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Oral Health

What an Orthodontist Does and When to See One


Oral health is a window into your overall health. Orthodontic treatment helps ensure the proper function of teeth and creates healthy smiles.

A correct bite makes it easier for you to eat, bite, chew, and speak.

Teeth that are misaligned are harder to clean and can cause abnormal wearing of tooth enamel, which can lead to extensive and expensive dental procedures.


Orthodontic treatment is not a quick fix. It is a complex biological process. It involves changes in jaw bones, facial bones, and soft tissue as teeth are moved into their new positions.

Your care often starts with a thorough examination of the teeth and mouth, and a study of dental records like x-rays, photos and models of the teeth. From this, your orthodontist can develop a custom treatment plan.

Working together with your orthodontist, orthodontic treatment can yield life-enhancing results: better function and appearance.

What is an orthodontist?

Orthodontists are graduates of both dental and orthodontic school. Similar to becoming a medical specialist, such as a surgeon or an internist, orthodontists complete an orthodontic residency program for two to three years after dental school.

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) is an organization that only orthodontists can be admitted to for membership.

It is in the orthodontic residency program that orthodontists receive intensive instruction to learn proper, safe tooth movement (orthodontics) and the guidance of dental, jaw, and facial development (dentofacial orthopedics). These extra years of schooling make the orthodontist the dental specialist in moving teeth and aligning jaws. This is the only focus of their practice.

Orthodontists treat patients of all ages and they regularly treat children, adolescents, and adults. They use in-person exams, as well as 2D or 3D x-rays, photos, and molds of the teeth to create a personalized treatment plan for each patient.

Orthodontists use the full range of “appliances” to correct orthodontic problems. The “appliance” is the term used for the device that moves teeth. It can be traditional braces, clear aligners, or braces on the inside of the teeth.

The orthodontist is uniquely qualified to recommend the most appropriate type of “appliance” to correct an individual’s problem.

And now you know the facts about orthodontists!

When you choose an AAO orthodontist for orthodontic treatment, you can be assured that you have selected a specialist orthodontist, an expert in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics who possesses the skills and experience to give you your best smile.


When to see an orthodontist

If you recognize any of these signs or concerns in your child or yourself, it might be time to schedule a consultation with an orthodontist:

  • Early or late loss of baby teeth
  • Difficulty chewing or biting
  • Mouth breathing
  • Sucking the thumb or fingers, or other oral habits
  • Crowded, misplaced, or blocked-out teeth
  • Jaws that shift, make sounds, protrude, or are recessed
  • Speech difficulty
  • Biting the cheek or biting into the roof of the mouth
  • Protruding teeth
  • Teeth that meet in an abnormal way or don’t meet at all
  • Facial imbalance or asymmetry (features out of proportion to the rest of the face)
  • Grinding or clenching of teeth
  • Inability to comfortably close lips

Our advice: keep your scheduled appointments, advise your orthodontist of problems that may pop up between appointments, watch what you eat and drink, avoid sugary drinks, and brush and floss as instructed by your orthodontist. It’s worth the effort to reach the goal you and your orthodontist share – giving you a healthy smile that will last a lifetime.

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