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This dental specialty focuses on fixing misaligned teeth and jaws, and the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. Orthodontists use corrective appliances like braces to straighten teeth, correct bites, close gaps between teeth, and bring the mouth and lips into proper alignment. Orthodontists were once thought to be a pediatric dentist, since most of his or her patients were children and teens. These day’s orthodontists see children, teens, and adults on a regular basis. In fact, almost 30% of people wearing braces or receiving orthodontic treatments are adults.

Orthodontists are dentists who practice orthodontics. Typically, they must complete an additional 2-3 years of orthodontic education after their 4-year ADA-accredited dental program, before earning certification to practice. General dentists do not practice orthodontics, so if you are a candidate, he or she will most likely be referred to one for an evaluation of your bite. Orthodontic treatments improve your facial appearance by reshaping your jaw, neck and lips. It’s a proven fact that aligned teeth are easier to keep clean, which results in better oral hygiene.

What is Orthodontics?

The branch of dentistry that corrects teeth and jaws that are improperly positioned is orthodontics. Sometimes teeth are crooked, or do not fit properly together. Teeth of this nature are harder to clean, which leads to earlier tooth decay, tooth loss, and periodontal disease. Headaches, neck and shoulder pain and TMJ syndrome are what results from teeth that are left untreated by an orthodontist. Orthodontics is also being used in cosmetic dentistry procedures, using treatment methods such as implants to fix gaps or properly align teeth and jaws.

Visiting the Orthodontist

During your first visit to the orthodontist, he or she may use several methods to develop an orthodontic treatment plan, including:

  • Impressions of your teeth and bite
  • Panoramic x-rays of your head
  • Intraoral and facial photographs
  • Oral, facial and functional examination

After the evaluations and examinations, the orthodontist will also look over your previous dental records, perform clinical assessments, and consult with you to devise the best possible treatment plan. In most cases, no major work is done on the first visit.

During the second visit to the orthodontist, the treatment plan is brought more into focus on a specific timeline (most are a two year period) depending on individual characteristics of the patient, including:

  • Age
  • Extent of misalignment
  • How often you receive treatment or stick to the treatment plan

The orthodontic treatments usually take quicker to younger patients since their bones are more bendable and/or pliable than bones in adults. However, adults follow directions better and stick to treatment plans more consistently than younger patients. Occasionally, treatment takes longer due to things such as a need for oral surgery or when the jaw needs to be widened. Recovery times may be needed for during and after the surgery, extending the length of your treatment plan.

Are You a Candidate for Orthodontics?

Here are a few questions that may or may not suggest you need to see an orthodontist:

  • Do you have one or more crooked teeth?
  • Are you suffering from headaches, neck and shoulder pain?
  • Do you feel like your facial features are not properly aligned?
  • Do you have an under or overbite?
  • Are you unhappy with the way your teeth look when you smile?

If you answered yes to these questions, you should probably consider seeing an orthodontist, even if it’s for a consultation and examination. Referrals can come from family, friends, or other trusted dentists, such as your general dentist.

Page updated February 2011



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