Dental Emergencies

What is Orthodontics: A Comprehensive Guide to Improving Your Smile and Oral Health

Orthodontics is a specialized branch of dentistry that focuses on diagnosing and treating malocclusion, commonly known as “bad bites.” This field of dentistry aims to improve the alignment of teeth and jaws, resulting in a healthier smile and better oral health. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various aspects of orthodontics, including common treatments, benefits, and risks associated with orthodontic procedures.

Understanding Orthodontics

Orthodontics and its Importance in Oral Health: The alignment of teeth plays a crucial role in oral health. When your teeth are properly aligned, it becomes easier to clean them effectively, reducing the risk of cavities, gum disease, and other oral health issues. Orthodontic treatment not only improves the appearance of your smile but also enhances chewing function and speech. Additionally, orthodontics can alleviate discomfort associated with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.

Who Provides Orthodontic Treatment? Orthodontic treatment is primarily performed by orthodontists, dental professionals who have undergone extensive training beyond dental school. Orthodontists specialize in improving the bite and alignment of teeth and jaws. They do not typically perform general dentistry treatments such as fillings, crowns, or bridges.

When Should You See an Orthodontist? According to the American Association of Orthodontists, it is recommended that children have their first orthodontic visit by the age of 7. While many children may not require immediate treatment at this age, an early evaluation can help identify any potential issues and allow for timely intervention. Orthodontic treatment during childhood can often minimize the need for extensive procedures in the future.

Common Orthodontic Problems

Orthodontic problems can vary in severity and may require different treatment approaches. Some of the most common orthodontic issues include:

  1. Overbite: When the upper teeth protrude over the lower teeth.
  2. Underbite: When the lower teeth extend further forward than the upper teeth.
  3. Overlapping, Crowded, Crooked, or Rotated Teeth: Teeth that are not properly aligned, causing aesthetic and functional concerns.
  4. Impacted Teeth: Teeth that are partially or fully trapped in the jawbone.

It is important to note that not everyone requires orthodontic treatment, but almost everyone can benefit from it to some extent. Orthodontic treatment provides not only cosmetic improvements but also enhanced chewing function and better oral health.

Orthodontic Treatment Options

Orthodontic treatment offers various methods to address different alignment issues. The most common treatments include braces, clear aligners, retainers, and palate expanders.


Braces are one of the most well-known and effective orthodontic treatments. They gradually shift teeth into their desired positions using brackets, bands, and wires. Traditional metal braces are a popular choice, but clear (ceramic) braces are also available for those seeking a more discreet option. Your orthodontist will determine the most suitable type of braces based on your specific needs.

Clear Aligners

Clear aligners, such as Invisalign®, have gained popularity as an alternative to braces. These custom-made, clear aligner trays gradually shift teeth into their proper positions. Unlike braces, clear aligners are removable and virtually invisible, offering a more discreet treatment option. Patients wear each set of aligners for a designated period before progressing to the next set in the series.


Retainers are essential after completing orthodontic treatment with braces or clear aligners. These custom oral appliances help maintain the newly achieved alignment of teeth, preventing them from shifting back to their original positions. Your orthodontist will provide guidance on how often and for how long you should wear your retainer to preserve the results of your treatment.

Palate Expanders

Orthodontic treatments during childhood may involve the use of palate expanders. These devices are used to widen a child’s upper jaw, creating additional space without the need for tooth extractions or other invasive procedures. Palate expanders are recommended in specific cases where a child’s facial bones are still developing and more easily manipulated.

Advantages of Orthodontics

Orthodontic treatment offers numerous benefits beyond cosmetic improvements. Some of the advantages include:

  • Improved Oral Health: Properly aligned teeth are easier to clean, reducing the risk of cavities, gum disease, and excessive wear.
  • Enhanced Chewing Function: Correcting bite issues can improve the efficiency of chewing and digestion.
  • Speech Improvement: Orthodontic treatment can address speech difficulties caused by misaligned teeth or jaws.
  • TMJ Disorder Relief: Aligning the bite can alleviate pain and discomfort associated with temporomandibular joint disorders.
  • Boosted Self-Confidence: A beautiful, straight smile can enhance self-esteem and confidence.

