Orthodontics is the specialist field of dentistry focused on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of issues developing from alignment problems with the teeth and jaw.
The practice of orthodontics consists of the design, application and control of corrective appliances including braces, retainers and Invisalign® with the main goal of bringing teeth, lips and jaws into proper alignment to achieve facial balance. Orthodontics will enhance the smile by straightening the teeth and correcting the bite.
Straight teeth are much easier to clean than crowded or crooked teeth, which can lead to gum and bone problems even at an early age. They are also easier to brush and floss.
An incorrect bite can cause damage to the teeth by wearing them down. Irregular teeth can meet each other at an adverse angle and a deep vertical overlap of the front teeth can markedly shorten the crowns of the lower front teeth. Protruding teeth may be more susceptible to accidental damage. Correcting this protrusion will place the front teeth behind the lips, giving them more protection.
Early correction of crossbites of the back teeth can improve symmetrical lower jaw growth. Correction of the crossbites of front teeth can reduce adverse tooth wear and improve lower jaw function. Openbites may cause speech impediments and tongue-thrusting habits.
An orthodontist is a specialist who has completed additional university study on top of their dentist degree.
After completing a five-year dental undergraduate programme, an orthodontist usually practices first as a general dentist, before undertaking further post-graduate specialist studies. After additional full-time study in the field of orthodontics, they graduate with a Master of Dental Surgery in Orthodontics. This master's degree or doctorate involves three years of full-time training at an accredited university, studying only orthodontics. This involves all aspects of orthodontic treatment from the simplest removable appliance treatment, through all types of fixed appliances to cleft-lip and palate and skeletal deformities treatment.
This university degree involves around 3,000 hours of study, most of which are one-to-one level with the teachers. The breadth and depth of the training ensure that the qualified specialist orthodontist is most able to assess the best treatment for an individual.
Orthodontists keep knowledge current through ongoing continuing professional development. Orthodontic specialists are often members of the New Zealand Association of Orthodontists.