Phlebotomist, Agronomist, Chemist, Orthodontist – there so many words that end in “-ist!” and yet only one defines a person whose chief duty is to give you a straighter, more beautiful smile, which you can exhibit as much as you please. As there are many specialists in the medical field (cardiologists, dermatologists, gastroenterologists, ophthalmologists and neurosurgeons, just to name a few), there are also many specialists in the field of dentistry.

If you or your loved ones have ever been a little unclear as to exactly what an Orthodontist is, the following thought may have crossed your mind: “Will someone please tell me who this person is, dressed in a Doctor’s white coat, fashioning a bright blue latex glove on each hand, and who is ready to poke and probe at my teeth?!”

The interesting truth is that an orthodontist is a dentist who, in addition to 4 years of pre-dental school and then 4 years of actual dental school, has taken 2 to 3 more years of specialized training in Orthodontics – a branch of dentistry that deals specifically with the correction of misaligned teeth. So the next time you meet an Orthodontist, know that he or she was required to read mountains and mountains of books – many of which probably featured a lot of words ending in “-ist!”

A dentist must attend an accredited Orthodontic school full time in order to become a specialist in Orthodontics. In 1900, the specialty of Orthodontics was established in St. Louis Missouri and the first association of Orthodontics came to be known as The American Society of Orthodontics. It was not until 1937, however, that the association name changed and is now known today as the American Association of Orthodontists, of which there are currently 15,000 members in the United States and Worldwide.

The work of an expert Orthodontist differs greatly from the work of a dentist, mainly because orthodontists are extensively and uniquely educated in tooth movement as well as jaw and facial growth and development. During the 2 to 3 years of Orthodontic school, an Orthodontist-to-be will study the growth and development of teeth, the biology and physics of tooth movement, the aging of teeth, gum diseases, the various methods of tooth movement, and different types of braces and retainers. Orthodontists in training also learn about the different types of functional orthodontic appliances and they are taught early interceptive treatment for children as young as five years old. But in reality, Orthodontists are trained to treat patients of all ages; an Orthodontist can have a morning appointment with someone who is forty-five years old and by noon, have an appointment with someone in the third grade.

Orthodontists study temporomandibular joint disorder (or TMJ Syndrome), which is a disorder that causes severe pain in the jaw and can be mistaken for an earache. Disorders of teeth, including misalignment, can worsen TMJ Syndrome. Orthodontists are experts at diagnosing jaw joint problems that may require braces and/or corrective surgery to alleviate the jaw misalignment problem. In separate cases that involve complicated treatment plans, an Orthodontist will collaborate with a Periodontist and a Prosthodontist to care for a patient who will need extensive restorative work after the braces are removed.

A Periodontist is a dentist whose area of expertise is in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease in the gums and supporting dental bone structure. A Prosthodontist, on the other hand, is a dentist who specializes in restoring a patient’s teeth; these are usually cases that require fixed bridgework, porcelain veneers, dental implants, crowns, dentures or partial dentures. And then there is the branch of dentistry that entails the care and treatment of children’s teeth (often, these are children with special needs); a person who is an expert in this field is known as a Pedodontist.

A wealth of knowledge is bestowed upon Orthodontic residents during Orthodontic school. This wealth of knowledge is set forth by full time and part time professors and clinical instructors, many of whom run their own Orthodontic practices. With an abundance of new information and technology appearing daily on the market, Orthodontic specialists are now able to stay on the cutting edge. They are able to quickly deliver the newest treatment modalities with the best results. Since Orthodontists are trained to focus on straightening your teeth, they are the most qualified to give you the smile and jaw alignment that you and your family desire.