path, acquiring in-depth knowledge and skills to diagnose, prevent, and correct misaligned teeth and jaws.

Remember that the doors to Open and Affordable Dental are always open, ready to guide you toward the smile you've always envisioned.

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