More Than Just Creating Smiles: What an Orthodontist Does

Think of orthodontics, and you likely think of braces and straight, white smiles. But orthodontics is about much more than creating smiles. Orthodontists have extensive specialized training that makes them a healthcare provider unlike any other. I’m going to explain why, and what this means for the care they can provide to their patients.

Ortho vs Dentist

I’d like to start this discussion by making the distinction between family dentists and orthodontists.

All orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists. Orthodontists have gone to dental school and have gone on to complete additional training, a 3-year residency in orthodontics. Some orthodontists may complete even more additional, specialized training after that.

In their specialized training, orthodontists learn about the anatomy of the mouth, face, and head; how the bones, teeth, and muscles interact; and yes, how to straighten teeth. Orthodontists also learn the art of orthodontics along with the science. There’s a nuance to the practice, which requires a sensitivity to not only fix an underlying dental issue, but to make the smile as aesthetically pleasing as possible.

While I’m on the topic of orthodontists and dentists, I think it’s worth mentioning that many more dentists today are offering teeth straightening services to their patients. I understand the drive behind this, as patients may prefer to be treated by their family dentist, whom they already know, like, and trust. But I must stress that family dentists simply do not have the training or the experience that orthodontists do. It is certainly possible to get satisfactory results from a family dentist, but I have seen many cases where teeth straightened treatment from a dentist ended up causing more problems that I later had to fix. For something as important as your teeth, I advise against getting your teeth straightened by a family dentist. It’s best to work with an expert.  

Beyond Straight Teeth: Addressing Other Issues with Orthodontics

Because of our specialized training, we’re in a unique position to uncover and potentially treat many issues that aren’t related to straightening teeth at all.

– Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD)

TMD, a disorder of the jaw joint, is one such issue. This is the disorder that can cause clicking or popping, pain in the jaw, head, and neck, and many more symptoms. It may be the cause of or may be exacerbated by teeth grinding and clenching. With our knowledge of anatomy and how to treat jaw issues, we can often help people fix the underlying problem and find relief from their symptoms.

– Sleep disorders

Orthodontists may be able to help with snoring, sleep apnea, and other sleep. When sleep disorders are caused by anatomical issues, such as a narrow palate or airway that’s obstructed due to excess tissue, we’re able to diagnose and possibly treat the problem. People suffering sleep disorders may go to their family doctor first but should also consider a trip to the orthodontist.

– Functional issues

Finally, functional issues such as difficulty biting, chewing, swallowing, and speaking may be helped with orthodontic treatment. These conditions may be caused by misaligned teeth or a misaligned bite, and correcting it makes the problem disappear.  

An Investment in Your Smile, and Much More

As you can see, orthodontists are more than dentists who straighten teeth. We have specialized training that allows us to work with patients on a variety of issues, both aesthetic or functional. If you recognize yourself in any of the descriptions above, I encourage you to see an orthodontist, even if it’s been years (or even decades) since you’ve been. You may be surprised at how much more we can do than straighten teeth!