What Does an Orthodontist Do?


Orthodontic treatment addresses tooth alignment, jaw positioning, and other orofacial/orthognathic treatment. Essentially, orthodontists ensure that the teeth and jaws fit together in a proper occlusion (bite) allowing patients to chew and speak efficiently.

Orthodontists have 2-3 years of formal education on top of their already four years of dental school. While a family dentist can practice limited forms of orthodontic therapy, an orthodontist will not offer general dental treatments.

Types of Orthodontics

An orthodontist uses appliances to facilitate mouth and bite development patterns. In most cases, these are non-surgical techniques like:

Growth Modification / Orthognathic Therapy — A significant amount of orofacial anatomy and tooth alignment concerns begin during a young age, while the face and mouth is still developing. This reason is why many dental experts recommend an orthodontic evaluation by the time a child reaches age 7.

An orthodontist can use non-surgical orthognathic aids (such as palatal expanders, space maintainers, or Herbst appliances) to modify growth patterns and tooth alignment in a manner that significantly limits the amount of time spent in braces later on. Such orthognathic resources may even eliminate the need for jaw surgery when a patient gets older and has completed their physical development.

Fixed Appliances — Conventional metal, ceramic, and lingual braces use sets of fixed brackets and arch wires to nudge and guide teeth into proper alignment. An orthodontist will map out and plan the stages of tooth movement while also incorporating appliances such as orthognathic aids and rubber bands.

Removable Appliances — From clear orthodontic aligners to specialized retainers made to move teeth, an orthodontist will fit, oversee, and manage the device to ensure that the teeth move as desired.

What About Surgery?

In some cases, an orthodontist may need to perform minimally invasive oral surgeries or refer patients to an oral surgeon as part of their treatment. Some examples include exposing unerupted or impacted teeth, tooth extractions, or jaw re-positioning.

What do Straight Teeth Have to do With Dental Health?

A misaligned bite can cause significant aesthetic concerns, affecting the self-confidence of the individual at hand. However, it also plays a key role in an increased risk of oral health concerns like:

With the help of an orthodontist, complex misalignment needs can be corrected using orthognathic therapy or fixed appliances.

Seeing a Dentist vs. an Orthodontist for Braces

Some general dentists do offer expanded services in their private practices, but just like other types of specialty treatments, there comes a time where patients need to be referred to an expert. Orthodontic therapy is no different.

Minimal tooth movement and accelerated cosmetic braces or aligners may be available at your family dentist’s office if that dentist has received special training in those particular services (which generally consists of specific courses for those types of braces alone.) However, if you want different options or have a moderate to severe bite misalignment that needs to be addressed, you’ll want to see an orthodontist.

Entrusting your treatment to an orthodontist allows for the highest quality of comprehensive treatment available. Additionally, there’s less of a risk for treatment to not go as planned, because it’s being overseen by an experienced expert. Electing to have professional orthodontic care will ensure the best results possible.

Doesn’t an Orthodontist Cost More?

There’s a misconception that the only way to afford braces is to get them from your family dentist instead of seeing a specialist. In orthodontics, that’s usually not the case. Because such treatments require specialized tools and equipment, it can actually cost a general dentist more in overhead expenses than it does for an orthodontist to provide the same service. As such, getting treatment from one over the other will usually cost about the same. When it comes to your “return on investment,” seeing an orthodontist may be the better choice (depending on the situation, of course.)

For families that carry dental insurance, your plan may cover orthodontic treatment regardless as to which provider completes the service. You can take your coverage to either an orthodontist or a dentist.

If you don’t have insurance or your plan doesn’t include orthodontic benefits after a certain age (which is the case for many adults,) you may want to consider an affordable alternative: Cigna dental savings plans. These Cigna discount dental programs offer 15-50% off of a variety of services, including braces, and are accepted nationwide.

For more information about Cigna dental savings plans, visit cignadentalplans.com.

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