This article covers the role of the orthodontist, best known in families for corrective braces for teeth. There is also information on how finding orthodontists and how they can help your child.

What is an orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a specialised dentist who has undertaken further years of training and qualification to become an expert in correcting deformities of the teeth and jaw. They have a minimum of seven years tertiary education which allows them to register as orthodontic specialists.

Primarily orthodontists work to diagnose, prevent and treat dental and facial problems. They work to guide teeth into their correct positions to give an attractive smile and ensure the teeth bite well.

Most commonly people will see an orthodontist as children to correct problems with the way teeth are developing, or to help correct deformities of the mouth and jaw that will only worsen as the child grows.

Orthodontists improve the function, stability and appearance of teeth and jaws, by using methods such as braces to straighten teeth and correct the bite. They may monitor the development of children’s teeth for months or even years before any active treatment with braces begins.

Because the jaw and teeth help to give foundation and structure to the face, orthodontic treatment can have lifelong implications to how people look and feel.

What do orthodontists do?

Orthodontists are primarily focused on correcting malocclusions (which means a bad bite) where the teeth are irregular, twisted, crowded, too open, missing or don’t meet. Sometimes this can involve displacement of the jaw, where the jaw is being pushed out of alignment.

Often problems with teeth or jaw can be inherited from parents.

Problems orthodontists can help with include:

  • Protruding teeth – the upper teeth may be out of alignment from lower teeth which can damage the palate
  • Crowding – there may be too many teeth growing in too small a space
  • Missing teeth – this leaves large spaces between teeth
  • Bite problems where teeth are twisted or do not meet, such as under-bite, deep- bite, open-bite or cross-bite which can look unattractive, damage the teeth and even cause speech problems
  • Damage to teeth caused by longstanding thumb sucking

Other issues that may require orthodontic treatment are:

  • Damage caused by facial accidents
  • Dental disease
  • Speech problems
  • Grinding or clenching of teeth
  • Problems in chewing or biting food
  • When baby or permanent teeth are lost prematurely

How can orthodontists help?

  • Primarily orthodontists will work with braces, plates, retainers and other dental equipment to straighten and correct teeth and jaw problems
  • An initial visit will involve the orthodontists examining the mouth, taking x-rays and diagnosing any problems and writing a treatment plan
  • Orthodontists may also take a mould of the teeth to help work out how to best correct problems as well as have a plate made
  • In some cases treatment may necessitate one or more teeth being removed for the best outcome
  • Work normally begins when children are around 10 – 12 (and sometimes earlier) and usually last over a six month to two year period, depending on the complexity of the problem and how well your child responds to treatment
  • Modern dentistry now uses more unobtrusive clear braces
  • If problems are more severe, night braces or even jaw surgery may be required
  • Regular checkups will be needed throughout treatment to tighten braces and ensure treatment is progressing as desired

How do I find an orthodontist?

Visit the websites listed below for the Dental Council and Orthodontist Association of New Zealand, or visit the Yellow Pages.

Generally you will see an orthodontist as a private patient, though ACC or District Health Boards funds some cases for people with severe dental or facial deformities, or for people on low incomes

Your child may be referred to an orthodontist by a dentist or school dental therapist – or you may contact an orthodontist directly to set up an appointment.

What can I do to help mt child’s teeth?

  • Avoid allowing your child become a thumb sucker – on a long term basis this can distort the upper teeth, cause a gap in the bite between upper and lower teeth and even push the lower front teeth backward
  • Discourage nail biting and chewing on pencils as these habits can also move teeth out of place
  • Ensure your child keeps up with their regular dental visits
  • If you are concerned about your child’s teeth, bite or they have problems with chewing, book in to see an orthodontist early – some orthodontists suggest around age 8 so problems can be spotted quickly
  • Regularly check your child’s teeth as dental problems left untreated can cause a lifetime of misery, embarrassment and poor self-esteem.

Useful websites & articles:

For more information on the role of the Dentist or Dental Therapist visit our Kiwi Families articles.

www.orthodontists.org.nz– The New Zealand Association of Orthodontists will help you to find an orthodontist in your local region.

www.dentalsurgeon.co.nz– The Dental Council of New Zealand’s website also has information to help you find an orthodontist in your area.

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