Disadvantages and Risks of Orthodontics

While orthodontic treatment offers numerous benefits, it is important to consider potential disadvantages and risks. These include:

  • Treatment Duration: Orthodontic treatment can take several months to years, depending on the complexity of the case and the desired outcome. It requires commitment and patience to achieve the desired results.
  • Maintenance and Oral Hygiene: Patients wearing braces or aligners need to follow strict oral hygiene practices to prevent cavities and gum disease. Regular brushing, flossing, and visits to the dentist are crucial.
  • Discomfort and Adjustments: Some discomfort and soreness are common during orthodontic treatment, especially after adjustments. However, the discomfort is temporary and can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Retainer Dependence: To maintain the results of orthodontic treatment, wearing retainers as directed by your orthodontist is essential. Failing to wear retainers can result in teeth shifting back to their original positions.

Long-Term Results and Maintenance

The longevity of orthodontic results depends on various factors, including proper retainer usage. If you consistently wear your retainer as instructed by your orthodontist, the results should last a lifetime. However, neglecting to wear the retainer can lead to teeth shifting back into their original positions over time. It is important to follow your orthodontist’s recommendations and attend regular check-ups to ensure the longevity of your orthodontic treatment.

When to Consult an Orthodontist

If you are concerned about the appearance, health, or function of your teeth, it is advisable to schedule an appointment with an orthodontist. Many orthodontists accept patients without a referral, but your dentist can also provide recommendations. For parents, it is recommended to have their children evaluated by an orthodontist by the age of 7 to identify any potential issues and initiate timely treatment if necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions about Orthodontics

1. What does an orthodontist do?

An orthodontist is a dental specialist who focuses on the alignment and positioning of teeth and jaws. They diagnose, prevent, and treat various dental irregularities such as crooked teeth, overbites, underbites, and overcrowding. Orthodontists use various treatment methods, including braces, aligners, and retainers, to straighten teeth and create a healthy, balanced bite.

2. What is the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist?

While both dentists and orthodontists work with oral health, there are key differences between the two. Dentists provide general oral care, including cleanings, fillings, extractions, and gum disease treatment. Orthodontists, on the other hand, specialize in correcting misaligned teeth and jaws. They undergo additional years of education and training to become experts in orthodontic treatments like braces and other alignment correction methods.

3. Do orthodontists just do braces?

No, orthodontists offer a wide range of treatments beyond braces. While braces are a common orthodontic treatment, orthodontists also use other techniques such as clear aligners, retainers, and orthodontic appliances to correct dental irregularities. They develop customized treatment plans tailored to each patient’s specific needs, aiming to achieve optimal dental alignment and overall oral health.

4. Why would you need to see an orthodontist?

There are several reasons why you might need to see an orthodontist. If you have crooked or misaligned teeth, an overbite, an underbite, or other dental irregularities, an orthodontist can help correct these issues. Orthodontic treatment not only improves the appearance of your smile but also enhances your oral health and overall well-being. By addressing alignment problems, orthodontic treatment can prevent tooth decay, gum disease, jaw pain, and other oral health complications.

5. Can orthodontists remove wisdom teeth?

Typically, orthodontists do not remove wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth extraction is usually performed by oral surgeons or general dentists. Orthodontists focus primarily on correcting dental alignment and bite issues. However, if your orthodontist determines that wisdom teeth removal is necessary for your orthodontic treatment plan, they may refer you to a qualified oral surgeon or dentist who can perform the extraction. It is important to consult with your orthodontist to determine the best course of action for your specific needs.


Orthodontics offers a wide range of treatments to improve the alignment of teeth and jaws, resulting in a healthier smile and enhanced oral health. By addressing orthodontic issues, such as malocclusion and misaligned teeth, you can reduce the risk of dental problems and enjoy a more confident smile. Whether you choose braces, clear aligners, retainers, or palate expanders, consulting with an orthodontist will allow you to explore the most suitable treatment options for your specific needs. Remember to follow your orthodontist’s instructions and maintain good oral hygiene for long-lasting results. To learn more about orthodontics and its benefits, schedule an appointment with an orthodontist or consult your dentist.

Visit Capital Dentistry, Ottawa and Gatineau’s leading dental clinics, for a professional orthodontic consultation and discover how orthodontics can transform your smile and oral health.

A note from Capital Dentistry: Orthodontics plays a vital role in achieving a beautiful, healthy smile. At Capital Dentistry, our experienced orthodontists are ready to provide personalized treatment plans to address your specific needs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards a straighter smile.