An orthodontist is a specialist in dentistry, whose primary concern is the treatment of improper bites (malocclusions).
These malocclusions can be caused by disproportionate jaw relationships or tooth irregularity or a combination of both.
The title of orthodontist comes from the Greek words ‘ortho’ which means straight and ‘odons’ which means tooth.
Although orthodontics can be sought for aesthetic reasons, usually people see their orthodontist for practical reasons, which have to do with the functionality of their bite. Many people with an improper bite can experience jaw pain or even dental health issues.
What Does an Orthodontist Do?
Orthodontists use hardware to align the patient’s teeth and improve their ability to shallow and chew without any challenges or discomfort. Retainers and headgear are sometimes used in tandem with the hardware inside the patient’s mouth to obtain optimal results. Even when the work is functional, the aesthetics of the patient’s bite are considered.
The primary role of the orthodontist is to match dental appliances into the patient’s mouth so that the position and relationship of the jaws and teeth can be modified and adjusted in order to realign the teeth. Utilizing plaster models of the teeth along with pictures of the patient, x-rays, and medical history, the orthodontist determines the treatment plan.
The orthodontist then designs and creates the appliances used to put the treatment plan into action. This may include spacers (space maintainers), arch wires, retainers, brackets, bands, as well as other appliances.
These appliances must be fine-tuned and modified periodically so as to properly move the teeth and the jaw to the desired positions.
Orthodontists have the same foundation training as dentists do: four years of dental school and Part I and II of the NBDE (National Board Dental Exam). The orthodontist then goes onto a 2-3 year orthodontic program for additional training.
Like the dentist, the orthodontist typically works for themselves, which provides tremendous flexibility and autonomy.
A solid background in higher level sciences such as chemistry, biology, and physics will help. Latin is highly beneficial as are business, psychology, and sociology courses. You will need background in running your own business and working with the public.
Extra-curricular activities which provide opportunities to gain people skills are worthwhile as well. Sculpting courses will help improve your manual dexterity and prove useful in your practice. There is no required degree to get into dental school, but you must do well on all of the science and math courses you take.
A 3.5 GPA overall and in the science courses plus a high score on the DAT (Dental Admission Test) will help you gain entry into dental school. The DAT is a tough exam, which gauges your knowledge of higher-level science courses, as well as your math comfort.
Part of the test involves reading and understanding quantitative studies utilizing exponential notation, Algebraic equations, probability and statistics, fractions, percentages, trigonometry, conversions, and geometry.
Perceptual ability is tested with paper-folding, angle discrimination, orthographic projections, and apertures. Conceptual ability to imagine how an unfolded, irregular, and multi-sided object will look when folded is essential to doing well on this section of the test. Reading skills are critical to this test as well.
Orthodontists employ orthodontic assistants. The orthodontist assistant is a specialized dental aide. Their daily tasks may include taking patient x-rays or teeth molds, taking patient history, sterilizing instruments, or assisting the orthodontist during treatment by handing him the tools needed.
Typically, the assistant has more one-on-one interaction with the patient and can alert the orthodontist to any relevant information.
Orthodontist assistants tend to have steady hands, good interpersonal skills, and are interested in teeth. Preparation begins in high school with higher level science and math courses.
Orthodontists assistants can either opt for a certificate program, which will take roughly nine to twelve months, or a two-year associates degree. Coursework will include radiology, infection control, and dental anatomy. Many states do not require certification, but many orthodontist assistants opt to get it anyway.
It is another marker of your competence and training. The Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) exam is given by the Dental Assisting National Board. However, most states do require licensure of some kind. These requirements vary by state.
Orthodontists and orthodontist assistants work in tandem to create the most effective and pleasant experience possible for their patients.