Orthodontists have the power to help people feel less anxious about their teeth. They get to help improve smiles and give their patients self-confidence through their work.
Orthodontists are dentists who specialize in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They have the important job of helping people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion. Patients' general dentists refer them to orthodontists when their teeth are not straight and it is affecting them or could affect them in a negative way in the future. An improper bite can mean that a patient's teeth are growing in crooked or crowded and creating discomfort. Even if there is no pain or discomfort, a patient may simply want to improve their appearance with a straighter set of teeth. Generally, orthodontists spend a lot of time setting patients up with a proper set of braces to achieve straighter smiles.
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Orthodontists take a look at patients' teeth both directly and via x-rays and molds to determine exactly how the teeth are misaligned, and then come up with the most effective treatment solution. It is an orthodontist's job to fix the major imperfections of a malocclusion, and some are more serious than others. Therefore, an orthodontist's job can range from simply applying, adjusting, and removing braces to taking steps to control facial growth.
Orthodontists treat people of all ages with jaw alignment issues. First, it is necessary that patients come in for a consultation – an assessment of their jaw and teeth malocclusion. They are usually referred to an orthodontist from their general dentist, who spots the malocclusion first. In this initial appointment, he or she will examine the teeth and jaws, and perhaps take x-rays or molds of the teeth. These specialty dentists can usually spot the major and/or minor issues right away after this first visit. It is then their job to explain to the patient exactly what the issues are with teeth alignment and then recommend some sort of strategy for treatment.
Treatment for patients with malocclusions usually comes in the form of applying braces. While people of all ages may need and wear braces, children in their teens make up the bulk of people who wear orthodontic braces for an extended period of time. It is an ideal age for wearing braces because the teeth and face are in a time of constant and significant growth, and it is better to catch and correct any teeth alignment issues early on instead of later. This way, teens' braces will help guide teeth, keeping them straight and preventing future malocclusion issues. Once an orthodontist applies braces to a patient’s teeth, the patient must come in for regular check-ups so the dentist can make any necessary adjustments as time passes. Ultimately, when the desired result has been achieved, the braces are removed.
Beyond braces, orthodontists deal with other conditions such as jaw pain, speech impediments, sleep apnea, gum disease, and difficulty chewing.
To become an orthodontist, one must first complete four years of undergraduate education and receive a bachelor's degree. The degree can be in any subject, but it is recommended that those interested in going on to dental school take some science and biology courses; a major in a science- or biology-related field can only help boost dental school applications.
After four years of undergraduate school, prospective orthodontists must study for four more years at an accredited dental school. Accredited dental schools can be found all over the U.S. and Canada. See the end of this page for links to five highly reputable schools. The topics covered in dental school courses include general ones such as anatomy, microbiology, and physiology. There are also required courses that cover orthodontics more specifically: occlusion, dental materials, and pediatric dentistry are some examples of course focuses.
Dental students spend the first two years taking courses in traditional classrooms, but then they must gain some practical experience in the field in clinics during their last two years of dental school.
Once students have completed their four years of dental school, they must do a few more things before they can receive a dental license. Orthodontists must be licensed in their state to practice. Therefore, they must pass state clinical tests. Also, they must successfully pass the written National Board Dental Examinations. After passing these requirements, orthodontists should seek out certification from the American Board of Orthodontics by passing written and clinical exams.
Education aside, orthodontists must have a good bedside manner, which means they will be friendly and approachable when dealing with patients. They must have exceptional hand-eye coordination and a steady hand, as they are often working with tools in small areas of the mouth. They also need to be able to work at a reasonable pace and stick to a schedule, as they will regularly have multiple patients throughout the day with scheduled appointment times.
Orthodontists tend to work at dentist offices with a team that consists of other orthodontists, secretaries, assistants, and other positions. Dentist offices can be found all over – in the suburbs or in the city – because everybody needs a dentist, and many people are naturally born with misaligned sets of teeth.
Successful orthodontists can expect high salaries for their meticulous work. According to various sources, orthodontists can expect to earn an average annual salary that ranges between $100,000 and $200,000.