Many people use the terms dentist and orthodontist interchangeably. That’s not quite right. The two professions certainly have similarities, but orthodontia is a specific type of dental care. These specialists treat certain types of dental problems. You may never need to see an orthodontist. If you do, however, you need to understand exactly what’s in store for you. Here’s a guide on orthodontists.
Defining an Orthodontist
A dentist is a doctor who works with several parts of the body. Areas of focus include the mouth, jaw, teeth, gums, and nerves. Orthodontists work in a more specialized section of the field. Their priority is the straightening of teeth. In simplest terms, all orthodontists are dentists but few dentists are orthodontists.
An orthodontist diagnoses overbites, occlusions, misaligned teeth and jaws, and overcrowded mouths. After the diagnosis, the orthodontist tries to solve any issues they discover. If left untreated, overbites, underbites, open bites, and cross bites are all problems that will grow worse over time. An orthodontist is an expert who repairs these conditions.
What Does an Orthodontist Do?
An orthodontist receives special training to fix misaligned teeth. If a dentist refers you to an orthodontist, the inference is that your teeth aren’t quite right. It’s not a big deal at all. You’ll likely receive a recommendation for bracesor some other method of straightening your teeth. The orthodontist is the person who does this job.
The most important job for an orthodontist is identifying issues with your teeth and mouth. A gap in your teeth, called a diastema, will grow larger over time. Your teeth will suffer, as the structure of the mouth and gums needs a tight alignment. The orthodontist will try to pull your teeth closer together to correct the issue. Conversely, having too many teeth is equally bad, especially for children. An orthodontist is likely to extract the excess teeth to create better spacing.
An orthodontist has several tools to solve these alignment problems. Braces are the most famous solution. These appliances are bands that encircle the teeth. The orthodontist then bonds brackets on the front of the teeth, and the bands connect to them via wires. In combination, the structures pull teeth into an upright alignment, straightening them over time. The process isn’t immediate, but it’s extremely effective.
If braces aren’t a great option, an orthodontist may use an aligner instead. The best-known example is Invisalign. By design, it’s not visible from a distance, making your smile more attractive. That’s because an aligner doesn’t use metal wires or brackets. Patients like them since they’re removable.
In extreme cases, an orthodontist may treat patients with a palate expander. It widens the arch of the upper jaw, giving the area more space. Another possibility is headgear, a more dramatic solution for misaligned teeth. This device connects the back of the head to a wire in the front of the mouth. Its purpose is to pull back front teeth while slowing an upper jaw in danger of growing too fast.
How Much Training Does an Orthodontist Need?
An orthodontist must first complete regular dental training. A dental school generally requires four years of classes to graduate. Most dentists stop at this point and begin practicing their trade. Orthodontists can’t do that yet.
To earn a license to practice as an orthodontist, the person must take more classes. Most dental schools require another two to three years of training before a student qualifies as an orthodontist. Effectively, an orthodontist is a dentist with almost double the training, most of it specialized in the field of straightening teeth.
How Does an Appointment with an Orthodontist Work?
An appointment with an orthodontist is almost identical to one with a dentist. You’ll go to the medical office and remain seated until the desk clerk calls your name. At this point, you’ll head to the exam room. Since you probably received a referral to the orthodontist, you already know that you have an alignment problem with your teeth. Overbites and underbites are the most common problems. Whatever the issue, the orthodontist will inspect your mouth to decide the best course of action.
For certain treatments, you should expect several return visits. That’s particularly true if you need braces. First, you’ll receive the diagnosis followed by a preparatory session and some x-rays. Next, you’ll have the braces installed. Afterward, you’ll visit on a regularly scheduled basis to make sure that the braces are in working order. Finally, the dentist will remove the braces. The entire process usually takes one to three years. Once the orthodontist removes the braces, your teeth have been successfully straightened.
When it comes to straightening your teeth, booking an appointment with dentist first is the best course of action. If your dentist believes you can be treated with Invisalign, you may not need to see an orthodontist at all. But your dentist will know best and will refer you to an orthodontic specialist if your case requires it.
If you do visit an orthodontist, you should have confidence that you’re visiting a skilled professional. While you may have to wear braces, an aligner, or metal headgear for a while, your orthodontist has your best interests at heart and will work to deliver you the best smile possible.
If your dental insurance covers orthodontics, it might be a good idea to consider starting the treatment towards the end of a calendar year so that your treatment payments can span 2 years since most insurance plans will have an annual limit. We make it easy to see all of our network offices that provide orthodontics or offices that provide Invisalign.