Orthodontist FAQs

  • Introduction

    Dentistry is a broad type of medical specialty that focuses on the care and treatment of the mouth, gums, throat, and overall oral care. An orthodontist is a type of dentist that specializes in fixing misaligned teeth, jaw alignment, and bite patterns. One way to distinguish between the two is that all orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists. In their lifetime, everyone should regularly see a dentist. However, only people with specific dental problems will need to see an orthodontist.

  • What is an orthodontist?

    An orthodontist is a specialty dentist who receives advanced training to diagnose and treat overbites, overcrowded mouths, misaligned teeth and jaws, and occlusions. After diagnosing the issue, an orthodontist will recommend a treatment course that may include surgery, braces, retainers, tooth removal, and more. An orthodontist receives more training than a general dentist to become an expert in their specific field of dentistry.

  • Are orthodontists doctors?

    Yes, all dentists are doctors of oral health. Dentists receive a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree or a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree (DDS). As orthodontists are a type of dentist, they qualify as a doctor.

  • What is the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist?

    A dentist treats a wide variety of issues. An orthodontist is a specialist who has received extra training to focus on one aspect of dentistry — teeth and jaw alignment. An orthodontist has all the training the dentist has and could drop orthodontics and practice general dentistry. In comparison, a dentist would need to have the additional education to become an orthodontist. 

  • What does an orthodontist do?

    People go to an orthodontist when they have teeth or jaw abnormalities. An orthodontist treats:

    • Crooked teeth
    • Crowded teeth
    • Overly spaced teeth
    • Bite alignment issues, such as an overbite or an underbite
    • Jaw misalignment
    • Facial symmetry issues
    The orthodontist's objective is to improve the patient's teeth so they have a straight and functioning smile that allows them to speak, eat, and look normal.

  • Do you have to be referred to an orthodontist?

    Most orthodontists today don’t require a referral to book a consultation appointment with a new patient. However, you may wish to get a referral from your dentist to get a recommendation. If you’re hoping to get your orthodontic care covered by insurance, your insurance may require a referral. Contact your insurance provider to confirm your coverage and details.

  • Do orthodontists keep retainer molds?

    People often lose or break their retainer. If that happens, they’ll need to visit their orthodontist and pay for a new retainer. Luckily, since orthodontists know this happens so frequently, most keep retainer molds on file to get a new one made for you immediately.

  • Do orthodontists pull teeth?

    Yes, orthodontists can extract teeth in their treatment process. Pulling teeth is common for overcrowded teeth, braces, facial symmetry, jaw alignment, and other cases. Most often, if they think it's necessary for tooth extraction, they refer the patient to a general dentist or oral surgeon.

  • Do orthodontists remove wisdom teeth?

    An orthodontist can recommend you have your wisdom teeth removed within their treatment plan, but they don't typically do this procedure themselves. Instead, wisdom teeth removal is usually done by a general dentist. If the case is particularly complicated, the patient may be referred to an oral surgeon for their wisdom teeth removal.

  • Do orthodontists reshape teeth after braces?

    After doing all that work to align your teeth, your straight smile could sometimes be further improved with teeth contouring or reshaping. Both a general dentist and an orthodontist have the education and training necessary to offer these procedures to their patients.

  • Can you switch orthodontists when you have braces?

    Yes, you can switch orthodontists when you have braces. You'll need to notify your orthodontist of your intentions, ask them to send your records to your new orthodontist, and make sure the new orthodontist has the same type of braces and treatments. Your current orthodontist may charge you a fee for leaving without finishing treatment.

  • Can you transfer orthodontists?

    Yes, you can always transfer orthodontists. This is a service you're paying for and you reserve the right to work with someone new. But, ideally, you'll want to find a new orthodontist that is comfortable taking on your specific case before you notify your old orthodontist that you're leaving.

  • Do orthodontists clean teeth?

    An orthodontist doesn’t typically clean their patient’s teeth. Patients will need to continue to see their regular dentist for check-ups and cleanings while receiving treatment with an orthodontist. However, at the beginning of your appointment, your orthodontist might do a light cleaning if necessary.

  • Can you get a new retainer from any orthodontist?

    Yes, you can go to any orthodontist for a new retainer. However, it will likely cost more money. This is because your orthodontist will already have your impressions on file, while a new orthodontist will take a new impression of your teeth. This will also delay the process of getting the new retainer.

  • Does insurance cover orthodontics?

    Most employers offer dental coverage. However, orthodontic coverage is usually limited (if provided at all) to children under the age of 18. You might be able to receive coverage if you can make a case that you need orthopedic care for your overall health, but this is rare. To be sure, contact your insurance provider directly. Many orthodontists offer payment plans for long-term treatment plans.

  • How do I become an orthodontist?

    It typically takes between 10-11 years to become an orthodontist. The steps include:

    • Completing an undergraduate degree
    • Passing the Dental Admission Test
    • Graduating from an accredited dentistry school
    • Completing 2-3 years at an accredited orthopedic residency program
    • Passing the National Board Dental Examination
    • Obtaining a license to practice orthodontics. In some states, this means passing a special state exam.

  • How much do orthodontists make?

    The national average salary for an orthodontist in the USA is $256,491. However, this salary can greatly vary depending on the state, hours worked, if the person owns their own practice, and other factors. Orthodontists also receive excellent benefits, such as license reimbursement, flexible schedules, and loan assistance.

  • How do I become an orthodontist assistant?

    An orthodontist assistant will need to complete a certificate or associate’s degree in dental assisting and get certified to practice. Each state might have slightly different requirements, such as state exams, to become an orthodontist assistant. You’ll need to:

    • Review your state’s requirements
    • Choose a certification or associate's degree program in your area, enroll, and graduate
    • Pass the certification exam

  • How much does an orthodontist assistant make?

    According to, the median annual salary for an orthodontist assistant in 2020 was $34,477. However, this salary can vary greatly depending on the state the orthodontist assisting is working in, the total hours worked, level of experience, and other factors.

  • Can a dental hygienist become an orthodontist?

    A dental hygienist completes a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene to receive their accreditation. After this, they can choose to continue their education to become an orthodontist. They'll first need to complete a four-year doctoral program to get a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. After which, they'll continue on to an orthodontist specialty.

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