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Many people have worn braces at some point in their lives. Orthodontists are best known for straightening crooked smiles with braces and retainers. While a great deal of an orthodontist's practice is dedicated to aesthetics, they also treat patients with a variety of problems which may develop from an abnormal bite, due to genetics or trauma.

Orthodontics can boost an individual's self-image as the teeth, jaws and lips become properly aligned; but an attractive smile is just one of the benefits. Again, alleviating or preventing physical health problems is an even more important part of their career. Certain orthodontic conditions left untreated may lead to tooth decay, gum disease, bone destruction and chewing and digestive difficulties. Accordingly, a bad bite can contribute to speech impairments, tooth loss, chipped teeth and other dental injuries.

Orthodontists specialize in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. The technical term for these problems is "malocclusion," which literally means "bad bite," signifying crooked, crowded or protruding teeth. Malocclusions are an inherited gene, thus if your parents have problems with their teeth, there is a good chance that you will too! However, there are some acquired malocclusions as well. If you were a thumb-sucker or teeth clencher or have a dental disease, had a high fever as a child or were involved in a bad accident, then you may have acquired, not inherited, an orthodontic problem. The practice of orthodontics requires the professional skill in the design, application and control of corrective appliances, such as braces, headgear and retainers, to bring teeth, lips and jaws into proper alignment and achieve facial balance.

Without orthodontic treatment, crooked and crowded teeth are hard to clean and maintain. This may contribute to conditions that may cause tooth decay, eventual gum disease and tooth loss. A bad bite can also cause abnormal wear of tooth surfaces, difficulty in chewing and excess stress of the supporting bone and gum tissue

Orthodontists generally perform two kinds of treatment: inceptive and full orthodontic treatment. Inceptive treatment, usually performed on young children, tries to make room in the child's mouth for their permanent teeth, thereby stretching their jaw to grow in certain directions. Full orthodontic treatment corrects a bad bite and attempts to align the teeth using braces or other appliances. This can only be done on adult teeth.

Braces can be worn from a period of a few months up to about four years. After an orthodontist removes braces, people are required to wear a retainer and return frequently to the orthodontist for periodic check-ups. The retainer is designed to hold the jaw and teeth in their proper place after the braces, so that nothing changes in the mouth. These days, there are so many modern advancements in braces technology and new options are available, other than those clunky silver chunks cemented onto one's teeth.
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  Interests and Skills  
Orthodontists must have good health, eyesight, and good finger and manual dexterity. They must have a gentle, delicate touch and a good degree of mechanical aptitude and ability. They require great interpersonal skills, and can communicate with all of their patients, trying to make them feel more comfortable. They should especially like working with children, as orthodontists are treating so many youngsters these days. Successful orthodontists enjoy doing precise work with tools and equipment, and helping people treat diseases of the mouth.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with patients about malocclusions with their teeth and plan appropriate orthodontic treatment, such as braces, headgears, or retainers
  • Perform corrective work such as straightening teeth
  • Regularly tighten patient's braces and retainers during frequent check-ups
  • Educate patients to help eat certain foods and clean their braces properly
  • Cement braces onto patient's teeth and make moulds of their mouths
  • Supervise orthodontic technicians and other staff
  • Most orthodontists work eight hour-days during the week, but in order to meet patient time constraints, some may also work weekends and evenings. They generally work in private clinics, or in partnerships with other orthodontists. Orthodontics may be a high stress occupation due to working with people who are often afraid of them.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most orthodontists work in private practices or they may be employed in hospitals, clinics, public health facilities or universities. Directly upon graduation, orthodontists may engage in private practice, however, these days, partnerships with established dental practitioners and group practices are becoming increasingly popular. Better opportunities exist in smaller towns and city centers where the market has yet to be saturated.

  Long Term Career Potential  
A broad range of career options is available including private practice, hospital practice, teaching, and research. Otherwise, since it takes so many years of school to become an orthodontist, once established, they usually stay within the industry and move into more supervisory positions. Orthodontists may also be affiliated with local and regional hospitals.

  Educational Paths  
Orthodontists have a long educational road ahead of them after high school. They are required have a bachelor of science degree, or at least two years of undergraduate education along with passing an entrance exam to dental school. The next step is to obtain a degree from a recognized dental program. Then orthodontists must take a three-year program in orthodontics to receive a certificate and/or master's degree in orthodontics upon completion of the program.

Orthodontists must be licensed to practice dentistry and orthodontics. Each region has a licensing body that establishes regulations and requirements for the licensure of general practitioners and specialists within the jurisdiction. Contact the regulatory authority in your jurisdiction to obtain detailed information about licensure, registration, and fees.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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