Orthodontists are dental specialists who focus on diagnosing, preventing, and treating dental and facial irregularities. Although they share many similarities with general dentists, their scope of practice is different in significant ways. From special education and training to the unique types of services they offer, orthodontists are experts in aligning teeth and jaws.
Orthodontists Are Dentists First
Before they become specialized in the field of orthodontics, orthodontists start their journey as general dentists. After completing an undergraduate degree, usually in a science-related field, they attend dental school for four years to obtain a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD). This gives them a strong foundational understanding of general dentistry, including skills in oral health care, diagnostics, and treatment planning.
Special Education and Training
After becoming licensed dentists, aspiring orthodontists must undergo additional training and education to specialize in the field. This involves a postgraduate orthodontic residency program that lasts two to three years. During this period, they receive intensive training on craniofacial growth and development, biomechanics, and specialized orthodontic techniques.
This additional training sets them apart from general dentists, qualifying them to treat complex orthodontic cases. They learn to use diagnostic tools like X-rays and computer imaging, study bite problems, and explore various treatment modalities, such as braces and clear aligners.
Upon completion of their specialty training, orthodontists can become board-certified through passing rigorous exams and meeting specific practice requirements. This certification serves as a testament to their expertise and commitment to delivering high-quality orthodontic care.
Unique Types of Services
Orthodontists offer a range of services that go beyond what general dentists usually provide. While general dentists might offer some basic orthodontic treatments, orthodontists are equipped to handle more complicated cases that require a high level of expertise. Here are some unique types of services that orthodontists offer:
Orthodontists are the go-to professionals for straightening teeth. Whether it’s with traditional braces, clear aligners, or other appliances, they create personalized treatment plans to correct bite issues and align teeth effectively.
Issues like overbites, underbites, and crossbites are well within an orthodontist’s purview. They utilize various orthodontic appliances to improve the relationship between the upper and lower jaws.
Management of Oral Development
Orthodontists also play a crucial role in managing and guiding the oral development of children. They can identify and treat issues that may affect a child’s developing jaws and teeth, potentially preventing more serious problems down the line.
For severe cases that cannot be treated with braces or aligners alone, surgical orthodontics may be necessary. Orthodontists work closely with oral and maxillofacial surgeons to plan and execute surgical procedures that reposition jaws and align teeth.
Treatment of Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD)
Orthodontists can diagnose and manage disorders that affect the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects the jaw to the skull. Treatments can include specialized appliances or specific exercises to alleviate discomfort.
While all orthodontists are dentists, not all dentists are orthodontists. The specialized education and training that orthodontists receive prepare them to offer unique services in the alignment of teeth and jaws. Whether you’re considering teeth straightening or need to address a complex bite issue, an orthodontist is the dental specialist you’ll want to consult.
Should Everyone See an Orthodontist?
The question of whether everyone should see an orthodontist is nuanced. While not everyone may require orthodontic treatment, it can be beneficial for most people to have at least one consultation with an orthodontist at some point in their lives. Here are some reasons why:
Early Intervention for Children
It’s generally recommended that children have their first orthodontic evaluation by the age of 7. Early intervention can help identify potential problems with jaw growth and emerging teeth. In some cases, early treatment can prevent more severe issues later on, possibly reducing the need for extensive treatment in the future.
Adolescent and Adult Assessments
Orthodontic issues don’t solely affect children. Teens and adults can also experience problems requiring intervention, such as misaligned teeth or bite issues. For adults who skipped orthodontic treatment as kids or have experienced shifts in their teeth alignment, seeing an orthodontist can provide solutions for improved oral health and aesthetics.
Even if you don’t currently have any obvious orthodontic issues, a consultation can serve as a preventive measure. Orthodontists can identify minor issues that could become more significant problems down the line. Addressing these concerns early can sometimes prevent the need for more intensive treatment later.
Aesthetic and Functional Benefits
Orthodontic treatment often results in a more visually pleasing alignment of the teeth, but it also has functional benefits. Proper alignment can improve your bite, reduce wear on your teeth, and make it easier to speak and eat. For many, the self-confidence that comes with an improved smile is a valuable outcome in itself.
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