Why an Orthodontist (What is an Orthodontist?)


For those who have had braces, most are familiar with who an orthodontist is. But there are still many people who don’t know exactly what an orthodontist is, and how they differ from their general dentist. Ready for an explanation? Here we go…

An orthodontist is a specialist in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities (straightening teeth, and aligning the jaws). Being a specialist has two components: 1) Attaining a specialized and ADA accredited education, and 2) real world practice where a specialist’s sole focus is on that specialty alone.

All orthodontists are dentists, but only about six percent of dentists are orthodontists. An orthodontist must complete undergraduate college requirements before starting a three-to five-year graduate program at a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA).  After dental school, at least two or three academic years of advanced specialty education in an ADA-accredited orthodontic residency program are required to be an orthodontist.  Admission to most orthodontic programs is extremely competitive and selective. The training includes advanced education in bio-medical, behavioral and basic sciences.  The orthodontic student learns the complex skills required to manage tooth movement (orthodontics) and guide facial development (dentofacial orthopedics).

It takes many years to become an orthodontist and the educational requirements are demanding. Personally, my residency required classes and clinical training, all day, five days a week, with studying and research in the off hours and weekends. I spent about 65-70 hours a week training, treating patients, studying, and preparing for my research. I received my Masters Degree in Orthodontics at the completion of my residency (This is a bit reversed as opposed to other professions. We receive our doctorate first, and then can receive a masters if we become a specialist).

Only dentists who have successfully completed these advanced specialty education programs (accredited by the ADA) may call themselves orthodontists. General dentists can do orthodontics, but may not call themselves orthodontists or an orthodontic specialist. An orthodontist does not do crowns, implants, cleanings, fillings, sealants or veneers. These are services that general dentists excel at, as they perform these skills daily in their practices.

The American Association of Orthodontics has a web site dedicated to educating the public about our specialty, which can be found here:  https://www.braces.org/. A slogan on the site is,

“Your smile deserves a specialist. And orthodontics is all we do.”

This brings us to the second part of being a specialist. Orthodontics is what I do (and all orthodontists do) exclusively. I have been studying and practicing orthodontics only, for nine and a half years. After graduating from my residency specialty program I was well prepared, but was not even near the orthodontist that I am today. Proficiency and expertise comes from experience (in addition to a great education). Even having treated over 5,000 patients with braces and Invisalign, I learn something as a specialist every day, which further enhances and fine tunes my skills. Doing a proper job aligning the teeth and jaws can be very complex, and then comes the artistic part: noticing and detailing the little and not-so-little nuances that really make things beautiful. Speaking for myself, these qualities have only become exceptionally developed through treating thousands of cases, dedicating myself to continuing education, and being open to examination and criticism through the process of Board Certification (only 40% of orthodontist are Board Certified by the American Board of Orthodontics (see below).

As I tell people, braces and Invislalign are only tools, just as a paintbrush is only a tool for painting. Just as works of art come from the artist who is doing the painting, not the brush, exceptional results come from your choice of professional, not the braces themselves.

So how can you be sure you are seeing an orthodontist for your Braces or clear aligners(Invisalign)? Use these resources and links below.

aao_logoThe American Association of Orthodontists (AAO)  Only dentists who have completed an ADA accredited orthodontic residency program (2-3 years) may call themselves “orthodontists,” and only orthodontists are accepted for membership in the AAO. By choosing an AAO member, the public is assured that the doctor truly is an orthodontist.

To find an AAO member, click here:  https://www.braces.org/

aboThe American Board of Orthodontics (ABO)  Orthodontic specialists can become board-certified by the American Board of Orthodontics(ABO). Board-certified orthodontists are known as Diplomates of the American Board of Orthodontics. The American Board of Orthodontics is the only boarding organization for the orthodontic specialty that is recognized by the American Dental Association (Please note that you can be an orthodontist and not be board certified- this is an optional process).

To find a board certified orthodontist, click here:  https://www.americanboardortho.com/public/


Information Courtesy of American Association of Orthodotists (AAO), and the American Board of Orthodontics (ABO)