What is an Orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a specialist in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. In other words, they specialize in moving teeth and aligning jaws. They limit their practice to orthodontic treatment only. A general dentist may provide orthodontic services, just as they can perform the procedures of any other dental specialty, but without the additional training they cannot call themselves orthodontists.

All orthodontists are dentists, but only about six percent of dentists are orthodontists. Admission to orthodontic training programs is extremely competitive and selective. It takes many years to become an orthodontist and the educational requirements are demanding.

There are three steps in an orthodontist’s education: college, dental school and orthodontic residency program. It can take 10 or more years of education after high school to become an orthodontist. After completing college requirements, the prospective orthodontist attends dental school. After dental school, at least two or three academic years of advanced specialty education in an ADA-accredited orthodontic program are required to be an orthodontist (the majority of accredited training programs are now three years in length). The program includes advanced education in biomedical, behavioral and basic sciences and results in a master‘s degree, a certificate of training, or both. The orthodontic student learns the complex skills required to manage tooth movement (orthodontics) and guide facial development (dentofacial orthopedics). Only dentists who have successfully completed these advanced specialty education programs may call themselves orthodontists.

  • Only those who have successfully completed this formal education may call themselves orthodontists.
  • Orthodontists limit their scope of work to orthodontics only.**
  • Orthodontists are uniquely qualified in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of orthodontic problems. They dedicate their professional lives to creating healthy, beautiful smiles in children, teens and adults. Well-aligned teeth are more than attractive: they make it possible to bite, chew and speak effectively. Orthodontic care is often part of a comprehensive oral health plan.
  • Orthodontists use a variety of appliances, including braces, clear aligner trays and retainers, to move teeth or hold them in their new positions. Because of orthodontists’ advanced education and clinical experience, they have the knowledge and skills necessary to recommend the best kind of appliance to meet every individual patient’s treatment goals.
  • Only orthodontists are eligible for membership in the American Association of Orthodontists.

*On average, there are about 15 applicants for every opening.
**Unless they have also completed specialty education in another dental specialty recognized by the American Dental Association.

Article Courtesy of the American Association of Orthodontists