Orthodontics: What It Is, What Orthodontists Do, and Who Needs It

What Is Orthodontics?

Orthodontics is a specialized field within dentistry focused on diagnosing, preventing and treating malocclusions, or bad bites. More specifically, orthodontics involves using a variety of removable, fixed, functional and surgical appliances to properly align crowded, crooked, overlapping, gapped, protruding, or shifted teeth and reposition misaligned jaws over time for improved dental health, function and esthetics.

The word orthodontics comes from the Greek words “orthos” meaning correct or straight and “odont” meaning tooth. The end goal is teeth positioned harmoniously with jaws for ideal stability, ability to bite and chew without strain or wear issues, good cleaning access to reduce decay and gum disease risks, plus a confidence boosting smile.

What Exactly Does An Orthodontist Do?

An orthodontist has undergone 2-3 years intense extra education and training following dental school focused on the intricacies of optimal tooth movement guidance and occlusion management. Their role is to:

  • Assess craniofacial and chewing development issues in growing children and teens
  • Characterize misalignment severity and root causes through diagnostic records
  • Time careful interceptive treatments during key growth windows
  • Create personalized treatment plans outlining techniques, appliances and timelines to realign teeth
  • Bond fixed or customize removable orthodontic appliances to incrementally shift teeth
  • Perform surgical exposure or facilitate extraction when impactions need to be resolved
  • Manage patient discomfort and appliance breakage issues as they arise
  • Coordinate multidisciplinary case management with other dental/medical teams

In essence, orthodontists diagnose and treat orthodontic conditions utilizing their deep grasp of the intricacies surrounding tooth eruption guidance, bite management and aligned dental arches over time.

How Do Orthodontics and Dentistry Differ?

  • Dentists focus on prevention, hygiene, repairs and disease treatment whereas orthodontists specialize in controlled straightening of misaligned teeth and jaws.
  • Orthodontists undergo an additional residency program after dental school for advanced realignment training using fixed wires, removable appliances, habit modification tools and oral surgery referrals.
  • Most general dentists offer some orthodontic services like clear aligners for simple straightening. But orthodontists tackle more complex bite conditions and occlusion optimization.
  • Goals differ too – dentists aim to fill cavities, ensure gum health and maintain overall oral function while orthodontists specifically transform smiles impacted by severely crowded, skewed, gapped arches or abnormal bite.

Basic Definition of Orthodontics In simplest terms, orthodontics moves misaligned teeth into better positions in the dental arches using appliances that apply gentle constant pressure over time to shift alignments toward the desired ideal occlusion goals.

Do Orthodontists Just Focus on Braces?

While most patients equate orthodontic treatment with getting traditional metal braces or clear aligners, orthodontists actually utilize a variety of treatment approaches to move teeth including:

  • Removable orthodontic aligners
  • Lingual braces secured to the tongue-facing surfaces of teeth
  • Palatal expanders widening the upper arch
  • Headgear appliances using external tension
  • Computer-assisted digital archwire adjustments
  • Surgical enhancements to reposition jaws or expose impacted teeth

And much orthodontic treatment revolves around subtle growth guidance in childhood to prevent more invasive interventions later through early appliances that influence eruption and craniofacial development favorably.

Is Orthodontics Covered by the NHS?

Orthodontics provision through the NHS depends greatly on the severity of the case. Only about 30% of orthodontic applicants meet the threshold for NHS eligibility in England/Wales which requires objective evidence that functional issues like speech impediments or chewing interference are impacting oral health quality before treatment funding gets approved. Purely cosmetic concerns typically do not qualify.

The approval decision also factors in considerations like the patient’s dental/gum health status, cooperation likelihood for appliance wear compliance, oral hygiene capacity and if extractions or surgeries must accompany.

But rejected applicants or those simply wanting subtler orthodontic movementsesthetic improvements can pursue private pay options customizing treatment intensity, materials and appointment flexibility.

Who Needs Orthodontic Treatment?

Orthodontists assess the following factors to determine who requires their bite and smile transformation expertise:

  • Crowding, crookedness, gaps or teeth erupting out of line
  • Overjets and related protrusion issues
  • Crossbites with mismatched dental midlines
  • Overbites leaving insufficient vertical overlap
  • Impactions that fail to erupt properly into arches
  • Abnormal, uneven or shifting bite function
  • Slanted, asymmetric or off-center midface growth

Ideally orthodontic screenings begin around age 7 so preventative adjustments reduce invasive treatment needs down the road. But many adults also pursue realignment to halt damage progressions like worn enamel or headaches.

Consults with experienced orthodontists determine who needs what intervention when through standardized diagnostic record analysis. Catching brace-worthy issues early allows for simpler corrections.

Role of Orthodontic Retainers

After the teeth have been moved into proper alignment, orthodontic retainers play a crucial role in ensuring they do not shift back towards their original positions. Retainers worn after active orthodontic treatment hold the teeth in their new corrected positions while surrounding bone, gums and muscles adapt to the changes.

There are removable clear plastic retainers that must be worn daily at first, then nightly on an ongoing basis as well as fixed wire lingual retainers bonded permanently behind the teeth for more continuous retention. Failure to comply with regular retainer use post-orthodontics often results in some degree of relapse over the following years.

Emerging Technologies in Orthodontics

New approaches are enabling orthodontists to move teeth faster and more precisely than traditional braces through advances like:

  • 3D printing for clearer, better-fitting aligners
  • Customized archwires activated by robots for gradual control
  • Temporary anchorage devices avoiding reliance on patient compliance
  • Accelerated orthodontics using devices inducing bone remodeling

Virtual treatment planning and simulations also now allow patients to preview their anticipated smile outcomes well before starting orthodontic therapy. Digital scanners capture highly exact dental impressions too.

Orthodontics Musts for Healthy Smiles While 1Aorthodontics largely focuses on reshaping smiles, there are crucial health benefits as well. Well-aligned teeth are easier to brush and floss thoroughly to reduce gum disease risks. They distribute biting forces evenly avoiding appliance fractures and damage to roots or the TMJ joint. And they optimize airflow breathing patterns for sleeping and sports endurance. While a beautiful smile matters, don’t overlook the vital health perks! Visit to know more about what is Orthodontics?