An orthodontist is a dentist whose speciality is the alignment of the teeth. Misalignment of the teeth and supporting areas of bone can cause problems with the function of the teeth and mouth, can create hard-to-clean areas of the mouth increasing the risk of decay and can be cosmetically undesirable. Orthodontists work within their own clinics or in dental centers and they work closely with dentists, dental or maxillofacial surgeons, and dental hygienists. Orthodontists perform thorough dental examinations and use diagnostic tools like X-rays to diagnose and plan treatment.
Orthodontists diagnose and treat both adults and children, and misalignment of the teeth can be improved at any time of life. Orthodontic treatment is common among people of all ages, with the most common treatments being non-surgical devices used to straighten or alter the positions of the teeth for therapeutic and cosmetic improvements.
The aim of orthodontic treatment is to fix misaligned teeth, which can be crowded or too widely spaced, crooked, or come together in an overbite or underbite. Orthodontists aim to improve the appearance of the smile, and to enable the proper chewing of food, speech, and teeth cleaning. Misalignment of the teeth can be fixed or reduced in a number of ways, such as braces, retainers, or Invisalign.
Braces involve cementing tiny brackets to the front of each tooth to hold a wire in place, which can be tightened or loosened to help move teeth, very gradually, into better positions in the mouth and in relation to each other. The brackets attached to the teeth are traditionally made of metal, but different coloured braces are available, which children may particularly enjoy. Ceramic braces are also available, and the brackets of ceramic braces are much less visible than metal ones. Traditional braces have the advantage of being proven to correct misalignment even where there is jaw involvement.
Newer orthodontics treatments are emerging as alternatives to fixed metal or ceramic braces, including clear aligners such as Invisalign®, a specially shaped clear plastic device which is fitted over the teeth. These are removable, which aids with teeth cleaning, and are almost invisible. As the teeth move gradually to fit into the shape of the device, new devices have to be created regularly to keep shifting the teeth towards their desired position.
Retainers are often used when treatment with braces is complete, they are specially formed guards that fit over the teeth and keep them in the positions set by the braces. These have the advantage of being removable and can be worn only at night, although the more they are worn, the better they work.
The work of an orthodontist also includes giving advice on how best to prevent future problems with the mouth, including dental hygiene advice and compliance with orthodontic treatment. Dental hygiene is of utmost importance when orthodontic appliances are in place, as plaque can develop around fixtures if not kept thoroughly clean, leading to problems with demineralisation of the tooth enamel, increasing the risk of tooth decay.