What is an Orthodontist?
Patients with dental needs often ask what an orthodontist is, in terms of practice and qualifications. An orthodontist specializes in diagnosing, preventing, and treating irregularities in tooth and jaw positioning. Orthodontists treat malocclusion, or the misalignment of teeth. They also treat bite issues, or abnormal relationships between the upper and lower arches of the mouth. Orthodontists primarily treat these conditions with braces, but may use other tools and procedures.
Orthodontist vs. Dentist
The main difference between an orthodontist vs. dentist is that orthodontists perform one primary role, which is to straighten a patient’s teeth to ensure optimal function and form. Dentists perform a broader range of dental tasks. Dentists typically provide services such as teeth cleaning, whitening, fillings, crowns, and dentures. Orthodontists do not provide these services.
Education and Training
Both orthodontists and dentists must complete four years of education at an accredited dental school. After these four years, orthodontists and dentists receive separate types of specialist training in their respective field. Orthodontists must receive two to three years of specialized training to become a qualified orthodontist.
What Do Orthodontists Do?
Orthodontists specialize in two main areas: orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. Orthodontics is primarily associated with the management of tooth movement. Dentofacial orthopedics is the guidance of facial development and growth. An orthodontist typically utilizes braces for orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. Orthodontists may utilize other tools such as removable appliances called plates, expansion appliances, headgear, and other devices that aid in orthodontic and dentofacial orthopedic health.
Orthodontists specialize in the following types of treatment:
- Closing gaps between teeth
- Straightening crooked teeth
- Correcting an improper bite, such as an overbite or underbite
- Improving oral function, such as speech and eating
- Improving long-term dental health and preventing periodontal and gum disease
- Preventing long-term trauma and wear of the teeth
Dentofacial orthopedics may entail different processes for children and adults. Braces are the primary method of delivering dentofacial orthopedic benefits. However, in severe cases, dentofacial orthopedics may involve surgery. This is most common in adults, as the jaw bones are hardened and no longer forming. This makes it difficult to bring significant improvement with braces alone.
Dentofacial Orthopedics and Children
Facial growth and development occurs most significantly during childhood and young adulthood. Therefore, the role of braces in dentofacial orthopedics has the most impact on young patients. When the dental alignment issues are corrected with braces at a young age, the child’s jaw and facial development may be improved as he or she grows. This in turn can reduce or eliminate the need for special procedures such as surgery.
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